Vernon’s Ava Cesario of the Thompson Okanagan Football Club beats Canadian women’s soccer team keeper Stephanie Labbé from the penalty spot at Vernon’s Marshall Field. The Olympic gold-medal-winning keeper was in Vernon Monday, June 6, conducting a skills camp for more than 50 TOFC players. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)

Canada keeper kicks up soccer skills in Vernon

Olympic gold medalist Stephanie Labbé conducts camp, shares stories and medals, with TOFC players

Her career with the Canadian women’s soccer team began by pulling a ball out of a net.

Her career ended with her keeping the ball out of the net, resulting in Canadian sporting history.

Stephanie Labbé, 35, from Stony Plain, Alta., made a stop in Vernon Monday, June 6, at Marshall Field to conduct a skills camp with more than 50 young girls from the Thompson Okanagan Football Club (TOFC).

After hosting a number of drills for two hours, Labbé sat the girls down and shared her journey to the national team which culminated with Canada’s first-ever gold medal in soccer at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 following a 2-1 shootout victory over Sweden.

She began playing at age 12 and was attending a soccer camp when a coach asked if any players wanted to play goalie. Labbé was one of eight players to raise her hand.

Her first action wearing Canadian red-and-white came at the U20 World Cup, a quarterfinal matchup, when the starting keeper received a red card in the first minute of the contest for taking down an opponent in the penalty area.

“I had to come in and face the penalty shot. They scored, so my first touch with the national team was taking the ball out of the net,” said Labbé, who moved up to the national squad where she played for a number of years.

She was not part of the 2012 team that won Olympic bronze in London but was on the squad that repeated the feat in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, four years later.

Labbé played through a painful rib injury suffered in the opening game of the Tokyo Olympics, helping Canada win the historic gold-medal contest over Sweden. She stopped the last Swedish kick to give Canada gold, then called it a career.

“No dream is too big,” said Labbé, using the example of not many people outside Canada giving her team a chance to win Olympic gold, except the women themselves. “We dreamed the impossible and we made it happen because we had a passion for it and we worked hard. Set your dreams as big as they go. We proved the impossible is possible.”

After her talk, Labbé chose 10 players to take penalty kicks at her, and she did her usual pre-kick routine with every participant, staring them down, jumping up and down and waving her arms wildly trying to district the kickers.

TOFC players scored five times out of 10, the most by any club on Labbé’s Western Canadian Champions Tour of local clubs.

Labbé brought her two medals with her and posed for photos with each individual player, and signed autographs for the TOFC members.

Alexia Bekar, like Labbé, a keeper from Kelowna who plays for TOFC’s 2007 (birth year) team, felt the camp was beneficial.

“It was really good,” said Bekar, 15, a Grade 9 student at Immaculata Regional High School in Kelowna. “I learned that even if you’re a backup goalie, you can still move forward to become the top goalie. It was very worthwhile.”


TOFC is the Interior regional representative of the BC Soccer Premier League (BCSPL), also known as the HPL (High Performance League). It’s the highest level of youth soccer in British Columbia, supported by Canada Soccer, BC Soccer and the Vancouver Whitecaps as the primary pathway for higher-level players.

Nearly 80 per cent of TOFC graduating players go on to careers in Canadian and U.S. universities.

“The TOFC mission is to fulfil our players’ needs as an organization committed to excellence and advancement in the discipline of soccer as well as the development of strong community leaders and citizens,” said TOFC general manager Kai Tolpinrud.

TOFC players are selected from the top local select/rep level players at each of the Thompson Okanagan clubs (Kamloops, Merritt, Revelstoke, Vernon, Salmon Arm, Kelowna, Penticton) as well as from the Kootenays, Prince George and the Yukon.

TOFC runs one male and one female team in each age group from 13 to 18 that competes against the other BC Soccer Premier League teams located in Surrey, Vancouver, Richmond, Coquitlam, Langley, West Van/Burnaby and Vancouver Island.

The best of these players are selected to move into BC Provincial Programming, Vancouver Whitecaps programming, Women’s National Elite REX programming, and College/University Soccer.

All TOFC coaches are professional coaches, licensed and certified by Canada Soccer.

READ MORE: Vernon Vipers release 2022-23 BCHL schedule

READ MORE: Vernon run moves past first-year total with $45,000 raised


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Canadian women's soccer team Olympic gold medalist Stephanie Labbé stopped in Vernon at Marshall Field Monday, June 6, to conduct a camp with players from the Thompson Okanagan Football Club (Roger Knox - Morning Star)

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