Canadian Beckie one to watch ahead of Rio Games

You may not yet have heard of Janine Beckie, but that may soon change as the young Canadian women's player wowed national team coach John Herdman at the Pan Am Games.

Janine Beckie is planning on having a career-defining year.

The Canadian striker is suiting up in her senior season with Texas Tech, looking to lead her side back to the NCAA Tournament this fall. She’s made the “Watch List” for the MAC Hermann trophy (awarded to the top player in collegiate soccer) along with fellow Canadians Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence.

And the 20-year-old (she turns 21 on Thursday) netted a hat trick in the Red Raiders’ pre-season opener versus Denver. She’s been a scoring standout throughout her college career, holding Texas Tech’s record in goals, game-winning goals and shot attempts.

On the national team front (one goal, five caps), her focus is solely on next summer’s Olympics in Rio. She’s using her recent appearance at the Pan American Games as a starting point to becoming a key cog of the senior team’s offence, which is in dire need of more scoring threats. The 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament takes place in February and the native of Littlejohn, Colorado wants to be there, proudly wearing the Maple Leaf.

Sportsnet caught up with Beckie to find out about her final year playing in the NCAA and how being a late cut from the Women’s World Cup roster this summer is proving to be the motivation she needs to make her mark.

It’s your senior year and you’ve been named to your third straight MAC Hermann Watch List. With that bar already set high, what kind of expectations do you have for yourself?
I think I definitely feel pressure, but it’s not the kind of pressure that’s bad necessarily. I think that the pressure is on all of us as seniors. Ever since I’ve been here as a freshmen, we’ve done better each year. The goal is to have another great season, another record-setting, historical season, for Texas Tech and I think I definitely have expectations for myself. This is a big year for me in terms of the national team as well, setting that bar higher and keeping my game where it needs to be when I am done with school. This year is big.

I’m super-happy to have been named to the MAC Hermann Watch List. It’s such a great honour to be on that list with so many great players. That’s a tough group to get with and I think it’ll be a really tough decision for them to make when that award is [handed out]. Hopefully, I can make that decision a little harder on them.

The Red Raiders made the Sweet 16 last season. How does the team focus on going on a deep run this fall? Is it unfinished business?
Unfinished business is the perfect way to put it. I think all of us, staff included, were really disappointed losing in the Sweet 16 last year. Not disappointed in our performance, but just that it’s do or die and we came out on the losing side of it. That was really tough to deal with, because it was a great senior class. Now, it’s time for my class to step up and I think we get to that point and beyond by just doing the little things, going week-by-week and taking care of the games that we need to take care of that are in front of us.

Post-season is always in the back of everybody’s minds, but it’s actually what you do in the pre-season, pre-conference games that really make the difference when it comes to the end of the season. It’s about pushing to get better every single week when we’re in the season, because by the time the post-season comes along, we’re peaking and we’re at our best.

Has it hit you yet this is your senior year at Texas Tech?
Oh yeah. I just got back on campus a few weeks ago and I was like ‘Holy cow, it feels like yesterday I was stepping on campus as a freshmen, ready to go through two-a-days.’ It’s sad to be going through my last pre-season, but at the same time, everybody has their four years. I just hope that when I’m done I can be proud of the four years I’ve put in and not have any regrets. It definitely goes by way faster than you think. You hear people say, ‘No, four years is a long time’ and then you’re like me, standing on the field with one season to go and it’s just a blink of an eye.

What’s it been like balancing your studies, NCAA soccer and national team duties?
It can get pretty crazy, but it’s about time management and priorities. I don’t get the luxury of normal stuff—none of us do—to go out with your friends on the weekends. Even when we don’t have something to do, it’s a discipline you need to take care of your body and things like that. You throw school in there and it’s pretty exhausting.

Our staff does an incredible job of helping us manage those kinds of things and then when you throw in national team stuff, they do an amazing job of making sure that before we go into anything, everything is organized so that there’s no curveballs coming your way in terms of tests, essays and things that need to be done. I think it’s about getting in a routine and figuring out what works for you and then working with the resources you have around you to make sure that there’s nothing thrown your way that you can’t handle.

We spoke to coach Daniel Worthington recently about the Pan American Games. He said he was impressed with you and how you handled yourself at the tournament. What are your thoughts on the team’s results?
It’s hard to look at the statistics and scores of the games and feel good about it because we went all the way to the semifinal winning one game. It’s funny to look at that and be happy about how we did. But then, when you’re in the team and you see the training, you’re on the field, you’d be super proud of what we did. That was an extremely young team. I think the average age on the field was 19 or 20, which is pretty crazy when you compare it to Brazil’s women’s team or Colombia, who both came off a World Cup.

I was really proud with our team performance and with some of the individual performances we had throughout the tournament. I think people really stepped up. I knew that I was one of those people who had to step up and be a playmaker for our team. I’m glad I was able to do that. I was happy with our results because I think we could’ve competed for the title. I think we did the best we could in that regard.

Some players may have packed it in after the World Cup roster was announced. Who helped you re-focus on your national team aspirations?
It was a tough six to eight months, however many we spent in residency with the senior team, and then to be one of the last players cut before the World Cup, that was something that was really tough for me to deal with mentally. I had conversations with Danny [Worthington] throughout the whole thing. He was great. He told me to take my time and go back to wherever you need to go back to, remember why you play soccer, why you’re passionate about it and come to the Pan Ams and do what we all know you can do.

I went home. I spent a month with my family, which was really important to just remember why I love to play the sport and I re-evaluated the reasons for playing. I realized that I have this incredible opportunity to play for my country, so why not take full advantage of that? I went into the Pan Ams with an open mind and not necessarily having huge expectations because I find as a player, when I put too much pressure on myself to perform, I actually underperform. I think it was just about going out there and having fun with it, while playing with amazing players next to me. It worked in my favour. I’m really glad that I had that experience.

We know your brother Drew Beckie (a defender with the NASL’s Ottawa Fury) understands the rigours of being part of the national program. How involved is the rest of your family in sports?
My parents played basketball all through college. Me and my three siblings all played an insane amount of sports when we were young, but my brother, myself and one of my sisters stuck with soccer through college and then my other sister played basketball. My brother is a huge role model for me in terms of soccer. He’s been in with the Canadian national team and he’s really been there for me, helping me stay focused over these past eight months because there were times I was like ‘I really don’t want to do this anymore’ and that’s where your family comes into it. They say, ‘This is what I experienced when I was playing.’ It’s totally a mental battle at this level. It’s about how you handle yourself mentally and that was a huge lesson my brother taught me. It’s amazing to have such a great family that can help me get through the tough parts of it.

What are you long-term soccer goals, especially with the Rio Olympics on the horizon?
My short-term goals are just to finish out my college career, get my degree and then hopefully I’ll enter the NWSL [National Women’s Soccer League] draft and try to play in the U.S. professionally. If that opportunity doesn’t present itself I may look to go overseas.

In terms of national team, I think Rio is definitely my biggest focus right now. It’s crazy to think that it’s only a year away and a lot can change in a year. I’m really excited. I think there’s tons of opportunities for this team to be one that goes on to do what [Canada] did at the last Olympics, or even more. I definitely think we could get on the podium and win a medal. It’s exciting to think I could be a part of that.

I think everything I’m doing now is going to impact where I am next summer. Those are my goals right now, but I’m hoping my soccer will take me further than I can think about right now, so I don’t have to go into the real world for a while.

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