Cascades players warm-up prior to training earlier this week. (Ben Lypka)

UFV gearing up for Canada West opener

Cascades battle UBC tonight, home opener on Sept. 8

It’s a completely new look in 2017 for the University of the Fraser Valley men’s soccer team.

Only four starters are returning from the 2016 team that fell in the Canada West quarter-finals to the Calgary Dinos.

Experience might be lacking on the team, but Cascades head coach Tom Lowndes said he’s liked what he’s seen so far from his young squad.

“We’re young but I think we’re looking good,” he said. “We graduated five starters last year, and lost some to medicine school but we’ve done well with our recruiting and brought in some real quality kids. It’s taken some time to gel, but as the preseason has moved along we’re finding our identity, and we’re excited going into the season opener.”

Earlier this month, the club posted two wins, one loss and one draw during a four-games-in-five-days-stretch against competition from Washington State. They followed that up with a 1-1 draw against the SFU Clan on Saturday.

“We’ve had a bit of an up and down preseason,” Lowndes said. “We played good in parts of all of the games against the American sides, and I think the SFU game was a good indicator of where we’re at.”

The club opens the Canada West regular season on the road today (Friday) against the UBC Thunderbirds, and then travels to Victoria on Saturday to battle the Vikes. Lowndes said his team has to play solid defence and attack when the opportunity arises.

“We’re going to hit teams on the counter attack and really punish them,” he said. “We need to play solid defensively, and I think we’re not going to press offensively as much as we have in the past due to some of our inexperience. But, that doesn’t mean we won’t do it at times, I think we should be able to cause a lot of problems for teams with our pace and energy.”

Lowndes said key players for 2017 include defenders Tammer Byrne and John Kaspar and forward Elijah Sampson. He also expects a number of the team’s first year players to make a name for themselves.

“We’ve got some great veteran leaders on this team who will help bring this young group of players through,” Lowndes said. “It’s a really talented incoming group. They’ve all had a lot of success at the club level, individually and in their respective teams. I think it’ll come down to how quickly we can mesh as a group and how quickly those young players can adjust to the level of play in Canada West.”

Abbotsford talent on the team include Byrne, Sampson, David Parfett and Jesse March.

Byrne, the captain of the club for 2017, said the team has a lot of potential.

“We’re a young team but we have a lot of talent,” he said, noting that there is no real weakness on the team in his mind. “Nationals is always the goal for us, but for me I just want to lead by example.”

Lowndes said UBC will be a big test for his team, and noted that both TWU and TRU should be teams to watch.

We’ll find out who we are and where we’re at very early on,” Lowndes noted. “We’re going to the Canada West runners-up for the first game of the season. We’ve had success there the past couple seasons, so it’ll be interesting to see if we can continue to go there and do well. And it’s always difficult going to the Island, playing a team that will be looking to rebound after a tough season. Playing there is a battle, and we’ll need to be at our best.”

Lowndes said he hopes the youth helps push the pace and provide a spark in 2017.

“We’ve freshened up and have put some new blood and new life into the team,” he said. “Sometimes you get some complacency when you have guys in a five-year program but these guys want to work hard and I think we look hungry.”

The team hosts the UBC-O Heat for its home opener on Sept. 8 at the MRC Fields, and then host the TRU Wolfpack on Sept. 9. Both games occur at 8 p.m.

The following week the team hosts Alberta and Calgary, with both games occuring at 6 p.m.

For more information on the team, visit ufvcascades.ca.

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