As part of their 50th anniversary celebration, the University of Calgary Dinos athletic department trusted me to write profiles about each inductee into the Dinos Hall of Fame, Class of 2017. I’ll post the profiles I wrote as they get released over the next two weeks. It was a pleasure to work with the university. I am very thankful for their trust.
It was the perfect ending to the greatest career in the history of the University of Calgary Dinos women’s soccer program.
Stephanie (O’Neill) Gawlinski was playing in her final game of her illustrious career. It was also the 1998 national championship final.
The situation had become a broken record for Gawlinski. It didn’t matter how strong of a regular season the Dinosaurs had, they would reach the Canada West final and lose in some sort of heart-breaking fashion each of her first four years.
“I remember telling myself that I wasn’t going to lose my last career college game,” said Gawlinski.
“REBUILD” BECAME CHAMPIONSHIP
After four years of dominance, 1998 was seen as a rebuilding year. The Dinos experienced an overhauled roster, only returning ten members and one other senior (Michelle Boorman) from the 1997 squad.
That didn’t bother Gawlinski; she entered the season brimming with confidence after capturing the gold medal with the Canadian national team during the 1998 CONCACAF Women’s Championship in Toronto. Canada blanked Mexico 1-0 in the final.
“Winning the CONCACAF and the national championship were definitely the two top accomplishments of my athletic career,” said Gawlinski, whose list grew following the birth of her two sons down the road.
With an international gold medal around her neck, there was no stopping Gawlinski that season.
“She was always ultra competitive. Her leadership changed that final year,” recalled the Dinos’ head coach from 1994-2001, Robin Slot. “She had the experience and frustration of losing in the Canada West final every year. Someone had to step up and she delivered.”
After going 4-6 in the regular season, the 1998 version of the Dinos didn’t have high expectations heading into the postseason.
“I didn’t even think we were title contenders,” said Slot.
They didn’t even have a goaltender at the start of the year. Tammie Wilson was forced to convert into the Dinos’ ‘keeper.
CINDERELLA RUN TO NATIONAL TITLE
Squeaking into the playoffs, they finally caught a break when they took on the University of Victoria Vikes in the dreaded Canada West final. With the Vikes hosting nationals, the Dinos automatically earned a national birth regardless of the outcome.
The Dinos would meet the Vikes again, this time in the national championship, in what was one of the greatest soccer games in the university’s history.
Gawlinski remembers it like it was yesterday.
“I remember it was raining all weekend. The field turned into a giant mud pit by the final,” said Gawlinski.
The striker netted a pair of goals to put the Dinos up 2-0 at half.
The Vikes stormed back with a pair of their own, tying it 2-2 midway through the second half.
Gawlinski was hauled down in the box midway through the second half and was rewarded with a penalty kick as she vied for the hat trick.
Pounding the ball high to the right, the Vikes goalie came up with an incredible save, as the rebound trickled out to Juliamai Giffen, who banged in the rebound, putting the Dinoss up 3-2. Calgary held on to be crowned national champions for the first time in school history.
“We were so ecstatic and elated to finally win. It was the pinnacle of our college careers,” said Gawlinski. “To go out in my last year like that, was the happiest feeling.”
Gawlinski won the Gunn Baldursson Memorial Award (Championship MVP) for her three-point performance.
“She was the no nonsense, no excuse-type. When you have players like that, coaching the team becomes that much easier,” said Slot. “It was a pleasure to be a part of her career.”
It capped off a banner year for the Hall of Famer.
Her list of individual accolades is significant: Gawlinksi was named Canada West Female Athlete of the Year in 1999, she was Canada West Player of the Year in 1996, she was a CIS All-Canadian from 1996-1998, and she was a four-time Canada West All-Star.
She scored 23 goals, ten of which were of the game-winning variety. The Dinos went 32-11-7 during her career, and she was named Athlete of the Year in 1996 and 1998.
She joins Kathy Truscott as the second women’s soccer player enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
HARD WORK LED TO SUCCESS
Gawlinski was talented, no doubt about that, but she also had to put in plenty of work to reap the rewards of her college career.
“Gord Ramsay was pivotal in my success,” said Gawlinski, of her late former coach. “I remember he used to ride his bike behind me on Memorial Drive as I would go for early 6 a.m. runs. It’s sad to think that he won’t be there to help me celebrate the Hall of Fame.”
The lessons she picked up on the pitch helped her once her career ended.
Originally, she graduated with a Bachelor of Kinesiology in 1999, but decided to go back to school and graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce in 2002. Her biggest accomplishment in the professional world was passing her Uniform Final Exam in 2004, receiving her accountant papers in 2005.
“Making the switch from Kinesiology into the accounting world was a pretty big decision. I was able to pick up valuable lessons from my time with the Dinos that helped me in my career. Things like hard work, discipline; I didn’t realize all the parallels from the sports world into the business world,” Gawlinski said.
Gawlinski doesn’t make it out to as many Dinos games as she would like to anymore; these days, she is preoccupied shuttling her two boys to hockey and lacrosse tournaments, squeezing in Dinos games whenever she has a rare afternoon off.
Photos courtesy of the University of Calgary athletic department.