Gabriella Friesen gets her kicks out on the soccer field, and soon she'll be joining the U14 National team to compete on the world stage in Madrid, Spain. The 12-year-old defender and goalkeeper has played soccer since she could first don shin guards and has been putting a special focus on the sport over this past year in pursuit of her passion. Having recently advanced into the U14 age group, Gabriella now spends up to 6 days a week on the pitch and continues her solo training in the few free hours that she can find at home. 

Although her grades don't reflect it, the demands of being an athlete can add a unique challenge to academics. Friesen said that it just takes a little extra hard work to fit everything into her busy schedule.

"You definitely miss a couple of days of school for tournaments," Friesen acknowledged. "I'll be missing a week and a half for Madrid, so it can be hard to manage all that extra homework. I want to be able to focus while I'm on the field and I'll be way behind if I wait until we get back, so that means late nights to get ahead before my trip."


Her mother, Tammy, added that Gabriella has had to hone her time management skills to find balance between soccer, school, and time with friends. She's even had to drop some other extracurriculars to keep up with her dedication to the sport.

"I used to be involved with the choir and I was in mixed martial arts before going all-in on soccer," said Gabriella. "It was a tough choice to step back from those things because I really liked them, but the timing was difficult so in the end I chose soccer since I've been playing it the longest."


Her dedication has certainly paid off, though. After taking a chance on a developmental camp in Toronto last Summer, Gabriella was recognized for her intensity by coaches seeking talent for the U14 Canadian team to compete at the 2024 Madrid World Challenge. Although she's been staying competitive at tournaments above her age category, Friesen said she was shocked to find out she had been chosen for the junior team. 

"To be honest, I'm surprised that I actually got it," she admitted. "When we got there, I realized I was the only girl in my group and there were only 12 goalies in the entire camp. I thought for sure that one of the boys would get the spot. I was also thinking that all these players from Toronto probably come from such big clubs and have so much more experience, and I'm there from little old Weyburn, Saskatchewan. It was a big shock when I was chosen."


Now on her way to share the stadium with up to 20 other international teams, Gabriella can see that the investments made by her coaching staff and home club were well founded. She especially credits Tyler (coach 'T') Hillstead of the Weyburn Soccer Association for the focus he has put into her development, and she remains appreciative of how her club's culture allows their athletes to thrive. 

"All of my coaches are amazing," she assured, "and coach Mike in Regina has helped me with lots of goalie stuff, but especially coach 'T'. He's probably the best coach that I've ever met. But you know, it's kind of like a family in Weyburn. I know all of the people on the team so we're all comfortable with learning from each other, and that makes things a lot easier."


(Photo provided by Weyburn Soccer Association)

The Weyburn Soccer Association took their support for Gabriella to a whole new level when it was confirmed that she'd be travelling to Spain. To help with some of the travel costs, the WSA contributed $1,000 towards her expenses. But with the entire experience costing thousands more, Gabriella continues to fundraise ahead of her late-March departure- even ponying up her own dough to cover the bill. 

"We're selling cheesecake in a jar right now to fundraise, and it's going pretty good. I think we've sold 97 now. I'm saving up a lot of money though. Like all of my allowance and all that, it's going to one place right now. This trip is coming quicker than I expected, seeing how it's already the end of February," said Friesen.


Supporters can purchase jars for just $10 each at the General Store, located downtown in Weyburn. They can also contribute to Gabriella's Madrid World Challenge journey by heading to her Facebook Page to place a special order. 

Gabriella will depart for Spain on March 20th where she will spend the first few days getting to know her team and taking in the new scenery. The tournament will take place from the 25-28th, before closing ceremonies on the 29th. Those athletes in attendance will not only get to experience the thrill of international competition but will also be treated to a private tour of the Real Madrid arena, further adding to the experience of a lifetime.