The soccer Bears are doing all they can to start their season on the right foot.
That’s why they’re at Foote Field on the first day of classes, spending the evening kicking, drilling and planning in preparation for their home opener.
Never mind the soaked pitch, or the fact that the Bears’ first opponents, the Mount Royal University Cougars, are in their first ever CIS soccer game on Saturday — the Canada West champions’ head coach Len Vickery is keen on team practice: every day, seven days a week. He’s refusing to take the game — and the season — for granted.
“(Mount Royal) are a formidable challenge come Saturday and Sunday” he said.
“They’re going to be emotionally charged and enthusiastic; they’re going to be working tremendously hard because of the excitement of entering into the CIS.”
Put differently, conditions are ripe for an upset. Though the Bears have the potential to win it all this year, they’re still prone to injury and lapses in concentration, and ultimately at risk of underestimating their opponents.
The Cougars, meanwhile, have a point to prove.
The Bears know the danger a motivated team can pose. After all, they were the underdogs when they beat the University of Victoria, and UBC, to claim CanWest gold last year. Ranked last out of the four teams in the CanWest finals, the Bears recovered just in time to put a sluggish start to the season firmly behind them.
“We exceeded our expectations last year,” Vickery said. “To go on and win just demonstrates that we improve and become stronger as the season goes on.”
With a mature squad of returning players, plus three vital recruits in defender Niko Saler, midfielder Niko Jankovic and goalkeeper Brad Hughes, Vickery hopes his team’s improvement continues into the new season. But the task is far from certain as all-time leading goalscorer Brett Colvin recently left the team — although standout 2010 CIS rookie of the year Marcus Johnstone is capable of taking the forward’s place, he and his teammates have big boots to fill.
That’s why tripping up on day one, although a very real possibility, simply isn’t an option for a team looking to improve on a fourth place finish at CIS nationals last season.
“We’ve lost one or two good players,” Vickery conceded. “But we’d like to think that we’ve added a few solid players that will help us get back to the Canada West championship playoff.”
“Our strength, though, are the returning players who are going into their third and fourth year ... that year of extra experience that only bodes well for the upcoming season.”
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