Bisons women’s soccer coach is a trailblazer and a role model

Football has taken Vanessa Martinez Lagunas all over the world.

She represented her native Mexico internationally from 1999-2004, played in the NCAA Div. 1 at the University of Texas at Austin, and adapted for one of the giants of professional football, Bayern Munich in Germany.

Despite all her travels and experiences, Martinez Lagunas, who moved to Winnipeg in 2013 to take charge of the University of Manitoba Bisons women’s soccer program, never got to play for a coach.

It’s something he never liked, and that’s understandable.


Bison Women’s Soccer Head Coach Vanessa Martinez Lagunas.

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Bison women’s soccer head coach Vanessa Martinez Lagunas.

“At one point I thought, ‘Can women be coaches?’ because I had never seen one,” said Martinez Lagunas.

“I don’t want this to happen to the next generation.”

There are 53 U Sports universities with women’s soccer programs, but less than 10 of them are led by female coaches. Martinez Lagunas thinks one of the main reasons for the low numbers is the fact that it’s not easy for women to enter the industry, and she can tell from experience.

Martinez Lagunas learned German in order to earn the UEFA Professional License in Germany, the highest coaching certification available in Europe. She was one of two women in a class of 22 and the only international participant. Martinez Lagunas ended up with some of the higher marks, but it didn’t seem to matter. After graduation, the high-paying jobs went to men, and Martinez Lagunas found nothing worthwhile for over a year.

“At one point I thought, ‘Can women be coaches?’ because I had never seen one.”
—Vanessa Martinez Lagunas

“When I was in Germany I had a sports science scholarship and that was better than the coaching offers I got, even though I had the highest coaching license in the world. It took almost 10 years to get to this licensed coaching, but the coaching offers were so low, from all over the world, that I couldn’t live off it,” Martinez Lagunas said.

Luckily for Martinez Lagunas, that’s when the opportunity at U de M presented itself and she jumped on it because it was a mix of her two passions: football and studies. Martinez Lagunas then guided the herd to five straight Canada West playoff appearances, something she’s very proud of, but she considers getting more women to coach a much bigger success. A pair of former Bisons in forward Bruna Mavignier, a Brazilian who moved to Winnipeg the same year as Martinez Lagunas, and goalkeeper Chloe Werle, now help Canada Soccer as sports scientists through their jobs with Canadian Sport Institute Ontario.

<p>Photo by Neil Noonan</p>
<p>Bisons head coach Vanessa Martinez Lagunas</p>
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Photo by Neil Noonan

Bisons head coach Vanessa Martinez Lagunas

Earlier this month, Werle, a 29-year-old Winnipegger who grew up playing for Bonivital Soccer Club, was promoted to senior sports scientist with Canada’s senior women’s national team. Mavignier, 28, has taken over Werle’s former position as a sports scientist with the National Development Center program in Ontario and women’s national youth teams. As sports scientists, U of M products wear many different hats, but their main priority is to be in charge of players’ physical performance to ensure they are ready to play. Werle and Mavignier both worked on Martinez Lagunas’ team as assistants and in strength and conditioning roles before getting the chance to work with the reds and whites.

“It’s better than any win or any championship. That’s what makes my job so rewarding and amazing. I like coaching just to see the success of the people I work with and the Seeing their dreams come true is the best reward for me,” said Martinez Lagunas.

“I always tell them that I have passed the torch to them and that they need to continue to open up opportunities for other girls and other women.”

“I like being a coach just to see the success of the people I work with and seeing them achieve their dreams is the best reward for me”
—Vanessa Martinez Lagunas

Much like Martinez Lagunas, Werle and Mavignier, who are now based in Toronto, didn’t grow up with female coaches. Now they’re helping the game change for the better and doing it with another Bison.

“I know I wasn’t born in Winnipeg, but I have a passion for Winnipeg. It’s kind of weird because it’s one of the coldest places in Canada, but I really love this place and I consider it my home in Canada,” said Mavignier, who came to Winnipeg on a Brazilian government scholarship and went on to become one of the most dynamic scorers in Bison history. Mavignier is currently in the Dominican Republic with the women’s under-17 team for a CONCACAF World Cup qualifier.

“I’m just really proud that Chloe and I came from U of M and Winnipeg. We also have Desiree Scott, a very important player on the senior national team, and I’m really proud and happy that we’re all from Winnipeg and the same school.”

<p>Former University of Manitoba Bisons forward Bruna Mavignier is now a sports scientist with Canada Soccer.</p>
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Former University of Manitoba Bisons forward Bruna Mavignier is now a sports scientist with Canada Soccer.

Werle and Mavignier praised Martinez Lagunas for helping them get to where they are today and making them realize they could work in football after college.

“From the ground up, you have to be able to see that it’s even a possibility. I didn’t even realize growing up that the role I have now was possible. But when I heard about that role it was almost exclusively held I think as I get older, girls in sports would probably have a little more initiative to stay in sports if they knew there were more opportunities for them, not just in the gaming realm,” Werle said.

“To see women in coaching, staffing, sports science, operations and those roles, you reignite that passion in you to stay in the sport and you need examples to start with and I didn’t have them. not until we have Vanessa as a coach.”

Martinez Lagunas, Werle and Mavignier have all helped the Canadian soccer scene grow on and off the field, but none of them are satisfied yet. There is still work to be done and they are all happy to do it.

“I really want to help grow women’s soccer in Canada. We won the gold medal at the Olympics, reaching the highest level possible, but I still think there is a lot to do with women’s soccer in Canada. with professional clubs and improving the university system,” Mavignier said.

“I really want to be part of it.”

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Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen

Eighteen-year-old and still in high school, Taylor made his Free Press debut on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.

Rebecca R. Santistevan