The WolfPack men’s soccer team has seen success in its pre-season, and is hoping that a strong showing in exhibition play translates to an improvement on last year’s last place finish in the Pacific division of Canada West last year.
After dominating the PACWEST division of the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) for the last several seasons, including a run that saw the WolfPack finish third or better in the division in five of the last six years, TRU stepped up to the top level of Canadian University soccer last year.
Head coach John Antulov pointed to a couple of reasons as to why the men found the transition from PACWEST to CIS soccer so difficult.
“The jump in level of play is much higher in CIS compared to PACWEST. There are no easy games, and each CIS squad has very good depth, which makes each week a difficult task.”
The WolfPack ended the season with two wins, eight losses and two draws.
Over the off-season, Antulov focused on a couple key areas where he thought the team could improve.
“We wanted to improve offensive ability and depth. Those are the areas we struggled with last season, but we are seeing good early returns in both of those areas this pre-season,” he said.
The return to winning form for TRU began in mid-August down in Arizona, where the WolfPack played three games over four days in the American southwest. Two wins and one loss in the Arizona Desert Cup was an encouraging takeaway from a trip that Antulov was pleased to have taken.
“Phoenix was our first long distance pre-season trip. We hope to continue this in the future but it depends on many factors. [TRU Athletic Director] Ken Olynyk was excellent in allowing this to happen and it was a great team bonding experience for our players.”
The first exhibition game to take place here in Kamloops was against the UNBC Timberwolves, and the winning pattern that started down in Arizona followed the team north as they won the game by a score of 2-0. Neither team was able to really take control of the game in the first half as they both poked and prodded the opposing defence, looking for holes that just weren’t there. But the second half was a different story as the team depth that Antulov wanted to improve started to shine. After multiple substitutions, a renewed TRU squad began to control the ball more, and it seemed as though a WolfPack goal was imminent. That breakthrough came in the 70th minute of the game as mid-fielder Oriol Torres pounced on a mistake by a UNBC defender and calmly slotted the ball past the helpless goalkeeper. The fifth-year player from Spain would then score his second goal of the game in the 85th minute, after a great run in off the wing and through ball by Logan Zimmerman put Torres in on the goalkeeper, a couple nifty jukes later and the ball was again in the back of the net.
With both goals coming from the foot of Torres and fellow fifth-year player Corey Wallis, a defender, having a standout game on the back line, it is clear that their veteran presence will have a big say in how this season goes for the WolfPack. But Antulov was quick to point out that they aren’t the only leaders on this team.
“Oriol and Corey will be relied on heavily as fifth year players, but Travis Froehlich, Kyle Fertile and Braeden Burrows are also fifth year players that will be relied on. I could not have asked for a better core of fifth year players,” Antulov said.
In the sporting world there is never a more optimistic time for fans than the pre-season. Hope springs eternal as every team has a clean slate on which they plan to write the story of a successful season. And all pre-season victories must be tempered with the reality that they won’t count in any official standings, however, after seeing the potent mixture of veterans and youth, of innovative attacking and organized defending that the WolfPack brought to that first home exhibition game of the season, it isn’t that hard to envision a 2015/16 season that sees them comfortably climbing out of the basement of Canada West soccer.
The WolfPack’s first home game of the season will take place Saturday, Sept. 12, when the Trinity Western University Spartans come to Hillside Stadium.