Varsity Blues women’s soccer player Eilish McConville won big with three awards, being named CIS, OUA, and Varsity Blues’ Female Athlete of the Week.
The honours came after the striker scored five goals combined in games against the Laurentian Voyageurs and Nipissing Lakers over the September 10 weekend.
McConville’s OUA-leading five goals have come in her first season as a Blue, though this is her second year studying medicine at U of T. She does, however, bring a wealth of experience to the team. McConville spent four years as a member of the Gaels soccer team while doing her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering at Queen’s University.
With the Gaels, she was named the CIS women’s soccer rookie of the year in 2003 and a first team All-Canadian from 2004–06. She also won two of Queen’s University’s most prestigious athletic awards, the Alfie Pierce Award in 2004 and the PHE ‘55 Alumnae Award in 2007.
Every sports team goes through a transition period at some point. In university athletics, graduation inevitably leads to the loss of key players. A crucial component of championship success is consistency, as is a veteran leadership presence. McConville has stepped up to fill the latter role for the Blues.
As the oldest player on the team (nicknamed ‘Grandma Rook’) McConville has proven to be an invaluable resource for her teammates, as they go through a transition period themselves.
“I think I bring a lot of experience to the team,” McConville said. “Because the team has just had this coaching change and we’re going [in] a new direction for U of T soccer … I was excited to be able to be a part of that and hopefully bring my experiences from Queen’s … and bring a new winning attitude.”
After leaving Queen’s, Eilish moved to Calgary, where she worked for an engineering firm for two years before returning to school, this time at U of T. Injuries kept her out of action in her first year. Fully recovered from a patella injury, she began training with the team in the winter semester of 2011.
Some athletes never forget the moment they got involved in their chosen sport. Some, like McConville, have been doing it for so long that it’s hard to remember that moment. “The first season I played, we played seven a side. That’s all I really remember.”
McConville played competitively for most of her youth as a member of the Ottawa Internationals and the Ottawa Furies. Soccer runs in the McConville family: one of Eilish’s two brothers currently plays as a defender for the McMaster Marauders. “We were sort of hoping the McConville’s would take the OUA by storm this year,” she explained. “[McMaster] have done well so far this year, so I’m really excited for [my brother] but I can’t go see him play this year because I’m playing myself.”
McConville was a multi sport athlete growing up, competing in volleyball, basketball, and track and field. The sports in which she really excelled, however, were soccer and tennis.
“Tennis was kind of my winter sport, and soccer was my summer,” she explained. McConville eventually qualified to play in the Indoor Tennis national championships at the age of 14, but in high school she decided to focus solely on soccer.
The decision to quit tennis was partly due to the benefits of playing a team sport as opposed to an individual one. “Tennis is a very demanding individual, mental sport,” she said. “On the other side I had soccer, where you have a team of girls who are really supportive of you, and you definitely get more of a camaraderie with the girls.”
As for the advice ‘Grandma Rook’ has for student athletes aspiring to compete at the university level, McConville stresses that academics have to be the first priority. “What I would advise is [to] first pick a university that’s going to give you a university experience,” she said. “The number one goal of going to university is not to play soccer. It’s to get a good education and to learn the life skills that will help you later on in life.”
That is not to say, however, that soccer should play no part. “If you have the opportunity to go to a university that is both going to give you that experience and have a strong soccer program ,then that’s obviously the ideal choice for you,” McConville said. “And then once you get there, put in the work — because it’s the stuff that you do outside of your time at university that is going to benefit you most on the soccer field.”
The Gaels made it to the national championship tournament in three of the four years that McConville was on the team but only made it to the final in her last year. Despite scoring first, the Gaels ultimately lost the game. Still, among all her personal accomplishments, she counts “stepping out onto the field to play in the national finals [and] being able to share that moment with my teammates” as her greatest achievement of all.
As is the case for any high-level athlete, the goal is always to win a championship. McConville now has a second chance at winning that final game, and has set the bar high for herself and her teammates. The OUA’s leading scorer has her sights set on winning both the OUA and CIS championships.
“I love the feeling of scoring a really important goal in an important game. I don’t think there’s anything that I’ve done in my life that really matches that. It’s just exhilarating.”