Where are they now: Heroes on and off the field, 2013 champs Skrundz and Moroz on front lines of pandemic

Former Griffins women's soccer players Kristen Skrundz, left, and Marlea Moroz are both currently working as nurses on the front lines of the pandemic.
Former Griffins women's soccer players Kristen Skrundz, left, and Marlea Moroz are both currently working as nurses on the front lines of the pandemic.

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – With Eminem blaring and their kits decked out in all black, the MacEwan Griffins women's soccer team took to the field for the warm-ups ahead of the 2013 Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) national championship final.

Menacing, daunting and dominant, they set the tone right then and there on the pitch at Surrey, B.C.'s Kwantlen University.

"I remember we decided to wear all black in warmups and I remember walking out onto the field and I looked back, and our team was massive," said midfielder Marlea Moroz. "When we came on, everyone was saying how scary we looked because we were so big and so intimidating.

"Everything from our beginning passes – so crisp – we just went out and executed. We couldn't have wanted it any more. I feel like in the final if we played like we wanted to, we would win."

Goals from Nicola Weber and Lindsay Butler, along with a clean sheet from goalkeeper Madison Perry, had the Griffins celebrating a 2-0 victory over Cégep Garneau, capturing the third team sport national championship in MacEwan Athletics history.

"It was chills," recalled fullback Kristen Skrundz, who was in her rookie season then. "Even before the game, there was a band playing and they did our laundry for us – just little stuff that made us feel so professional.

"When we won, everyone was exhausted. I still remember my friend (Lindsay Anderson) played the whole game and she was like a ghost after – couldn't even celebrate because she was so exhausted. I remember going into the dressing room after and calling my mom. It was amazing."

The 2013 Griffins women's soccer team celebrates the CCAA national championship.

Teammates then and now, Moroz and Skrundz – both MacEwan nursing graduates – are currently together again on the front lines of the pandemic.

They're both relying on their resiliency on the pitch as they work hard to help combat the fourth wave of COVID-19 in Alberta.

"It's huge. Nursing is teamwork," said Moroz, who works as a pediatric home care nurse for the Stollery Children's Hospital but has been pulling overtime shifts in emergency to help with the COVID crisis. "From the healthcare aides to the people that bring the food to the doctors, we're all one massive team. If there's a kink in anything, that will have a domino effect.

"So, effective communication and being able to go through adversity together is so impactful and so huge that it's the same as being on the field. When you're nervous for a game, come together and figure out a game plan. When someone's falling short, you try to pick them up. You're all in it together."

There's no doubt that the 2013 Griffins team had all of those elements. That's what made them so special.

In his first season at MacEwan then, head coach Dean Cordeiro brought over several players from his former Concordia Thunder squad that had won a CCAA silver medal the season before.

The entire season quickly became about the collective with so many new faces on equal footing in terms of team seniority.

"It was the best time of my life," said Moroz, who was one of few returning Griffins on the team. "We still have a group chat and we all talk in some capacity every day, and still get together.

"I feel like – it's so cheesy to say – but it's just magical how we all got along," she added. "It was so fun, but we had so much talent that when we trained at practice, it was like games. It was so competitive. It was awesome. I think everyone just wanted it for each other and that was the biggest part. No one was out there for themselves. That was the environment that Dean created and we just lived by it."

Marlea Moroz (17) and teammates celebrate with Erika Vecchio (14) - currently an assistant coach with the Griffins - after Vecchio scored during MacEwan's 2-1 CCAA semifinal win over Cégep Ahuntsic in 2013.

After the Griffins beat Cégep Ahuntsic 2-1 in the semifinal – a hurdle that Moroz noted they needed everything to get over – ("They had some national team players on there and it was an absolute battle. When we won that, I think it gave us some more confidence going into the final.") – they were too much for Cégep Garneau.

The result capped a perfect 15-0-0 campaign for the Griffins, which also included a 3-2 win over NAIT in the ACAC Championship final.

While 12 teams in MacEwan history have gone undefeated during the regular season, the 2013 women's soccer squad is the only one to ever complete a perfect campaign without a loss in the playoffs, too.

"It was surreal," said Skrundz, who rotated with two other fullbacks for two spots on the Griffins' defence that season. "I was in my first year. I remember in my second year, we entered into CIS and starting playing tougher teams and losing. Getting a taste of what it was like to lose rocked us a bit.

"We were so good the first year and didn't lose. I don't think we let in many goals either (only eight goals against in 15 games – half of those coming in the playoffs)."

It's no surprise, the team members remain friends as they regularly reminisce about that special campaign.

"We were all just so close," said Skrundz. "It didn't matter who you were around. Everyone got along so well and we were all just there for each other. We just loved being around each other. We're still just as good friends as we were then. We've really made an effort to stay in touch and hang out."

Griffins players gather around to celebrate on the field with the CCAA national championship trophy. They're the only team in MacEwan Athletics history to complete a perfect season after going 15-0-0 in 2013.

As they are now into their careers, Skrundz and Moroz are able to draw on their Griffins' lessons in teamwork. With hospitals overwhelmed as the fourth wave swamps the system in Alberta, Moroz notes the urge to support each other has been greater now than ever.

"I think the benefit of being nurses is it's much like a team mentality where you don't want to see them short-staffed or you don't want to (let down) the patients you know or have developed a relationship with … you want to go to bat for everyone there," she said.

"You want to make sure if you don't feel so dead that day, even if you can go there for four hours. You just want to be there for your teammates because you know how bad everyone else is drowning that if someone does that for you it's such a massive help. I think that correlates to the soccer field.

"When I talk to other nurses when they're being deployed, they say they have to do it for everyone. We're all in this together."

Skrundz is currently an emergency department nurse at the University of Alberta hospital, which has been an eye-opening and exhausting mission on a daily basis.

"Every shift, we're short crazy amounts of nurses," said Skrundz, who noted she's so busy that she walks up to 10 km on a shift, which has aggravated her feet. "People are picking up overtime and working extra shifts. It's exhausting.

"There are very high demands on healthcare. Then people get so frustrated with us that they've been waiting so long. But the hospitals are just so overwhelmed right now."

As the government continues to push for more people to get one of the vaccines available, weary healthcare staff paint a disturbing picture of what they're seeing.

"Young people are coming in with COVID and they still don't want the vaccine," said Skrundz as figures late last week show 90% of COVID patients in the ICU are unvaccinated. "They don't believe that COVID could be doing this to them. You ask them why they didn't get the vaccine and someone told me their 14-year-old kid told them not to, so they didn't.

"It's frustrating. We're working so hard and they don't care about themselves."

Moroz was infuriated last week when she went to visit her mom, a patient at the Royal Alexander Hospital, and ran into a protest outside.

"I understand people feel motivated and want to stand their ground, but there have been instances where someone was getting intubated in (emergency) and they were begging for the vaccine," she said. "So, it's like until they see it themselves and it's affecting their family members, that's when they want action, that's when they want the vaccine.

"It's a very reactive way of healthcare and that's shown by each wave. If we could be more proactive, it would help so many people on such a wide scale.

"It's just frustrating. Defeating. I don't even know how else to say it."

It hasn't always been like this. Within a few months of graduating from MacEwan in 2018, Skrundz landed a nursing job on the Stollery's pediatric and cardiac GI unit where she was amazed and inspired by the resilience of the young patients.

"That was so rewarding," she said. "Some kids would get a heart transplant and a week later they're running around – just not even phased if they can go play with some toys. They're happy to get moving. I feel like adults aren't even that strong to recover that quickly.

"It was really rewarding, but of course there were some sad stories with young kids not making it or having really complex medical journeys. I love the children.

"I'm getting trained to go back into the Stollery emerg. I'm really excited for that."

Kristen Skrundz makes a stop against UNBC during a 2017 Canada West game in her final season with the Griffins (Chris Piggott photo).

Skrundz still plays soccer, suiting up for Cordeiro's club team Northwest United in the summers, but Moroz has retired from the sport after a concussion a couple years back.

Both, however, retain fond memories of what the Griffins soccer program gave them and what they were able to give to it.

After winning a national championship, Skrundz and Moroz were also on the first Griffins team to play in Canada West when MacEwan joined the conference in 2014. They set the table for a program that's gone 57-30-14 with four Final Four appearances since.

"I felt like we were ready for CIS prior (to coming in)," said Moroz, pointing to the 2013 national championship team tying cross-town rival Alberta in an exhibition match that year. "I don't think it was a scary leap, by any means. Dean came in and absolutely transformed the program. I was there prior (to him coming in 2013). The players he brought in and the way he ran the practices, it was impossible not to gel.

"It was unfortunate we didn't do as well as we wanted (in 2014 – 7-3-2 with a loss in the quarter-final), but we knew the program would go on to succeed because of what he started."

Skrundz played four more years in U SPORTS after that national title campaign, winning the prestigious Canada West Student-Athlete award in her final season (2017-18).

Her favourite memories outside of the national championship are the Reading Week trips that the team took, especially to Italy (in 2014) and England (in 2016). But the friendships are the greatest lasting legacy.

"All the people I've met along the way, we're such good friends," she said. "Whenever a tragedy hits our friend group, everyone's back together. We all care about each other so much. Looking back at the actual sport, it was so much fun and an amazing experience. I feel really lucky to have played on the Griffs."