Midfielder Cloey Uddenberg knew she was travelling to Cape Breton last week to be honoured for her superb first season of Ontario university women’s soccer play with the Guelph Gryphons.
She just didn’t realize she was going to be honoured as the top rookie in Canadian university women’s soccer play, the first time a Gryphon had ever won that award.
“I was shocked,” she said during a video conference. “I thought I was just up for the all-rookie team. To know that I was nominated for it was a huge surprise. I didn't expect any of it. The beginning of the year, I talked to a teammate and my goal was just to get OUA all-star. To be able to experience stuff at the national level was just crazy. I'm beyond grateful for it. That was crazy. That night was a super exciting night.”
Uddenberg, the OUA West Division’s player of the year, was honoured three times at the U SPORTS awards banquet as she was named second-team all-Canadian and was selected to the national all-rookie team.
Also up for an award at the banquet was teammate Sayan Ladhani as she was the OUA’s nominee for the student-athlete community service award. The awards banquet was Wednesday night and the two Gryphons stayed around to watch the national tournament’s quarterfinals the following day before flying home early on the Friday morning.
“I was so glad I went just to get that experience, to see where we could be,” Uddenberg said. “It made me want to bring the whole team there because I got such a good experience. I just want to be able to help the whole team get there.”
Uddenberg is also hoping to get to experience international soccer as she and two of her sisters were members of the Saint Kitts and Nevis national team that was involved in qualifying for this year’s Olympics. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it out of the CONCACAF region.
Cloey and younger sister Kayla are midfielders while older sister Carley is a defender. Cloey turned 19 a couple of days before the U SPORTS banquet while Carley is 21 and plays at Seneca College and Kayla is 16 and still in high school in Richmond Hill.
“We're supposed to have a training camp in December and probably an exhibition game,” Cloey said. “That was for senior women's national team and we just got our draw for the U20 World Cup championship. We'll be playing against Canada, Trinidad and (El Salvador). That just got drawn up and that will be early next year. It kind of sucked during COVID not seeing them. We did a couple of Zoom meetings to just keep the team together.”
The U20 tournament is the CONCACAF region’s championship tournament and it’s set to go Feb. 25 to March 12, 2022, in the Dominican Republic. Top three of the 16 teams in the tournament advance to the 2022 FIFA Women’s U20 World Cup in Costa Rica next August.
Cloey and her sisters have Saint Kitts and Nevis citizenship as their grandparents on their father’s side were born there.
There could be another Uddenberg playing for that nation in the future as they have a younger sister, Kenley, who’s 11.
That the girls are all involved in sports probably no surprise as their parents were also athletes, dad competing in the American version of football, track, a little bit of soccer and hockey, and mom competing in softball and swimming.
“All four of us just stuck to soccer,” Cloey said. “We did dance when we were little and gymnastics, but we all just ended up liking soccer.”
That joy of soccer actually helped Cloey get noticed by Gryphon women’s head coach Shayne Campbell.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen,” Cloey said. “My older sister was doing an ID camp in Newmarket and it was in the winter during my offseason. My dad just signed me up for it just to play. I had no intention to communicate with universities. It was basically just go for the day and play soccer just because I loved playing. I still do. It was just a day to go play soccer so I just went to play. It was more for my sister to get exposed to universities.”
Campbell noticed Cloey and talked with her about soccer, but not necessarily about playing at Guelph.
“I remember the conversation with him,” Cloey said. “It was crazy because I wasn't even supposed to be at that tournament or showcase. It was just for me to go play and have fun.”
Now she’s a second-year student at the University of Guelph where she’s doing a major in biomedical science and a minor in neuroscience.
With no university soccer last season due to the pandemic, Cloey was able to start her university studies remotely.
“COVID helped because I got to understand the school side of university without the added stress of a season, so I felt prepared school wise coming into this season,” she said.
She also got to meet most of her teammates last year.
“We still ended up practising and stuff, so I just commuted for the year,” she said. “That was two to three times a week. It wasn't bad, but having this year to just live here is so much easier instead of having to drive an hour or whatever it was.”
She also got a couple of games playing with Guelph Union in the League1 Ontario loop before the start of the university soccer season.
“Union really helped the team,” Cloey said. “We obviously didn't play for a year so it helped us get a couple of games in before season. There were also a couple of girls from other teams, like from Laurier or Queen's. The level of play kind of matched the same as what the OUA was so to be able to play with that high, intense environment helped me personally prepare for what an OUA season would be like and also to get to know the team better.”
However, she still noticed a difference during her first preseason match with the Gryphons.
“I remember my first exhibition game, the physicality of it,” Cloey said. “I tried to prepare myself for it, but I still found it harder to adjust to that. You're going in to tackle bigger, stronger girls. That was the first thing I noticed. And then you have to, especially my position as a midfielder, you have to be like 10 times more aware of what's around you because girls are coming in hard, girls are coming in fast. You have to be able to move the ball quickly.
“I think the level really stepped up in my first game. I just had to play the ball faster or be aware of what's coming because since everybody is more physical, you can get hurt easily and you've got to be aware of your surroundings. With that also comes communicating with your teammates. You have to help your teammates out adjusting to that level. I know my centre backs would always communicate with me to make sure I was aware of what was coming around me or if someone was coming in hard so I wouldn't get hurt or something. Or even help me with where to pass the ball because it has to be way faster. That's what I'd say the big difference was between OUA and what I played with before.”
Her biggest memory of her first season with the Gryphons won’t be the awards. It’ll be the team itself.
“The team environment stood out to me compared to any other team I've been on, especially with my first year being on the team,” she said. “The team is just so positive, just so supportive of everything. I was scared to move away from home, but the team just welcomed me so much I was like family. I was able to play the best that I could play because I didn't have to worry about being away from home and fitting in. The team just automatically made you feel like you were right at home.
“The older players really do care about the younger players, making sure they're doing well. It makes it much easier. I've heard of other teams where the older players are not very nice to the younger players, but that's not the case here. I think that's also why I did well this year. Just to have the support from the senior players was amazing.”