SURREY — It's a good thing Jasmine Mander is finished with high school and no longer has to worry about writing an essay about "What I did on my summer vacation."
It's not that Mander would have a problem with such an assignment; the tough part would be fitting everything in.
Let's see, after helping the Vancouver Whitecaps Under-18 team win the Metro Women's Soccer League's regular season and premier cup titles, Mander captained the team to a summer soccer treble in the Pacific Coast League, winning the league title, league cup and finally the McAdams Cup as the top female team in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.
Then the team hopped on a plane and flew to Sweden where they won the prestigious Gothia Cup. And this was all before the end of July.
Back in Canada in August, Mander joined Team B.C. for the Canada Games where she helped win a gold medal after an undefeated run through the best provincial teams in the country. She then returned home and had all of four days off before joining UBC for the Thunderbirds' training camp in the Okanagan.
"It has been one the most incredible summers of soccer I've ever had in my life," the 18-year-old Seaquam grad marvelled. "The results are amazing, but so are the places we got to go, the things we experienced and the way we won. Winning the Gothia Cup with the Whitecaps was incredible. A lot of the Whitecaps players were on Team B.C. for the Canada Games so that was a lot of fun, too.
"It was a great experience and being on TSN gave us some great exposure. It was super neat coming home and everyone was so proud of us. North Delta is still kind of a small town, but it was neat to see how many people saw the game and felt connected to us."
A summer spent on the soccer pitch is nothing unusual for Mander, who has been around soccer fields almost her entire life. It started when she tagged along to her older brother Amar's games and practises. Her presence was so common that the coaches often asked her to join in the training drills.
"I did that until they got too big and I got kind of shy with the boys," she said. "Amar's the reason I started playing soccer. It's funny because he jokes that he had to make all the mistakes and I just learned from them."
The early training paid off for young Jasmine when she started playing organized soccer as a seven-year-old with Surrey Pegasus. Her skills were evident and she was quickly placed on a top-calibre Metrolevel rep team even though she was a year younger than every other girl in the league.
That pattern continued right through to this day. Although her 1995 birth year was the same as all the other Whitecaps, the team played much older opponents. They won the MWSL premier league title and PCL summer titles competing against grown women and when they travelled to Sweden, they captured the Gothia Cup while competing the high-calibre U-19 age class.
"I was always a year younger so I was used to being the youngest on the team," Mander said. "At the same time though, I was always a member of the leadership group on the team. It helped me mature faster and by the end, most of my teammates didn't see me as a younger player at all. Even when I joined the Whitecaps, I came in with a bunch of players from the 1994 group so they all knew me as player and not as the youngest player."
When the Whitecaps embarked on their summer of silverware collecting, they did so with Mander proudly wearing the captain's armband.
"It's always flattering to be among the leadership of a group of elite girls," Mander continued. "I always had a leadership role when I was in the provincial team program so I understand the role, my responsibilities and my obligations as captain. I was ready for it and to be honest, I never tired of going up and accepting trophies on behalf of my teammates. We all worked so hard to win them and it was an honour to represent all of my teammates when the trophies were handed out."
Now she's at UBC where she is once again the youngest Thunderbird in the nest.
UBC coach Andrea Neil said all the years of playing with older players has helped Mander develop skills most players her age don't have.
"Her experience, skills, knowledge and attitude of mind are a great package to have in any player," Neil said. "We're fortunate to have that in a young player like Jasmine. She's played with older players all through minor soccer and here she is again starting at the bottom of the totem pole age-wise again.
"To me, age is just a number and when a player steps into a room or onto the field, you can definitely get a sense that they're something special. Jasmine's approach is very special and unique."
Neil then added, "She wasn't just a part of all those winning teams, she was a leader as well. On the field she brings calmness, leadership, an ability to lead the play and an ability to motivate others. These are key attributes that you would want from any player, but she's worked at them a lot to the point where it appears like they come to her naturally."
Mander will have those skills put to the test this autumn. A nagging knee injury she suffered over the summer has turned out to be something more serious. Now she faces the prospect of missing out on most of the Thunderbirds' season as she undergoes rehab for it.
Despite the bleak prognosis for this season, Mander is typically upbeat about the university career that awaits.
"I'm so excited to be starting university," she said. "The way the team is coming together, it feels special. Andrea is a heck of a coach and she's bringing us all together. Something's happening there, something special. I can feel it happening and its so exciting to be a part of it."
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