After four games over two weekends spent on the road, the Pandas will return to Foote Field for the first time this season on Sunday.
The soccer Pandas emerge from their four-game road trip with an undefeated record of 2-0-2 after last weekend saw the team draw the University of Calgary in a scoreless match before shutting out the University of Lethbridge 6-0 the next day. The trip couldn’t have been much better for head coach Liz Jepsen and her team, but they’re happy for the chance to play at home.
“The players enjoy being back on a field they know so well, and Foote Field is in fantastic shape right now,” Jepsen said. “The staff out there has always done a fantastic job to make sure it’s in top shape. When you’re proud of your facility like the one we have, that has to add to your overall demeanour and approach to the game.”
The Pandas will be welcomed home by the visiting Mount Royal University Cougars, a new team to the Canada West conference this season. But despite the Cougars only just joining CIS, MRU doesn’t pose a completely unknown threat to the Pandas.
“We have had the good fortune of seeing them in previous years in preseason, so I don’t think we’re necessarily at a disadvantage in that respect,” Jepsen said. “MRU, however, is still creating their CIS and Canada West identity. Tino Fusco, their head coach, who I respect greatly, will bring some new tricks to the table, so we know we need to be ready to beat them and anticipate the unexpected.”
Leading the Pandas into the game as one of the University of Alberta’s top players early into the season is third-yeard striker Kayla Michaels. Thus far Michaels — who was tied for first in the CanWest last season with seven assists — has scored four goals and five points, putting her in fourth place in the conference scoring race.
“I consider her one of the top athletes in our program, however what you do in training and what you have the capability to do — the hard thing is to translate that in competition,” Jepsen said. “I feel she’s ready to do it. She’s demonstrating it, and I hope for her that she can consistently do it.”
Michaels and her teammates will be facing a Cougars team that specializes more in defence than offence. The MRU offence has proven a weakness over the first two weekends of the season, with the team scoring just one goal.
Working on how to respond from a mental standpoint to being stifled defensively is something that Jepsen has worked on with her players in practice leading up to this game.
“We’ve been focusing on finishing earlier, but we’ve also been working to more of a mental degree. How do we handle the pressure if we don’t score in that first 45 minutes?” Jepsen said. “We know that the last time we played Mount Royal and from standings that they’re able to keep people off the board, so we need to keep banging away without making mistakes that are going to result in goals on the counterattack.”
The game takes place at Foote Field on Sunday at 2 p.m.
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