By Taylor Retter
Two of Ottawa’s local soccer stars will soon trade the red and white of their Team Canada gear for the crimson and cream of the University of Oklahoma.
Keera Melenhorst and Sheridan Michel, both born and raised in Ottawa, are finishing their classes and exams remotely at Bill Crothers S.S. in Markham, Ont., while preparing for the next phase of their athletic careers with the Sooners of the NCAA’s Big 12 Conference.
For Melenhorst, this is the next step in a journey that began when she first set foot on a soccer field at three years old — and that she hopes delivers her someday to Canada’s senior national team.
An attacking centre-mid, Melenhorst played for West Ottawa before being invited in 2018 to join the Markham-based Ontario Regional Excel Super Centre (Ontario REX). Ontario REX is an invite-only program facilitated by sport organizations including Canada Soccer and Own the Podium that brings together top youth soccer players in an elite training and educational environment, with the goal of producing top-tier talent.
Michel, who also trains with the Ontario REX program, immersed herself in soccer a little later than Melenhorst. While she grew up playing the game, she also competed in gymnastics and dance.
“I really loved all of them,” Michel said. “And I wanted to be competitive in all sports, but my parents told me that I had to choose.”
She would go on to spend nearly a decade with Ottawa TFC (and the Cumberland Cobras, which folded into Ottawa TFC when it was founded), before spending stints with the Ontario REX program and the Under-17 women’s national training program, which Melenhorst has also taken part in.
For Melenhorst, the Sooners were a natural fit. While she was unable to tour the Oklahoma campus in person because of pandemic restrictions, she was convinced by head coach Mark Carr to commit to the school.
“He not only values the importance of having a family environment, but he valued my addition to the program and how I could fit in,” Melenhorst said.
West Ottawa head coach Kwame Telemaque said of his former player that Oklahoma “is gaining someone who will not stop working, and who will continue to improve.”
Melenhorst will be studying engineering at Oklahoma. Looking ahead to her freshman season, Melenhorst hopes to crack the Sooners’ starting lineup and help them win a Big 12 title, which the women’s soccer program has never done. She’s also looking forward to attempting that alongside a teammate and friend.
“It’s definitely like having a sense of home,” Melenhorst said, referring to Michel, who’s also her future roommate. “We’ll be able to lean on each other when things get a little harder.”
For Michel, the NCAA route wasn’t always as clear cut. It wasn’t until a few years ago that she began thinking about playing south of the border.
“I was midway through my junior year, and a lot of people were committing, but before Oklahoma contacted me there was no (schools) I was really in love with,” Michel said.
She was eventually grabbed by the idea of studying health sciences, or something related, at Oklahoma.
In the Michel, the Sooners are getting a centre-back who’s versatile, can play anywhere and is poised, according to Pavel Cancura. Cancura is Ottawa TFC’s general manager and was Cumberland’s GM before that.
Michel, also, is driven by the goal of helping Oklahoma win its first Big 12 title.