Karina Bagi is the Bisons women’s soccer veteran goalkeeper. The Kelowna, B.C., native is entering her last year of eligibility on the women’s soccer squad.
Though Bagi loves her adopted city of Winnipeg, she does try to go home when the soccer season and school allow her to.
“Usually throughout the year I’ll go back — like reading week in November and February, and then for Christmas break,” Bagi explained.
“And then in the summer I’ll usually head back for about a month and a half or so — just that summer break up until pre-season starts.”
Like most athletes destined for university sports, Bagi was a multi-sport athlete growing up, playing everything from lacrosse to basketball to volleyball and, of course, soccer. While she appreciated basketball and volleyball in particular for their cross-training aspects, her height was a big factor in choosing soccer as her professional sport.
Standing at six-feet tall, Bagi realized her height was an asset, especially as a goalkeeper. Another deciding factor was the way playing goalie made her feel .
“This is going to sound a little weird, but I do like the risk involved with being a goalie, just that little added pressure,” Bagi said.
“I feel like I sometimes thrive under that.”
Bagi started playing soccer at four years old, but it wasn’t until she was around 13 that she tried the position of goalkeeper.
“When I was, I think, 13 I was still in youth soccer, and you had to do the rotation where everyone would try in net,” Bagi explained.
“At first, I was like ‘what the hell am I doing?’”
But the coach, the mother of Bagi’s friend and teammate, managed to talk Bagi into sticking with the position because she was tall for the average youth soccer goalkeeper and had potential in the position. The following year, Bagi tried out as goalkeeper for a high performance soccer team and the rest is history.
“I tried out as a goalie and then kind of just stuck with it and ended up developing in the role,” Bagi said.
Bagi’s path to the Bisons started in high school when she was contacted by Bisons women’s soccer head coach Vanessa Martinez Lagunas. Martinez Lagunas came out to a showcase in Vancouver to watch Bagi play before inviting her to the Bisons minicamp.
When Bagi came to Winnipeg, she “fell in love” with the Bisons facilities, but most importantly, she loved the team culture of the Bisons soccer squad.
“Meeting the team and seeing how they interact with each other just felt right because I did a couple other visits and talking to other coaches and whatnot and [the University of Manitoba] just felt really homey and welcoming,” Bagi said.
Bagi’s first year as a Bison was in 2018, and she has only improved as time has passed. Her goal save percentage has steadily risen since she first started in net from .673 in 2019 to an astounding .838 in 2022, and her goals against average dropped from 2.83 in 2019 to an incredible 1.01 in last year’s season.
The 2022 campaign had Bagi named as a Bisons Athlete of the Week in early October, when she made double-digit saves over the span of two games, including a shutout against the then defending U-Sports national champion MacEwan University Griffins from Edmonton, Alta. Bagi also went on a whopping 286-minute shutout streak that spanned five games.
Arguably, one of Bagi’s best career statistics comes from 2021, when she registered a shot on goal during a game against the University of Regina Cougars.
And although the Bisons women’s soccer team fell short in its playoffs bid during the historic first playoff game at IG Field last October, Bagi had a great game, registering 10 saves against the Regina Cougars squad, including a phenomenal save in the 80th minute.
Bagi attributes a lot of her success in net over the last few seasons to her fellow teammates.
“I feel like the team just does a great job in the back, and not even just the back lines,” Bagi explained.
“The whole team has a whole effort in defending. Sometimes we have forwards or even midfields come back in the defence, and that in itself is just a huge thing to have such great teammates surround me with that.”
As for what has made Bagi progressively better every single season, she believes it’s her mental game that has helped her improvement.
“I think my biggest shift was [to] stop putting so much pressure on myself, because in my second year I would put way too much pressure on myself,” Bagi said.
“I noticed that it wouldn’t allow me to perform to my best. So once I kind of took that off, and just put more emphasis on having fun, I feel like everything just kind of fell into place.”
This season, Bagi looks forward to improving once more with the team, staying more consistent throughout the 2023 campaign by reviewing what didn’t work well last season and focusing on not making the same mistakes.
The pre-season kicks off this Saturday, July 29, at IG Field with the Bisons Alumni game. The schedule has Bagi and company playing in Alberta and both North and South Dakota before the team’s first regular season game on Aug. 26 against the University of Calgary Dinos.
As for her own future in soccer, Bagi is “very interested in taking it to the next level.”
“I know there’s a lot of improvements I have to work on, but, I mean, I’m ready for it, and I would love to have an opportunity if it comes,” Bagi said.
“I don’t think I’m quite ready to give it up yet.”
For all things Bisons women’s soccer team, including team fundraisers, check them out on social media @bisonswsoc.