LANGLEY, British Columbia – A new era of Trinity Western men’s soccer is set to begin this weekend.
With a new head coach in Mike Shearon – who takes over as the full-time bench boss after sending five years as the associate head coach – and a roster that features only three fifth-year players, the Spartans are largely a fresh-faced lot. However, it’s not a team short on talent and, coming off a fourth-place finish in last year’s Canada West playoffs, this year’s TWU side is looking to build upon its late-season momentum and make Shearon’s inaugural head coaching season a memorable one.
While the graduation of five-time Canada West all-star Brayden Gant (Maple Ridge, B.C.) and last year’s leading scorer Jarvis Ambaka (Maragoli, Kenya) leaves a pair of sizable holes in the TWU lineup, the next wave of Spartans appear primed to take over the leadership mantel and dead set on making a run at a national title.
The Spartans open their season this weekend when they will travel to play UNBC in Prince George Friday and Saturday. Both games are at 7 p.m. (PT) and can be seen live at www.canadawest.tv.
Coach Mike Shearon said: “We’re excited. There’s a little bit of nervous energy going on. It’s the first time with me at the helm and with a new staff, but we’re feeling good. We’ve had a good preseason, the guys have worked hard and were just ready to get going.”
Fifth-year defender Taylor Johnson said: “There’s a lot of optimism going into the year. We feel we’ve gotten stronger. Obviously losing our captain (Brayden Gant) from last year…is a big loss, but I think we have some good rookies who will put in some minutes and a lot of our younger guys are stepping up.”
Third-year midfielder Elijah Adekugbe\ said: “I’m a competitive guy and the goal is to always win nationals and that’s the highest goal. You have to set yourself the highest goal possible and see how far you can come.”
One of just two fifth-year players, Andrew Hicks (Surrey, B.C.) will help solidify the Spartans back line. The local keeper is amongst the best netminders in the conference and will be counted upon to be a key on-field leader.
Taylor Johnson (Strathmore, Alta.) is the only other fifth-year player on the roster and his leadership at centreback will be paramount to the Spartans success. Vagelli Boucas (Langley) and Matt Kasteel (North Vancouver, B.C.) will also see plenty of time on the back line. On the outsides, Taylor’s younger brother Caleb Johnson (Strathmore, Alta.) will vie for minutes along with Connor Noftle (Chilliwack, B.C.) and Austin Kasian (Calgary).
The midfield will be led by Elijah Adekugbe (Calgary). The third-year star is coming off a summer in which he captained Calgary Foothills FC to the PDL championship match. After finishing second in points on the Spartans last year, with two goals and three assists, Adekugbe is set to take on more of a leadership role this season. Look for Joel Waterman, who played prominently with the PDL’s Kitsap Pumas this summer, to also take on a larger role, while Leighton Johnson (Strathmore, Alta.), Elie Gindo (Langley), Mitchell Urzinger (Langley) and Sebastian Wingfield (DuPont, Wash.) will be feature pieces in the middle of the park.
Third-year forward Vito Poletto (Calgary) started just four games last year, but, with the graduation of Ambaka, he is expected to take on a much more significant role this year. Spartan fans are hoping his highlight reel assist last year against UNBC – see the Spartans year-end video – is just a sample of things to come.
BY THE NUMBERS
2015 CW regular season record: 5-5-2, 4th in Pacific Division
2015 post-season record: 1-2, 4th
Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2007 / 3
Last CIS championship / total CIS championships: NA / 0
2015 CW regular season ranks:
Offence: 17 goals, 10th
Defence: 22 goals against, 9th
2015 CW regular season leaders:
Goals: 4 – Jarvis Ambaka, Striker
Assists: 3 – Elijah Adekugbe, Midfielder
Points: 6 – Jarvis Ambaka, Striker
Wins: 5 – Andrew Hicks, Goalkeeper
Shutouts: 2 – Andrew Hicks, Goalkeeper
Key additions: Caleb Johnson (D), Jacob Low (M)
Key losses: Brayden Gant (M), Jarvis Ambaka (F), Kalem Scott (D)