During her earliest days with the UBC Thunderbirds, Sarah Casorso often wondered if the anguish and frustration was worth the effort.
In the Kelowna product’s first two seasons, the T’Birds won a paltry eight games and floundered at the bottom of the Canada West conference.
“It just wasn’t fun any more,” said Casorso, 22. “I seriously considered leaving UBC, and even thought about not playing at all. Then it all seemed to turn around pretty quickly.”
Casorso’s third season at UBC coincided with the hiring of new coach Graham Thomas and the reinvention of the T’Birds program was underway.
With Casorso playing a key role, the T’Birds have won 45 regular season games over last 2 1/2 years and have been in the hunt as a Canada West contender ever since.
“Graham gave us that passion and love for the game and we responded well,” said Casorso. “It’s been a remarkable turnaround and never in a 100 years did I think we would come this far in such a short time. It’s been a really great experience playing here.”
Now in her fifth season, Casorso is winding down what has been an eventful and mostly rewarding career at the university level.
Last season, the 5-foot-7 Casorso was named a CIS all-Canadian on defense.
This fall, she was anointed as captain of the Thunderbirds, a role she has embraced and is learning from each and every day she goes to the rink.
“It’s been great, but there’s more to it than I expected,” said Casorso, who is a product of Kelowna Minor Hockey. “You’re sort of a mediator between the coaches and players, you do the best job you can to help the team win and get better. There are times when you have to take the friend hat off and be serious…then there are times to keep things light and enjoy things.
“I’m still learning things every day, it’s a challenge, but it’s been a great experience so far.”
In addition to being the team’s inspirational leader, Casorso also tops the T’Birds in scoring this season with six goals and 12 points in 14 games.
Coach Graham Thomas said the Kelowna Minor Hockey grad brings both passion and skill to the T’Birds and has been a vital component of the teams’ growth over the last three years.
“Sarah has been fantastic for this program,” said Thomas. “One of her biggest traits is her competitiveness, and she’s a very good leader.
“She’s driven, she works hard and she’s not afraid to get involved in pretty much any situation, ” Thomas added. “She brings much needed offence to our team is constantly working at getting better defensively, and playing a strong two-way game.”
Casorso did her part in helping the Thunderbirds to the Canada West championship in 2012-13.
Not surprisingly, the Kelowna native would like to sign off her university career with a second conference crown and a first national championship.
But in an extremely tough Canada West conference where just four points currently separate the top six teams, Casorso knows nothing will come easy.
“I’ve never seen it this tight where any team can win,” she said. “It’s pretty special where all the teams bring out the best in each other. The good thing is, we have as good a chance as anyone else. We have the depth and heart, and if we stick to our identity and work hard we have a chance to be there at the end.”
Casorso’s play at UBC has also opened doors on an international level. She will suit for Team Canada in January at the FISU games in Spain.
When Casorso’s varsity career does come to a conclusion, she plans to continue playing the game—possibly at the professional level next season in Switzerland.
“I’ve put a ton of energy and time into hockey in my life, so I want to get as much out of it as I can,” she said. “I have a passion for it and don’t want to have any left over potential when I’m done, or look back and be sorry I didn’t give it a try.”
Still, for the more immediate future, Casorso remains focused on her UBC Thunderbirds and closing out her CIS career in the best conceivable way.
“I want to be able say I did everything I possibly could to help the team have success, to have no regrets at all,” said Casorsio who will complete her degree in English Literature next spring. “I’ve met people who will be lifelong friends and have made a ton of great connections. UBC is full of great people and I’ve been very fortunate to be part of it.”
Casorso and the Thunderbirds (8-3-3) are home this weekend for their last two games prior to the Christmas break as they host the Calgary Dinosaurs, Friday and Saturday.