HALIFAX -- Watching Canada beat the U.S. in women’s soccer at the Tokyo Olympics, meant Saint Mary’s University soccer players Talia South and Jenna Lileikis were up very early Tuesday morning.

“We woke up at 5 a.m. to watch,” says South. “So, a little tired, but worth it.”

“I think especially playing against the States, to advance to the final,” adds Lileikis. “I think it's a huge win for Canada and a huge win for women in sport in Canada.”

Team Canada’s shot at soccer gold has been a long time coming, after the team won bronze at the games in both London and Rio, and a controversial semi-final loss to the U.S. in 2012. 

Saint's Mary's university assistant soccer coach Itai Kuwodza says the game showcased the skill women have in the sport.

“I thought the game was really fast,” she says.

Kuwodza has played soccer since she could walk as a child in her native Zimbabwe and has continued her soccer career in Canada after moving to Halifax for university about six years ago.

“You can see the preparation of the teams and the coaches and the work that's put in,” she says of Tuesday’s game. “And it just shows that the women's game is growing which is really important.”

Two veteran players in the sport couldn’t agree more.

“I'm so impressed. I’m in awe, and I’m proud, as an old member of that team,” says Amy Walsh in a Zoom interview from her home in Montreal.

Walsh was a midfielder for Team Canada in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and was named to the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame in 2017.

Sitting next to her on the video call is Nova Scotia’s Mary Beth Bowie, an inductee in the Nova Scotia Hall of Fame, who also played for Canada's national team - at the 1999 FIFA women's world cup.
The pair, also happen to be sister-in-laws.

Both now also coach the next generation of female players, with Bowie coaching within the United Dartmouth Football Club.

“As coaches and parents of young female players, we can now give them examples of female players that they can look up to and they can watch and they can emulate,” says Bowie.

Bowie and Walsh say the next step after the Olympics should include creating a way for female soccer players to go pro in this country.

“It's a call to action for not just the grassroots to push through, but to ask the people with the deep pockets and the current owners to create a landscape and an opportunity for young women to play professionally in Canada,” says Walsh.

Itai Kuwodza says she agrees.

“Getting to play in an international tournament from such different backgrounds, that's the dream,” she says. “You want little girls everywhere to know hey, there's just not one path to get to where you want to be.”

As for what the gold medal game result may be, South and Lileikis will both be watching.

“Canada’s going to have lots of momentum coming off of this game,” says Lileikis. “I’m excited.”

“I feel like being in the gold medal game will really push them and motivate them, to want to win gold for our country,” says South.