|Volume No. 1 Issue No. 44 - Wednesday June 11, 2003
| Karina Leblanc: World Class Goal Keeper |
by: Thomson Fontaine
When the Women’s World Cup kicks off in China in September 2003, one of the favorites in that tournament will be the Canadian women’s team. The remarkable transformation of an otherwise ordinary team has mainly been attributed to their coach Even Pellerud of Norway and talented goalkeeper Dominican Karina Leblanc.
At the age of 23, Karina has risen to the very top of international women’s soccer, and is also currently the top goal keeper in the women’s soccer league in the United States (WUSA), doing the honors for the league’s leading team the Boston Breakers.
Although soccer (football as we know it) is wildly popular in Dominica, the sport of women’s soccer is less so. In fact, very few Dominican women participate in the sport. My own interest in women’s soccer started when I was attending college in the United States and saw my first ‘live’ game between two women college teams.
I have been a fan ever since. Women’s soccer is special. I was impressed with the skill and finesse of the women athletes. I can’t say the same for women participation in the other traditional ‘men’ sports. (I still can’t watch women’s basketball).
I recall watching the Canadian team play in 1998 and been very impressed with the Canadian goal keeper. Other than her outstanding performances, and the fact that she looked so young (she was 19 at the time); I was drawn by the fact that she was the only black on an otherwise all white Canadian team. At the time, I had no way of knowing that I was looking at a fellow Dominican.
Karina Chenelle Leblanc was born in Atlanta to Dominican parents Vans Leblanc, who is currently general manager of the National Commercial Bank in Dominica and Winsome Leblanc, on March 30, 1980.
Here is how Karina described the circumstance surrounding her birth to a newspaper recently. “I was supposed to be born in the Caribbean (Dominica). But I was born in Atlanta because I was a "Hurricane Baby." My mom was a couple of months pregnant in 1979 and there were a lot of warnings about a bad hurricane coming through called Hurricane David. So my parents went to Atlanta and I was born there. We stayed there for six months. Then my family moved back to the Caribbean (Dominica) and we lived there until I was 8”.
Her family would eventually move to Canada where she started playing football at the age of 12. A naturally gifted athlete who also plays basketball, she was selected for Canada's U-20 team in 1998 and 1999.
Her big break came when she made her debut for the Canadian World Cup Team when she replaced Nicole Wright on May 21, 1998 against China. She has had twenty-five caps with the National team including at the 1998 CONCACAF Championships, Australia Cup '99, 1999 Pan Am Games, 1999 World Cup, and the Gold Cup of 2000 and 2002.
In her most recent game for the Canadian team in a friendly against England on May 19, 2003, she had a shut-out with the Canadians winning 4 : 0. She has had nine other shut-outs in her blossoming career: May 24, 1999 vs Mexico (2:0); June 4, 2000 vs Australia (2:0); March 11, 2001 vs USA (3:0) - Algarve Cup; April 6, 2002 vs France (2:0); September 26, 2002 vs Australia (2:0); November 1, 2002 vs Jamaica (9:0) - Gold Cup; November 3, 2002 vs Costa Rica (3:0) - Gold Cup; and November 6, 2002 vs Mexico (2:0) - Gold Cup Semi-Final.
In 2001, she was selected in the third round of the United States women’s football league and has played for the Boston Breakers ever since. For the week ending June 1, 2003, she was elected as the WUSA’s MET-Rx Player of the Week following her teams 1-0 victory over the San Jose CyberRays on Saturday, May 31st in which she had six saves. That performance was followed up on June 8 in Washington DC where her team beat Mia Hamms Washington team 3-1.
She played college football for the University of Nebraska and graduated this past May with a degree in Business Administration. Her outstanding college career included being: a Herman Trophy Finalist; named to the 2001 Umbro Select All-Star Classic Women's Elite College Team; fourth nationally in goals against average (0.40) in 2000; leader in the Big 12 in goals against average (0.51) in 1999; and awarded Nebraska's Most Improved Player Award as a junior.
Now LeBlanc is turning her sights on being the starting keeper for the World Cup in China in September and reaching to the top of her game in the tourney. “There’s going to be some games where I may need to make just a couple key saves,” she recently told a reporter. “I want to be able to consistently do that. Or the games where the goalkeeper may be more challenged, just come up big for the team, just do my role, do the basic things that the keeper’s supposed to do –- keep the ball out of the net.”
Despite living in Canada and the United States, Karina has an abiding love for Dominica remarking to a journalist recently: “I definitely miss Dominica. I miss the great views and the beaches and the relaxed lifestyle. It's a great place and I love to go back and visit....”
Thousands of Canadian and now Dominican fans will be hoping that Karina will continue to perform at the top of her game and maybe lead the Canadians to the World Cup finals.