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CP : Canadian u19s witness to tragedy in Nebraska

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Canadian under-19 soccer players witness to tragedy in Nebraska


posted May 3 @ 19:38, EST


(CP) - Preparing for a qualifying tournament for the world under-19 women's soccer championship, the Canadian team got an ugly dose of reality recently while at a training camp in Nebraska.

University of Nebraska defender Jenna Cooper was shot to death at an April 25th party at her house to celebrate the end of the spring soccer season. A 22-year-old man was also shot but survived. Canadian under-19 players Brittany Timko of Coquitlam, B.C., and Tanya Dennis of Brampton, Ont., both play at Nebraska and were at the party when the shootings occurred.

Cornhuskers women's soccer coach John Walker is a native of Kingston, Ont., and serves as assistant coach of the Canadian under-19 squad. He is also a good friend of under-19 head coach Ian Bridge, who stayed on a few days after the camp to be with Walker.

"It was surreal the last few days there when that happened. Just a tragedy," Bridge said.

A 27-year-old Lincoln man has been charged with second-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder and two counts of using a weapon to commit a felony.

According to local media reports, the dispute was over some missing shot glasses taken from the party. Cooper was some 20 to 25 feet away from the argument when the gun was pulled and shots fired.

Cooper's last game was April 23, a 1-1 tie with the Canadian under-19 side in which Cooper set up the Huskers' goal.

The 21-year-old Cooper was co-captain of the Nebraska team, a squad that has close ties to Canada.

Sharolta Nonen, Christine Latham, Breanna Boyd and Sasha Andrews, all members of the Canadian senior talent pool, all went to Nebraska.

The Canadians turned heads at that inaugural world under-19 tournament two years ago, going all the way to the final before losing 1-0 in overtime to the favoured Americans at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium,

They start their qualifying journey for the 2004 championship, to be held in November in Thailand, at an eight-team CONCACAF tournament May 28 to June 6 in Montreal and Ottawa.

Canada is in a qualifying group with Jamaica, Mexico and Panama while the U.S. is in a pool with Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago.

Two teams will advance to represent CONCACAF at the world championship.

Bridge has yet to name his team but can call on 2003 veterans Kara Lang of Oakville, Ont., Katie Thorlakson of Langley, B.C., and Timko, from Coquitlam, B.C.

Denis, from Brampton, Ont., is recovering from post-concussion syndrome and is doubtful for the qualifying tournament.

Another concern is Stephanie Gibson, a 17-year-old centre back from Richmond Hill, Ont., who has a torn ACL. Gibson had worked her way into a starting role before hurting her knee in Toronto prior to the Nebraska camp.

Just 17, Lang has already played for the senior national team 41 times and has 21 goals. Still Bridge isn't sure where to play her.

"I don't think she is an outright goal-scorer although she can score some goals and usually spectacular goals," he said. "But I think for game-in, game-out scoring, Aysha (Jamani) is a player we're looking too for a lot of that.

"I think Kara can do many more jobs on the team. So it'll just be a question of maybe finding the right fit for the team, for the tournament."

Jamani is a 16-year-old forward from Calgary who has turned heads in a handful of games for the full national team. She already has seven goals in eight outings for Even Pellerud's side.

Midfielder Veroniqe Maranda of St-Lambert, Que., is a 17-year-old who has also made a mark at the senior level this year.

"A great leader in the midfielder, a great passer," Bridge said.

Asked to compare this group to the 2002 squad, Bridge says the 2004 version has more experience thanks to increased activity with other Canadian age-group sides and time spent with the full national team.

"I think we understand tactically the game better than that group maybe two years ago," Bridge added. "I think through the whole team, from goalkeeper to up front, we probably have more talent.

"The one thing we lack is Christine Sinclair, who is an impossible player to replace. A world-class goal-scorer. But I think from all the team parts, we're stronger."

The star striker, who turns 21 in June, led the 2003 tournament with 10 goals. She has 49 goals in 64 appearances for the Canadian senior side.

The Canadians will play exhibition games against Germany in Montreal on May 11 and Ottawa on May 13. Bridge will use those to fine-tune his 18-woman roster but says he left Nebraska with a "pretty good feel for our best 11."

He doesn't have to name his 18 until two days before the start of the tournament.

Bridge says there is pressure on his players because they want to qualify, and the failure of the senior side to make the Olympics is still fresh.

"They've seen things can go wrong."

But he believes playing at home is a plus, because of familiar surroundings and supportive fans.

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