The Cascades welcome back the majority of the key contributors from last year’s squad, and they’re aiming to take another step forward.
“We’re excited about what this year could be,” said head coach Rob Giesbrecht, who begins his sixth season at the helm of the Cascades. “Having gotten a taste of it last year, by no means are we satisfied. If anything, it just deepens the hunger for more success and taking last year’s accomplishments even further. But we know it’s a tough journey. There are so many good teams in our conference.”
Indeed, there’s no easing into the regular season for the Cascades – they open at home this weekend against a pair of perennial powerhouse programs. The Victoria Vikes are in town for a 4 p.m. tilt on Friday, and the UBC Thunderbirds take on the Cascades at 6:15 p.m. Saturday. Both games are at Panther Field at Abbotsford Senior Secondary, and can be viewed online at canadawest.tv.
“Welcome to Canada West women’s soccer,” Giesbrecht said with a wry chuckle. “It’s a challenge in that we get right into it right away, which is great. These two teams played each other last week (a 1-0 UBC win), so they’ve got one league game under their belts, which we don’t. Our preseason was great, but there’s nothing like a league game.
“We had some success against these teams last year, and if anything, that makes it a little tougher to get a result because that element of surprise is no longer there,” he added. “Both teams are very deep in talented soccer players. It’s not like you’re finding the weak areas on the field. You’re just trying to manage their strengths, and making sure you’re playing your game well.”
Personnel-wise, the Cascades’ strength begins at the back with goalkeeper Kayla Klim and the stalwart defensive trio of Jade Palm, Dayle Jeras and Tristan Corneil.
Klim is coming off a stellar 2014 which saw her finish fourth in Canada West with an .841 save percentage (with six shutouts) during the regular season. She also starred in the post-season, and won the conference’s Student-Athlete Community Service Award. In Palm, Jeras and Corneil – all fourth-year or fifth-year players – Klim gets tremendous veteran support.
In the midfield, speedy fourth-year winger Danica Kump and sophomore Avneet Bhullar are among the key returnees. Talented rookies Harman Billen, Brittney Zacharuk and Gurneet Dhaliwal will also make an impact.
Up front, the Cascades’ dynamic duo of Shelby Beck and Monika Levarsky, who tied for the team lead with six goals apiece during the regular season, are back to spearhead the attack. Beck, in her fifth year, is a dynamic playmaker, while sophomore Levarsky is a natural finisher. She was a second team Canada West all-star as a rookie in 2014.
The rest of the nation holds Giesbrecht’s squad in high esteem. The Cascades were ranked No. 4 in the first CIS coaches’ poll of the season, and were at No. 7 in the most recent ranking released Tuesday.
The University of the Fraser Valley men’s soccer team has a new head coach on the sideline, but plenty of familiar faces back on the pitch as they prepare to launch into the 2015-16 Canada West regular season this weekend.
Tom Lowndes, who spent the previous two years as an assistant coach under Alan Errington, has taken the reins of the program after Errington retired in March after 11 years at the helm of the Cascades.
Easing Lowndes’s transition into the top job is the fact he’s got an impressive crew of returnees at his disposal, along with a talented group of freshmen.
“It’s a real solid group,” Lowndes said, analyzing his roster. “They’ve grown a lot together over the preseason, it’s been interesting to see. As far as ability and how far we could go, I think the sky is the limit. If they start strong and get on a roll, I honestly believe they can accomplish things we haven’t before.”
The Cascades finished third in the Pacific Division last season at 6-5-1, and dropped a heartbreaker in the Canada West quarter-finals to the UVic Vikes.
They’re aiming to chart a return trip to the playoffs as they open their regular season schedule on the road this weekend. The Cascades take on the UBC Okanagan Heat on Saturday, and the Thompson Rivers WolfPack on Sunday. Both games kick off at 2 p.m., and can be viewed online at canadawest.tv.
Lowndes has a talented, experienced group at his disposal, highlighted by an outstanding backline. Leading the way at the back are Colton O’Neill and Tammer Byrne. O’Neill, a right back entering his fifth and final year of eligibility, is coming off an outstanding 2014 campaign which saw him pace the Cascades with five goals and three assists, and earn Canada West first team all-star honours. Centre back Byrne was UFV’s 2014 male rookie of the year across all sports, and showed poise well beyond his years as a freshman. Sahib Phagura and Sukhjit Dhaliwal round out the defensive starters.
Fourth-year players Connor MacMillan and Justin Sekhon will be among the leaders in a deep midfield corps. Returnees Michael Mobilio, Kree Byrne (Tammer’s older brother) and Connor O’Neill (Colton’s twin brother), and rookies Dylan McCrindle and Brady Weir will also factor into the equation.
Up front, a quartet of veterans – Daniel Davidson, Daniel Molendijk, Elijah Sampson and James Najman – will vie for playing time.
In goal, sophomore Alex Skrzeta takes over the starting job following the graduation of former conference all-star and current Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 player Mark Village.
Lowndes’s blueprint for his squad begins with playing an entertaining, possession-oriented style.
“We want to keep the ball, and we want to hurt teams with possession,” he said. “My goal is for us, two or three weeks in, to be flying. I want us to develop and get better every day. That goes for me as well – can I learn from every session? I’m excited to get into regular season games – I’ve been waiting for this since April. I think we have the potential to do something special this year.”
Lowndes noted that starting the regular season on the road is a good test for his squad.
“They’re not easy places to go, UBCO and TRU,” he said, noting that both the Heat and the WolfPack are big, tough, physical squads. “We’re going to have to be smart, and we’re going to have to play very quickly to avoid their high pressure. But if we play our style, I’m confident we can come out of the weekend with positive results.”