Move to CIS soccer proves challenging

Both men’s and women’s teams struggling, but coaches remain positive

Miyoko McKeown defends against the Timberwolves during their Oct. 11 game. (Alexis Stockford/The Omega)

Miyoko McKeown defends against the Timberwolves during their Oct. 11 game. (Alexis Stockford/The Omega)

The WolfPack’s first season playing Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) soccer has resulted in losses and injuries, but there is some hope.

The WolfPack women have one win and the WolfPack men have two.

Both teams saw some success in their previous collegiate league. The women took the PACWEST title for the last three years, and the men won silver last year at the CCAA soccer nationals after becoming PACWEST champions.

This year’s move to CIS brought a new level of intensity to the WolfPack soccer games.

“We’re just not used to the speed of the game and we’ve been trying to catch up to that, but the girls have done very well in improving, basically every game that we’ve played,” said Tom McManus, head coach of women’s soccer.

John Antulov, head coach of the WolfPack men, said that the men’s team is facing a similar situation.

“Most teams, when they transition from college level to an upper university level, you know there’s going to definitely be some growing pains and a huge learning curve,” Antulov said.

“We lost a majority of our players from last year. We’ve been playing with a lot of first and second year players that really aren’t used to this level yet.”

The ‘Pack men won their first game of the season on Oct. 10, with a 1-0 victory against the University of Northern B.C. Timberwolves. They doubled up with another victory against UNBC the following day with a 3-0 win.

The WolfPack women took their first CIS win on Oct. 11, against the Timberwolves, with a score of 6-3.

But it wasn’t just the switch in leagues that hit the players hard this season. They took physical hits as well, which yo-yoed some of them in and out of games all season.

Oriol Torres keeps the ball in play against Timberwolf Dan Goodey on Oct. 11. (Alexis Stockford/The Omega)

Oriol Torres keeps the ball in play against Timberwolf Dan Goodey on Oct. 11. (Alexis Stockford/The Omega)

The women’s injuries began in the pre-season, when forward Katie Sparrow, in her fourth year with the ‘Pack, suffered a concussion.

“She punched me in the face, but I was checking her from behind, so I think she lifted her hand over her head and hit me just above the nose,” Sparrow said. “I played the rest of the half and then I felt weird and dizzy so I told my trainer and he said not to go back on.”

“After my concussion I dropped one of those big Starbucks water bottles full of water on my head so that probably made it a lot worse,” Sparrow said.

After a week off, Sparrow re-entered the game, only to be punched in the back of the head by another player. That put Sparrow out for another week. When she returned she was hit in the face by the ball, which put her out for yet another week.

“Losing Katie in pre-season definitely lost a little spunk in our team. She was really a fast forward and we probably could have had more goals this season if she was healthy,” said defender Olivia Rasmussen.

On Oct. 3, Rasmussen injured her knee while playing against the UBC Thunderbirds. Rasmussen was taken from the field by ambulance.

“I was going up the wing and the ball was coming towards me and I went to go touch it past my check. My foot got suck in the turf and my knee went one way and my body went the other,” Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen’s knee is still too swollen for an MRI, but doctors suspect the injury was to her ACL.

“If it’s my ACL and MCL, I probably won’t be playing for six months to a year,” Rasmussen said.

On Oct. 4, defender Christine Fergin injured her ankle in the first 15 minutes of a game against the UVic Vikes. Fergin had already missed the first four games of the season due to a broken ankle from the year before.

The WolfPack men have suffered injuries as well, which has impacted the team’s performance.

WolfPack player Satinder Dhaliwal chases after the ball in the Oct. 11 game, which the men won. (Alexis Stockford/The Omega)

WolfPack player Satinder Dhaliwal chases after the ball in the Oct. 11 game, which the men won. (Alexis Stockford/The Omega)

“I haven’t had my set starting line since the first few games of the season,” Antulov said. “We’ve had some guys gone for two or three games here and there. It’s all been to our starting players, so that makes it really difficult.”

“Mike Harvey, who is one of our key central mid-fielders, has been out pretty much the whole season,” Antulov said.

Harvey suffered a stress fracture in his foot during the second game of the season against the UFV Cascades. During the same game, defender Stefan Shaw suffered a leg injury. Both players missed the next two games.

Neither team has a shot at provincials this year, but Antulov is focusing on the gains.

“A lot of my rookies have come in and played really, really well and having that year under their belt in CIS is going to be great for next year,” Antulov said.

McManus shares in the sentiment.

“The girls have come into training and worked very hard in practice. I’ve seen a big difference in them since day one,” said McManus. “I’m quite happy with what they’re doing.”

Despite the spike in losses, both coaches welcome the level of play seen in CIS.

“We’ve been wanting CIS almost since I was hired actually. It’s much better competition and the games are much better. We’re very excited to be there,” McManus said.