Shanti Church has taken what she’s learned on Flin Flon soccer fields to the collegiate level. The former Hapnot soccer star is now a Manitoba college champion, even getting a chance to play for her team at national championships.
Church, who was part of several of Hapnot’s zone-winning and provincial medal-winning Kweens teams, took on an offer to join the Brandon University (BU) Bobcats this season. Church had other offers to join schools that would have allowed her to be on both the soccer pitch and the basketball court, where she was a provincial all-star point guard last year, but family ties won out for BU.
Church’s older sister Hasana played three seasons of soccer and futsal, an indoor variant of the game played indoors during the winter, for the Bobcats. Shanti saw what she could do in watching her sister and her accomplishments, eventually getting the chance to achieve some of her own - playing at the Manitoba Summer Games, then trying out for and making the cut for representative teams in Winnipeg and later Brandon.
“Growing up, my sister was like my biggest inspiration. She played a lot of soccer and so did my whole family, growing up from when I was in fifth grade,” said Shanti.
Shanti ended up on a Brandon-based rep team in her teens, which she played on while Hasana was with BU.
“That was pretty cool - I got to go down and watch her play soccer, I met the team, I met all the coaches, I would go to their practices and just sit on the sidelines, kicking around a ball by myself all the time. It was pretty cool to be able to experience that,” she said.
“I had good experiences with Brandon - I loved the city, I loved the people and to this day, I have so many lifelong friends from that random team I played on.”
Once she graduated high school earlier this year, Shanti headed back south. She scored three goals over the course of the year as BU advanced to the final four of the Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference (MCAC) late last month. Unlike her experiences of playing on northern or regional teams, where players are good but individual skills can be uneven, Church did not have to learn what to do with the ball - she had to learn how to give it up.
“In Flin Flon, a lot, I had to control the ball - if I wasn’t controlling the ball, I felt like I was just detrimental, like it always had to be at my feet so I could play it off. In Brandon, if I pass the ball away, I know everybody on my team will work their butt off to try and keep that ball - learning to trust my teammates as much as I could really helped, and my coaches were amazing for that,” she said.
“I think trust was a big change from high school to university soccer.”
In that final four, BU faced off against Canadian Mennonite University, handing them a 5-1 defeat and moving into the provincial final, played against Providence University College. There, BU took a 2-1 win and the provincial title - breaking a streak of three straight final four losses for the team.
“I haven’t felt what it’s like to lose at this level yet. All of the girls I played with this year, all of the returning players, they were so happy. Don’t get me wrong, I was super happy and excited, but they were such a high of winning because they’ve lost for the past three years,” she said.
From there, the Bobcats advanced to the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) national championship in PEI. The Bobcats didn’t get the same luck they had at home, losing the three games they played to Quebec’s Champlain College, the University of Kings College from Nova Scotia and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Regardless, Church said the tournament was a learning experience.
“The BU girls’ team has never gone to nationals before, so it was pretty cool to be able to go with them for the first time. Manitoba has never scored a goal at nationals before either, and we did that. Small wins, but wins,” she said.
Church and the Bobcats will now turn toward futsal for the winter season, playing an eight-game schedule after the holidays before league playoffs, which the Bobcats will host.