Coming off a breakthrough 2010 season, University of the Fraser Valley women’s soccer coach Rob Giesbrecht is well aware that the 2011 campaign comes with a new set of challenges for his side.
“We want our players to remember how good it felt to wear a Canada West gold medal, to wear a national bronze medal, to hoist a banner,” Giesbrecht said, contemplating the start of the regular season in one week’s time. “But we also want them to remember the hard work – the blood, sweat and tears that went into last season.”
In his first year at the helm of the Cascades, Giesbrecht presided over an impressive turnaround. The UFV women, who hadn’t tasted the playoffs in four previous Canada West seasons, stunned traditional heavyweights like Trinity Western and UBC en route to the conference title and went on to earn bronze at nationals.
Both accomplishments represented firsts for the UFV athletic department since the Abbotsford school moved up to the CIS in 2006.
With eight returning starters from last year’s team, the Cascades women will likely boast a lofty perch in the CIS national rankings when they come out next week. Thus, they’ll play with a target on their backs that they’ve never had before.
Giesbrecht is also cognizant that complacency could become an issue – last year’s team was defined by a burning desire to win and an insatiable work ethic. But during training camp and preseason play, the Cascades bench boss doesn’t sense that his team’s hunger to win has been blunted.
“For the returning players, last year’s success meant so much to them, they want to experience it again,” he said. “And for the younger players coming in, they’ve heard all about last year’s success, and they want it for themselves. We won’t be a complacent team.”
The Cascades’ performances in the preseason seem to support Giesbrecht’s analysis. The UFV women have gone 3-0-2 against CIS and NCAA teams in exhibition play, including an undefeated road trip to Ontario last week that included wins over McGill and Ottawa.
On Tuesday evening, the Cascades defeated SFU 1-0, highlighted by Chantelle Biagioni’s save on a penalty kick and Ellen Kuyer’s breakaway goal in the second half.
Biagioni, Kuyer, midfielder Megan Webster and defender Emma Broadfoot, who is returning from a knee injury, form the veteran core of the 2011 Cascades.
Giesbrecht’s 11-member recruiting class is highlighted by a trio of rookie starters. Danelle Ruschke out of Chilliwack and Samantha Gregory of Calgary are the starting centre backs, and they performed well during the Ontario trip.
Blue-chipper Mackenzie Shopland, a product of the Vancouver Whitecaps prospects program, has looked right at home in the central midfield.
“She’s a big part of our future, but also a big part of our present,” Giesbrecht noted.
• The Cascades women open the season next weekend on the road against the Manitoba Bisons (Sept. 10) and the Regina Cougars (Sept. 11).