Andy Watson

VICTORIA, B.C. – They’ve been preparing for it all season long, and now the University of Victoria Vikes men’s soccer team will put their training and preparation to the test when the single-elimination 2011 CIS men’s soccer national tournament begins on Thursday.

As the tournament host, the Vikes have known they would play in the championship quarter-final on Nov. 10 all season long. They prepared through the Canada West regular season – winning the regular season title – and earned the right to host the 2011 Canada West Final 4 last weekend, finishing with a conference bronze medal.

Now the Vikes have their season-focus narrowed and solely set on performing well on home soil, seeking their fifth national title in the program’s history. The begin with a tough test with a match against the Quebec conference champion Montreal Carabins in a Thursday night game at 7 p.m. at Centennial Stadium. (LIVE VIDEO / LIVE STATS)

Led by 24-year coaching veteran Bruce Wilson, the Vikes face a Montréal Carabins squad that features the dangerous offensive duo of #10 Sylvain Willot, a sophomore from France, and #25 Alhassane Fox, a senior from Guinea. They also boast a strong goaltending duoe of Gregory Morin-Maltais of Longueuil, Que., and Nizar Houhou of France.

“We know we’re in for a tough match,” Wilson said. “We will play our best, start our best 11 suited for this matchup and we still have the confidence we can play any of our players at any time.”

Carabins head coach Pat Raimondo, in his 18th season as a CIS head coach and 11th with the young Carabins program. Already in his tenure, they’ve been a perennial powerhouse. In 1997, while serving as the head coach of McGill, he guided the Redmen to the CIS title.

“We’ll face quite a challenge in Victoria opening against the host team, which without a doubt will draw a large partisan crowd,” Raimondo said. “We still have a few days to put the final touches to our preparation before we enter the most interesting part of the season.”

“We have a young team. None of our players have been at the nationals before,” Raimondo said. “We want to gain experience against teams that have experience than we do.”

Despite the fact that Montreal is a powerhouse and, on paper, a fairly formidable opponent, the Vikes have a lot going in their favour. With just one loss at home, UVic hosts a Montreal team that plays most of its games on turf and does not have the fifth-year experience in comparison with the Vikes. UVic boasts 13 players in their fourth or fifth year, about half of their roster, while Montreal has just two with Fox and forward Kerfalla Kourouma, also of Guinea, in their fourth year.

“We’ve been preparing all season for this tournament. We kept a lot of players and they remained motivated and committed to our philosophy. We’re now down to our tournament 22 and in the finny rule everybody has played. We have just the one injury and are feeling good coming into this weekend. Anyone with a slight injury has worked out this week and they are all good to go.”

Wilson said he is pleased with the options he has.

“We have two experienced goalkeepers, and we still have not made our final decisions on our Thursday lineup,” Wilson said. “But we do have that blend of youth and experience that is good at this time of year. Even those seniors who have not played a great deal and may not play a lot, they provide that age, that leadership and experience at these events and will be very helpful to have as we go through the weekend.”

The tournament gets underway on Wednesday night with the CIS awards banquet which takes place at 6 p.m. at the Harbour Towers hotel on Quebec Street. Award presentations will take place at approximately 7:15 p.m. To attend, please contact Andy Watson at 250-213-5596.

LOCAL MEDIA NOTE: There are two non-Vikes from Victoria playing here. From the McGill Redmen, fullback Patrick Bennett who wears number 16, and from the Alberta Golden Bears, forward Jonah Feil who wears number 12.