Madison Jack, left, and Keishia Sampson are heading to Cuba next week with the NIFA U19 women’s team. (Submitted)

Madison Jack, left, and Keishia Sampson are heading to Cuba next week with the NIFA U19 women’s team. (Submitted)

Trip to Cuba with NIFA just part of the journey for young soccer stars

Cowichan Tribes players aim for post-secondary and international success

Two girls from Cowichan Tribes will get a fantastic opportunity this month when they travel to Cuba to play soccer.

Keisha Sampson and Madison Jack will make the trip to the Caribbean with the Native Indian Football Association U19 women’s team. The U19 team is an offshoot of the NIFA senior women’s team, founded and coached by Cowichan Tribes member Dano Thorne several years ago. The senior team has won the last two World Indigenous Games titles, and Thorne added the junior team to help bolster the program.

The NIFA U19 team is heading to Cuba on April 23 for a few days of training and exhibition games in Varadero, followed by a match against the national junior team in Havana, then returning home on May 3.

“I’m excited to see the other team and their skill level, and how they are as a team,” said Sampson. “And any cultural aspects and how they fit into soccer.”

The NIFA team consists of players from across the country, as far east as the Mohawk First Nations in Quebec, including a couple of players who are on prep teams in Europe. The U19 players will be on the radar for the senior team for the next World Indigenous Games.

Sampson went to Hawaii last summer with a U16 team, but this will be Jack’s first trek abroad for soccer. Both girls just completed the club season with the Cowichan Valley Soccer Association U18 Gold girls team, which won the Island championship. Both are in Grade 12 — Sampson at Cowichan Secondary and Jack at Brookes Westshore — and plan to play post-secondary soccer next year. That’s a common thread for most of the players on the U19 team.

“A lot of them are still high school girls,” Thorne said. “This will help them decide if they want to play in the CIS or NCAA. It has always been our intention to help them play at the highest level they can as First Nations soccer players.”

Sampson and Jack are first cousins, and both have deep roots in soccer. Sampson, who plays midfield and forward, is the daughter of Ryan Sampson, who plays for the Quw’utsun men’s team coached by Thorne, and her grandfather, Alec Johnny, was also a well-known player. Quick, left-footed winger Jack is the daughter of Tammy Jack, who has previously played with both the NIFA women’s team and the CVSA Div. 1 women’s team.

“Soccer is about family tradition in Cowichan Tribes, and with all the ladies who play on the team,” Thorne commented. “Gaining international experience provides players a new standard which will help short- and long-term development.”