After a pair of wins over the University of Calgary Dinos last weekend, the Bears soccer squad ended with an impressive 9-2-4 record that clinched first place in the Prairie Division and gave them a bye through the first round of the Canada West playoffs.
At the end of this prosperous season, Bears head coach Len Vickery sees one of the main contributions to such a successful year being the opportunity to play teams new to the CanWest conference early on this season.
Vickery explained that it wasn’t until the game against the University of Victoria that the Bears came up against a good challenge and a close game as the UVic Vikes came into this season as the defending national champions. The Bears also had strong performances against top CanWest teams like the University of Saskatchewan Huskies and the TWU Spartans.
“Playing against Lethbridge was the first slip-up of the season, which is why Calgary was able to finish only four points behind us, until the Bears were able to defeat them twice this past weekend,” Vickery said. “We don’t mind. If you secure a spot early you can take your foot off the pedal early, which is disappointing because you can’t come back.”
Although no serious injuries have sidelined anyone on the team this season, by this point, many players do have nagging physical problems to deal with.
“Most teams have injury concerns — it is the nature of the beast. Players will just have to play through,” Vickery said.
As the Golden Bears wrapped up their regular season with the “Battle of Alberta” against the University of Calgary Dinos this past weekend, they came away with a 4-1 win on Saturday and a 2-1 win on Sunday. According to Vickery, despite the cold temperatures, snow and downfield winds, the Bears pulled together and played well as a unit.
The team’s strong passing and ability to find the back of the net early in the game secured their first win against Calgary on Saturday. On Sunday, the Bears didn’t score until later in the game, but they were still able to come away with the win.
Sitting in first in the Pacific Division are the UBC Thunderbirds finishing 11-0-3, followed by the TWU Spartans, 9-1-4, and UVic Vikes, 6-6-2.
The Prairie division, meanwhile, is led by the Golden Bears at 8-2-4 going into the playoffs. They’re followed by the Dinos at 6-6-3, and U of S Huskies at a 6-5-4 record.
“In this point in the playoffs, every team presents a challenge,” Vickery said. A poor performance could put any team in danger of being eliminated at any point during the playoffs, which not even home field advantage can help.
“Not in terms of the actual field, the advantage lies in getting a bye in the first game,” Vickery added.
The team that finishes first in the Prairie division — also the team with hosting rights — gets a bye for the first game of playoffs. This means the Bears start the playoffs with the bye on Thursday and will begin playing in the conference championships on Friday against the winner of a first-round game between the second-place Pacific Division team and third-place Prairie Division team.
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