Portland/Burnaby/Abbotsford – The University of the Fraser Valley soccer teams launched into their exhibition schedules in earnest on Tuesday, turning in encouraging performances against NCAA opponents.
The Cascades women opened a four-game Oregon road trip with a hard-fought 1-0 loss to the Portland State University Vikings, a strong NCAA Div. 1 squad.
The UFV men, meanwhile, took a short drive down the Trans-Canada Highway to face NCAA Div. 2 Simon Fraser University, and battled the Clan to a 1-1 draw.
BYRNE FINDS THE NET
In Burnaby, the Cascades men got off to a great start and seized the lead in the 11th minute when midfielder Kree Bryne blasted a shot past Clan keeper Brandon Watson on a quick counterattack.
The Clan knotted the score in the 72nd minute when freshman midfielder Dzenan Bezdrob – a second-half substitute – split the defence to notch his first collegiate goal.
“We came out flying the first 15 or 20 minutes,” Cascades head coach Tom Lowndes analyzed. “Then they came back at us, and we had to withstand a lot of pressure the last 20 minutes of the first half. But it was a good test for us.
“We weathered the storm for 70 minutes-plus, and then they scored a goal toward the end of the game. But I was proud of our effort – I thought we deserved at least a tie.”
Connor MacMillan was his usual dangerous self in the midfield for the Cascades, while centre backs Sahib Phagura and Tammer Byrne turned in stout performances against a talented SFU squad.
“It’s another step in the right direction as we prepare for the regular season,” Lowndes said. “Each game, we’ve asked them if we can improve on the last performance, and we did that.”
ROOKIES SHINE IN DEBUT
The Cascades women faced a tough test in Portland State, which won the Big Sky conference title last season.
“We played this team four years ago, and we lost 2-1 but we were outshot something like 20-1,” head coach Rob Giesbrecht recalled with a chuckle. “But this time, it was an even game. They had some chances early, and Kayla (Klim) made some great saves, but they didn’t get a whole lot of shots after that.”
The Cascades’ best chance to score came in the 70th minute, when Shelby Beck set up Monika Levarsky for a dangerous shot that was thwarted by the Vikings’ keeper. Amber Korner pounced on the loose ball, but her shot drilled the crossbar.
Particularly encouraging for Giesbrecht was the play of the Cascades’ young midfielders – second-year Avneet Bhullar and rookies Harman Billen and Brittney Zacharuk.
“It’s the first game for Harman and Brittney, and they’re playing against a Div. 1 conference winner, and they did really well,” Giesbrecht marvelled. “We’re really excited about our future.”
Veteran backliners Jade Palm and Tristan Corneil also authored strong performances for the Cascades, while Klim played the first 60 minutes in goal before giving way to Emily Harold for the last half-hour.
• The Cascades women continue their stateside jaunt with games on Friday vs. Corban College (NAIA, Salem, Ore.), Sunday vs. Pacific University (NCAA Div. 3, Forest Grove, Ore.) and Monday vs. Concordia University (NCAA Div. 2, Portland).
• The UFV men’s team crosses the border later this week for its own whirlwind preseason trip: Friday vs. Northwest University (Kirkland, Wash.), Saturday vs. Evergreen State College (Olympia, Wash.), Sunday vs. Willamette University (Salem, Ore.), and Tuesday vs. Saint Martin’s University (Lacey, Wash.).
• The Cascades soccer teams open the Canada West regular season with games on the weekend of Sept. 11-13. The women’s squad hosts the UVic Vikes on Friday, Sept. 11 (4 p.m. start) and the UBC T-Birds on Saturday, Sept. 12 (5 p.m.) at Abbotsford Senior Secondary. The men open on the road vs. UBC Okanagan on Sept. 12 (2 p.m.) and Thompson Rivers on Sept. 13 (2 p.m.).