Mykena Walker chalks up her first year of university soccer as a solid 10/10.
While that can sound like hyperbole, the reality is the Airdrie teen's rookie season in USPORTS really was pretty much as good as could be.
The 17-year-old Airdrie soccer product enjoyed a Hollywood-inspired rookie campaign with the University of Calgary Dinos women's soccer team this year. She started every game and played nearly every minute as the Dinos made it all the way to the USPORTS national championship tournament.
While the U of C's trip to nationals didn't render a win, Walker can be forgiven for recognizing the season as a fantastic overall experience.
“I didn’t expect to play as much as I did, and I didn’t expect for us to do as well as we did,” she said. “We went all the way to nationals and no one expected that from us, because we had so many graduating players last year. For what I was expecting, it was a lot different, but definitely a 10 out of 10 for my first year.”
Walker joined the Dinos earlier this year after a successful minor soccer career with Calgary's Blizzard Soccer Club. She was also a member of the Alberta REX (Regional Excellence) program and a 2022 graduate of W.H. Croxford High School. She also played for Team Alberta at the 2022 Canada Summer Games in Niagara, Ont.
The full-back showed no signs of first-year jitters as she began her post-secondary career, immediately slotting into the U of C's starting line-up. Despite being a rookie, Walker started all 17 games as a full-back in the Dinos’ starting 11 this season and earned the third-most minutes of any player.
“Coming into my first year, I knew I wanted to play,” she said. “I didn’t know I’d be starting every game, but I knew I wanted to at least play and travel. I set goals and worked really hard in preseason. That really helped and pushed me into the starting line-up.”
She said she realized halfway through the 2022 campaign that she was consistently being called upon by her coach.
“After the first weekend, when I started both games, it was really shocking to me,” she said. “But then as each week went on and it was more consistent, I think after four weeks – eight games – [was] when I realized I’d be a consistent starter.”
With a new coach at the helm (Diogo Raposo) after the recent departure of Troye Flannery, and with a young roster following the recent graduations of several key players, the Dinos women's soccer program was expected to be in rebuilding mode this year. But the U of C defied the odds to remain as one of the top teams in western Canada with a 9-3-2 regular-season record.
Once they were in the playoffs, the Dinos earned the Canada West bronze medal in early November by beating the Thompson Rivers University (TRU) WolfPack 3-0. Their third-place finish meant they earned a spot in the national championships the following weekend.
“Although that game’s score doesn’t show that it was a hard game, it really was,” Walker said of the battle for bronze against TRU. “Mentally it was hard because going into that game, we had to win in order to go to nationals. If we lost, we wouldn’t have gone. So having that pressure on us was hard, but it was exciting and winning made it even better.”
Once at the national tournament, the Dinos finished seventh after losing their first two matches. Despite the disappointment of the early exit, Walker said the experience of competing on the national stage will bode well in years to come as she and the rest of the U of C squad continue to mature.
“I think it was a really good learning experience for our team,” she said. “It showed a lot what we needed to work on.
“This being my first year, making it to nationals was pretty cool. I think if we did it in my first year, we can definitely do it in the next four years as well. We just have to take what we learned and put it into the next few seasons.”