Connor MacMillan and the UFV soccer teams host their home openers on Sunday vs. UBC.

Connor MacMillan and the UFV soccer teams host their home openers on Sunday vs. UBC.

Cascades back in Abbotsford to kick off Canada West soccer season

The University of the Fraser Valley soccer teams are coming home to Abbotsford.

The University of the Fraser Valley soccer teams are coming home to Abbotsford.

After playing their home games at Chilliwack’s Exhibition Field for the past two seasons, the Cascades’ home pitch for the 2014 campaign will be Panther Field, the all-weather turf facility at Abbotsford Senior Secondary.

The initial move to Chilliwack was to allow UFV to play evening home games, which made it easier for them market to youth soccer teams who often play games of their own on Saturday afternoons. The team’s previous home, Bateman Park, didn’t have lights on the field, thus evening games weren’t a possibility.

Panther Field, though, is lit, and offers the best of both worlds to the Cascades.

“It’s good to be back home,” said UFV women’s soccer coach Rob Giesbrecht.

“It makes more sense to be closer to our main campus for the parents and family and friends of the players, and we’re trying to work positive relationships with the local club (Abbotsford Magnuson Ford SC).”

Men’s coach Alan Errington echoed those sentiments.

“I’m quite happy to be back,” he said. “It’s a lot closer to our school, until such time we get a field that we can call our own on campus.”

The Cascades open the Canada West regular season this weekend – they visit the Trinity Western Spartans on Friday (women 5 p.m., men 7 p.m.) and host the UBC Thunderbirds on Sunday (women 12 p.m., men 2 p.m.).

Both teams are ranked sixth in the Canada West coaches’ poll to start the season.

Errington’s men’s squad is coming off a breakthrough 2013 campaign – they earned their first playoff berth in eight Canada West seasons, and went on to win the conference’s bronze medal.

“I think getting in there gives us a bit more belief, and it’s certainly helped us in the recruiting process,” Errington said. “We’ve had more players wanting to come to UFV than ever before. I look at the squad, and it’s the strongest we’ve ever had since I’ve been there.”

Keeper Mark Village, a second team Canada West all-star in 2012, is battling a concussion and may not be available for opening weekend, but Errington feels good about his goalie depth with Arturo Ortiz of Mexico and rookie Alex Skrzeta of Coquitlam.

In the midfield, Errington is unveiling the program’s first-ever recruits from England, Harry Owen and Mason Thompson, who join veterans like Connor MacMillan and Kree Byrne.

Up front, returnee James Najman will be relied upon for goal-scoring, while the likes of Ravi Singh and Colton O’Neill anchor a solid back line.

The UFV women’s squad is also coming off a playoff berth in 2013, though they were eliminated in the quarter-finals by the Alberta Pandas.

Giesbrecht believes the team is capable of a step forward this season. Though standout midfielder Mackenzie Shopland elected to hang up her cleats after suffering a third major knee injury, there is plenty of talent on hand.

Kara Delwo, who has excelled in the preseason after undergoing ACL surgery last year, and sophomore Carley Radomski lead the way in the midfield. Striker Monika Levarsky – like Radomski, a Whitecaps Girls Elite program grad – should make an instant impact as a rookie.

The defence boasts solid veterans in Jade Palm, Dayle Jeras and Tristan Corneil, while keeper Kayla Klim is coming off a superb summer with the Seattle Sounders of the W-League.

“The teams I’d classify as the three best in Canada are in our division,” Giesbrecht said, referring to defending CIS champ Trinity Western, UVic and UBC. “If you’re a pessimist, you’d kind of get scared of that stuff, but I say bring it. It’s awesome. If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. What better way to start than against the national champions on Friday, UBC on Sunday.”