By Rodrigo Verney, January 3 2022—
Montana Leonard has always been an example of dedication and results. The midfielder has been playing varsity sports ever since she became a Dino in 2016. Leonard has had one of the best track records in Canada West history. Always making progress, she went from playing 13 games in her rookie year to being named Canada West Player of the Year.
Before the college scene, Leonard’s ultimate goal of becoming a professional soccer player fueled her every step. Her time at Surrey United Soccer Club made her a fierce competitor and gave her a feel for the game. Leonard progressed so much, which made it impossible to not consider her a top contender in her division. As an early achiever, she was ready to bring her excitement and passion to varsity soccer — an important step for any player.
She became a Dino in 2016 and had her first taste of the varsity level.
“It’s a pretty big change. I was nervous but also excited,” said Leonard about her first varsity game.
She also recalls the difference in the level of the game during the transition to the varsity level.
“It was very nerve-racking. It is quite a big change from youth soccer — everyone is so much bigger, stronger, faster and you’re playing against girls that can be five or six years older than you.”
Although Leonard felt the change, she couldn’t be more ready as she was in her rookie year.
A player’s rookie season is filled with hunger, the desire to win at any cost, to prove oneself. For Leonard, it was no different. The game got more intense, but so did her mindset. Leonard talked about where her mind was in her first year.
“I just wanted to take any opportunity that I was offered in my first year,“ she said, clearly showing how her focus was a key point for her success as a rookie. Starting on 5 of the 20 regular games, Leonard was ready to prove her abilities and get as close as possible to the professional scene.
Speaking about the rookie, Leonard delivered. She had her first assist on the Winnipeg Wesmen, a thrilling game. This wasn’t her only contribution either. Her first varsity goal came as a game-winner against the Regina Cougars. She wouldn’t stop there, as she scored again on a win against the Lethbridge Horns, converting two goals and an assist as a rookie. Leonard finished that season with five points and set the bar for herself as a rookie and as a competitor.
Leonard played even harder in 2017. Becoming an important piece for the team, she went from starting in five out of thirteen games in her rookie season, to starting in all of the 14 games she played. After that season, she got nominated for Second Team All-Star — a well-deserved recognition as she finished with two goals and five assists.
“Being recognized by the Canada West league is huge,” said Leonard. She went on to acknowledge her peers and explain how this makes the accolade even more meaningful.
“There’s quality players all across the country, so it was a really nice feeling for sure,” she mentioned.
Her next season consolidated her as a star power in the league. She went on to start in all of the 20 games in the season. Leonard recorded five goals in five consecutive games. Scoring eight goals in total and assisting on two, she was crucial for the Dinos campaign in the Canada West tournament. She was responsible for the sole goal in the U SPORTS Championship quarterfinal. This amazing performance crowned her first Canada West First All Team. Leonard attributed her success to the people that support both her and the team.
“I think Troye [Flannery] does a really good job of pushing us to be the best versions of ourselves,” said Leonard of the Dinos women’s soccer head coach. “As well as just the people that I’m surrounded by in this program. There are so many great players that I have to attribute so much of my success to them. We’re just a really great cohesive team and I think that has been a part of my individual success as well as our team success.”
As a fourth year, Leonard kept on her amazing streak when she led the Dinos to their first Canada West title in 14 years and finished as vice-champions at Nationals — another season in which she surpassed her previous record by scoring twelve goals in total. An outstanding accomplishment that was accompanied by Academic All Canadian honours after the season, proving her hard work on and off the field. Leonard credited her success as a student on her ability to manage her time being a student-athlete.
“I think I just found the right study habits for me. And it all worked out pretty well.”
After the unpredictability we all faced in 2020 during COVID and the cancellation of live sports, Leonard had a chance to play the season that was lost during the pandemic. She was invited to play in 2021 as a “last dance.” This proved to be one of the best things that happened to Leonard as she was named Canada West Player of the Year after the season wrapped up. A piece of history in the making, as she is the first woman soccer player ever to have this honour.
For now, she will be returning to her hometown in Vancouver to spend the holidays with her family, while continuing to work out and play soccer. She hopes to inspire people to pursue all opportunities they can get.
“If I can inspire anyone like the younger generation to continue the sport, whatever it may be, to university, at whatever level, I would just encourage everyone to take all those opportunities because I’ve really met the most amazing people and it’s changed my life here.”