Kamloops, BC—Nothing like testing yourself against the best right off the bat. That is the philosophy the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack men’s soccer team is taking as they open their third season in the Canada West Athletics Conference.
The WolfPack entertain the CIS Bronze medal winning University of British Columbia Thunderbirds on Saturday (Aug 28) and then face the always tough University of Victoria Vikes on Sunday (Aug 29) as the season begins. Both matches will be played at Hillside Stadium with 1 pm kick offs.
“I think we are excited to get the season underway,” says Antulov. “We have worked very hard over the last month. We want to see where that hard work has gotten us.”
The WolfPack had a preseason record of 3-3-1. Antulov believes it’s going to be an ‘acid test’ against both UBC and UVIC (a team which they beat at Hillside last year (4-2 Oct 18) in what is arguably their biggest victory since joining the Canada West).
“There is no doubt those teams are two of the best teams in the league if not the entire CIS,” he says. “ It’s a good litmus test to see how much we have progressed as a team.”
The WolfPack have lost six starters: keeper Travis Froehlich (Revelstoke, BC), defenders Stef Shaw (Duncan, BC) and Corey Wallis (Enderby, BC), midfielders Braeden Burrows and Kyle Fertile (both Kamloops, BC) and forward Oriol Torres (Barcelona, Spain). All but Shaw played out their eligibility. Shaw transferred schools for academic reasons. Has Antulov filled the holes?
“I think we have. As good as the players we lost were and their experience, I think that some of the players we have brought in have been able to fill those holes and have done a really good job.”
Two players the WolfPack will look to offensively are CIS Academic All Canadian and Canada West second team all-star Ryan Glanville (4th year, Williams Lake, BC) and Mitch Popadynetz (3rd year, Nelson< BC).
Both players are alumni of UBC. He is looking forward to playing them. “I don’t know if I get up any more to play against them than any other team. It is great to play any game. They are a good team.
Popadynetz says there is a different feel to the WolfPack this year. ‘We had a really good team last year but this time around it is more intense. Everyone is fighting for a spot. Everybody wants to play. Even though we lost a lot of quality players, we are looking strong for this year.”
Glanville will garner a lot of attention after scoring eight goals last season. He says though, that the WolfPack have a number of players who will provide secondary scoring if he is ‘marked’ too heavily.
“With the players that we have—Mitch, Justin (Donaldson, 2nd year, Kamloops, BC) are great offensively,” he says “Teams might try to limit my touches but these other guys will be able to pick it up. Going into this season, I don’t know what the expectations are individually but for me, I want this program to make the post season. If my numbers are limited but we are going in the right direction that is all that I care about.”
Glanville believes that despite the loss of the six starters, the overall depth of this year’s team is better than 2015. “If you look at the exhibition games you can see we have done a good job recruiting. Both offensively and defensively we have guys coming into the program or who were first or second year guys last year are all battling. They understand what the compete level has to be at CIS for strength and speed.”
Finlay McPhie (3rd year, Vernon, BC) will anchor the backline for TRU this season. He says they have a different mindset going into this weekend. “ We used to think that we wouldn’t have a chance against these teams but this year I think we are going to go into it with the belief we can do some damage.”
He feels that the WolfPack could very well take a lot of the established Canada West teams off guard. “We definitely have the talent to get some wins and make the playoffs.”
As far as the team’s back line is concerned, McPhie states: “The guys John has brought in have really been working hard and bought into the system. We have been working a lot on defensive shape and I think it is coming together.”
McPhie, Popadynetz and Colton Walker (4th year, Sicamous, BC) are the TRU co-captains this year. “ John has built a good core of players and there is a real positive atmosphere,” he says. “Personally, I feel more confident on the ball and that makes me comfortable.”
Both matches will be webcast (pay per view) on CanadawestTV. Entering its second season as a full pay-per-view service, Canadawest.tv will provide three options for viewers looking to watch and show their support of Canada West student-athletes. Go to www.canadawesttv.ca for to sign up.
THROW INS: The matchup on Sunday vs UVIC has some subplots. Donaldson spent two years with the Vikes. He red shirted his first year. While Victoria has a former TRU player in its lineup. Austin Schneebeli (Sicamous, BC) spent three seasons at TRU and transferred to Victoria to pursue a degree in Kinesiology.
He and Walker are longtime friends and teammates and admits it will be a different experience. “It will be exciting to play against Austin on a competitive level. We have only played against each other in exhibitions. It’ll be fun.”