Fiery 5-3 inch soccer player led MRU Cougars’ transition into university CIS play with second most points

The Beautiful Game is one of the few collegiate sports in which an athlete’s size isn’t necessarily critical to success. Players like Lionel Messi and Diana Matheson have shown the world that when it comes to soccer, the smallest player on the pitch can still dominate.

Donella Lockhart of the Mount Royal University Cougars is no exception.

The Calgary Journal’s Athlete of the Month for October clocks in at a mere five foot three but could very well be the biggest player on the Cougars roster.

What Lockhart lacks in size she makes up for in strength, work ethic and technical ability. Combine that with a level head, a booming voice and a will to lead and you’ve got one player who is a focal point in any opposing game plan.

Currently 22-years-old, Lockhart has been playing soccer for 17 years in her hometown of Calgary and her ongoing love for the game is evident through her unique blend of tireless hustle and galvanizing leadership.

“I’m the type of player who, when the team isn’t necessarily performing at the top level, I’ll go and do a big hit or just work my ass off,” Lockhart said. “Especially being the second smallest person on the team – I don’t get pushed off of the ball. I don’t use that as an excuse.”In her fifth and final year with the Cougars, 22-year-old Donella Lockhart has become a setup specialist. She said she hopes for a winning campaign as her swan song.

Photo courtesy of Adrian Shellard

“If you want to come at me then come at me. I’ll take it,” Lockhart exclaimed. “I like to think it motivates the team and they think, ‘If she’s doing it, I better get my ass in gear.’”

Growth as a player

Now in her fifth year with the Cougars, Lockhart has fully embraced her role as a leader and hopes to take her team to its first winning campaign since becoming a part of the heavily competitive Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) in 2012.

The maximum allotted eligibility in the CIS is five years. In rare cases, some students will play their respective sport for the entire five years. It isn’t easy. Typically, to have any longevity in varsity soccer, you either need to be exceptional in one facet of the game, or be good in many aspects of the game.

Donella Lockhart is exceptional in many aspects of the game.

Despite taking on multitudinous roles and playing various different positions on the pitch, Lockhart has finished as a Top 2 point scorer for her team each season since joining the CIS.

Coach’s perspective

Yet it isn’t her ability to put points on the board that impresses her coach, Tino Fusco, the most.

“Donella comes with a little bit of a bite and I like that about her. She’s adapted to whatever challenges have come her way,” Fusco said. “She carries a bit of an edge to her.”

“I wish she could take some of what she’s learned in the past five years and pass it on to some of the ones that don’t speak up as much.”

Fusco – a former CIS All-Canadian player and Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) Coach of the Year – began with the Cougars at the same time as Lockhart.

Fusco continued, “Donella has been with me since I started with this program and now in her last year in CIS, she’s blossomed into a very quality player. I think she’s grown as a student athlete.”

“She’s going to come away with a degree and I think that is the most important part of the process. Hopefully at some point they look back and say this was successful because they’ve learned something at university.”

Balancing school and sport

In addition to her achievements on the field, one of the most commendable achievements Lockhart has garnered over the years is her ability to succeed academically. Despite a rigid training regime, she has kept an above average GPA, majoring in anthropology with a minor in education.

Five-foot-three Lockhart leads practice with the same passion and focus she brings into each game.

Photo by Daniel Ball“We all struggle with time management at times but for the most part all of our profs are very understanding,” said Lockhart. “If you have to miss a class they’re more than willing to let you make it up.”

“We always have study rooms when we’re in hotels. Everybody will go so if you have a question you can just ask. My teammates make it easier,” Lockhart explained.

A student-athlete’s lifestyle requires a lot of sacrifice but Lockhart says her friends and family understand that it’s worthwhile to her.

“Most of my friends know that trying to have a relationship is just impossible this time of year. Before you go into preseason you tell everyone and they just say, ‘Alright, talk to you in two months,’” Lockhart said.

“You can try but you go to school all day and then you practice every night. Every weekend we have two games and some of them we’re traveling for,” explained Lockhart.

But Lockhart isn’t the type of person to allow such obstacles diminish her optimism.

“This is probably the best team I’ve been on. We’re a very cohesive unit,” Lockhart said. “We have a lot of skill and hopefully that translates to wins and we make the playoffs for the first time and I can go out with a bang.”

You can see Donella play her final games with the Cougars Oct. 4 and 5 at MRU Stadium Field and Oct. 17 and 18 in Winnipeg, Man.

dball@cjournal.ca