KAMLOOPS — It's a big year for the TRU Wolfpack men's soccer team, hosting the 2017 U SPORTS national championships in November. This weekend will be a litmus for the team looking ahead to the big tournament Nov. 9-12, hosting the fifth-ranked and multiple national champion UBC Thunderbirds at Hillside Stadium following its home-opener against the University of Victoria on Saturday.
"UBC is always ranked in the top three in Canada, so each of those games are going to be a battle and we need to be prepared for both," said men's soccer head coach John Antulov. "Our first priority is UVic and making sure we play well. It's our home-opener and we want to make sure we try and get a result from that."
TRU felt its deserved better after only getting one point out of a two-game set against the University of Northern BC in Prince George last weekend.
The Wolfpack tied the season-opener against the Timberwolves and lost 2-1 in the second game, but they felt they dominated.
"Obviously a little disappointed with the results, especially the second game," said Antulov. "I thought the first game was kind of a feeling out game, and we played well and had a lot of opportunities. But definitely the second game was a game I felt we dominated and had a lot of quality scoring opportunities, but unfortunately couldn't put the ball in the back of the net."
It's something TRU will need to do this weekend against UVic and UBC if it hopes to get a win or two. The Thunderbirds, in particular, are a team the Wolfpack need to be able to compete with if they want to be in the mix when they host nationals in November.
"I'm treating it like any other season. But it is a bit big because it's going to be my last season and I'm hopefully going to go out with a big bang, hopefully with a ring and make the TRU men's soccer program a bigger team," said TRU senior Colton Walker.
"I think some of the younger guys may be a bit distracted by it, but the older guys not at all. We know what we have to do, we know the process we have to go through. We're all pretty focused with the end result. They bye [into nationals] is a bit of a bonus, but we still want to maintain and deserve to go through."
Head coach John Antulov, knowing he had to up the quality of soccer at TRU, brought in 15 new recruits, mostly international players. He said once everyone gels, it will be a team to watch out for. He's already seen progress through the first two games and preseason.
"It was really important to have a look at them, but then also get them to gel with the players that are here right now," noted Antulov about giving the new recruits more playing time in the preseason and weekend opener in Prince George. "I think we accomplished that and we some real quality in a lot of the players that we've brought in. It's going to take a bit of time to gel, even though we did have good results. There are a lot of new international guys and it takes time to acclimatize youself."
Walker said the jump in the team's depth is definitely noticeable and will serve the Wolfpack well as they get closer to nationals.
"Last year, we had good starters and a good couple guys coming off the bench. But this year, we have 35 strong. Every player can come on and make a difference."
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