Rookie goalkeeper for the women’s soccer team
By Davie Wong, Sports Editor
The life of a rookie is often one filled with learning and new experiences. But their experience is generally given at a slow rate as coaches introduce them to the competitive level of collegiate sports. Once in a while, you have a rookie that can jump right into the system and thrive. This year, that rookie seems to be the Royals’ goalkeeper, Alexa Gazzola. The 1998-born goalkeeper has been thrust into the PACWEST spotlight, and so far, she is thriving.
Born to an Italian father and Canadian mother, Gazzola grew up in a soccer-loving family. Her life was always surrounded by soccer, but interestingly enough, she didn’t start playing competitively until she was seven. Her best friend’s father, along with her own father, put the two youngsters on a team, and that’s where it all started.
Alexa’s childhood playing soccer wasn’t actually in the goalkeeper position. In fact, Alexa spent most of her childhood playing as a midfielder or a forward. It wasn’t until her youth career that she started her journey in net. She remembers the moment she first stepped into net quite well. “During my first year of Metro league, during our first practice, we found out that the goalie that made our team had quit. So I was the one that took over. Our coach was like, ‘Okay Alexa, you’re going to go in net and we’ll see how it goes.’ I was terrible, so they introduced me to goalie training. And as that went on, I started understanding the position more and more, and I ended up liking it more than playing in the outfield.”
She liked it so much, she stuck with it. But the difference between the outfield and being in net is huge. When asked about what exactly got her to stay, she answered: “What made it stick was how it made me feel. I got to be the good guy and the bad guy at the same time. I got to be the good guy in the sense that I get to make the saves that help my team, but I also get to shut down the other strikers.” Having been a striker, Alexa knows exactly how it feels to have a goalie swing across the goal and completely deny you.
But some players have trouble dealing with that specific position because of the magnitude of it. You’re the last line of defence for the team, and your play can either win or lose you the game. That’s a lot of pressure to put on anyone. But some people deal with pressure well. Alexa is one of those people. She acknowledges that the pressure can be, at times, overbearing, but she also uses it as motivation to stay focused and drive her to perform to the best of her abilities.
However, she has also realized that self-positivity is one of her weak points to her athletic identity. “I struggle with positive self-talk. I hate when goals go in and I kind of beat myself up. So this year, I’m really working on being more positive to myself. If I’m more positive to myself, it will really help the team more.”
Like the rest of her team, Alexa has big aspirations for her soccer goals. “I want to win gold at Nationals,” she said confidently. “That’s our long term goal, for both myself, and the team. Short term wise, we want to win games. We want to get the results we deserve.”
That kind of team attitude, as well as her stellar play, is what got her noticed by the coach of the Douglas College Women’s Soccer program, Chris Laxton. In fact, Alexa has called Chris coach for a long time now. “In my youth career, Chris Laxton would bring me from my Metro team with his HPL team to different places for tournaments and stuff. So I’ve known Chris for quite a while now. When I found out he was the coach here at Douglas, and that Douglas offered the program that I wanted, it was the perfect match.”
Alexa was eventually offered the opportunity to try out for the team at an ID camp, which she took without hesitation. However, when she arrived at her first day at ID camp, she realized that she would be one of four goalkeepers competing for a spot on the roster. The revelation didn’t discourage her; in fact, it inspired her. “When I found out that there was going to be four goalies that were all training, I knew that I needed to work really hard and be dedicated, and show that I deserve a spot on the team. For the first while, I didn’t think it was going so well for me. But then as it went on, it got a bit easier to see when everything was going, and the dynamic of the team just started to click.”
For Alexa, a key to her success was the team environment that Coach Chris Laxton has worked so hard to foster during his time with the program. “After starting with the team in March or April, I was nervous the whole car ride from Vancouver to Coquitlam. But once I got onto the field, the team was super welcoming. They made it a super easy transition from youth soccer to college soccer. I think that if they had not been as welcoming as they were, it would have been a rougher transition.”
Her hard work carried her through the team’s offseason training camp, and onto the final roster. When asked about how it felt to make the game-day 18, Alexa face lit up as she remembered the moment she found out. “I remember we found out who would be on the initial 18 like a week before our first game. Once I found out, I remember running to my car in the parking lot and telling my dad that I made it. I’m on the 18. I just remember being so happy.”
Alexa was one of two goalkeepers on the game-day squad. Alongside third-year veteran Chantalle Bracken, the two make up the best goalkeeping tandem in the PACWEST. Although some tandems are competitive to the teeth, Alexa describes her partnership with Chantalle as a supportive one. “Playing with Chantalle is awesome. She’s like my partner in crime. Whenever I get down, I can always pick out her voice saying ‘Pick your head up. Get the next one. Forget about it.’ She really motivates me to get better and to keep going and to keep pushing.”
As a rookie, there’s always a little bit of nerves playing in your first big game. But for Alexa, who got her first start against the Quest Kermodes, there was nothing but an ice-cold zero as she shut out the Kermodes. As amazing as her feat was, she is humble in taking credit for it. “My first game against Quest was amazing. Obviously I couldn’t have kept the shutout by myself, it was a lot to do with the people in front of me. My backline had been working really hard that game. They worked as a unit, stepping up together, moving as a unit, and communicating, so they helped big time. And Richard, our goalie coach, prepared me super well, so it felt so good to get that start.”
Since then, Alexa Gazzola has made her impact on the PACWEST. As of the release of this article (Week 8 of PACWEST), Alexa has played in 8 games, surrendering 4 goals, and claiming 4 clean sheets. She has the PACWEST’s best goals per 90 minutes of play with 0.57, and is overall the league’s best goalkeeper.
With all of that, it’s hard to forget she’s just in her first year of college. Alexa is enrolled in the criminology diploma program at Douglas. After she’s completed her schooling, she hopes to follow her dream of working at the border as a border officer.