The University of the Fraser Valley men’s soccer program launches its 2019 conference campaign on Friday, aiming to build on a run to the Canada West Final Four last season.
The Cascades open at home, hosting the reigning Canada West champion UBC Thunderbirds (7 p.m., MRC Sports Complex), then hit the road for a Sunday date with the Victoria Vikes (2 p.m.).
Admission is free for Cascades soccer home games, and a food truck from Kal Side Grill will be on site at MRC Sports Complex throughout the season.
Head coach Tom Lowndes graduated just three players from his 2018 squad, which posted a 7-6-2 record – good for third in the Pacific Division.
Those players – All-Canadian centre back Tammer Byrne and goalkeepers David Hicks and Alex Skrzeta – were pivotal presences for the Cascades, but the balance of the roster is deep, and boasts an intriguing mix of youth and experience.
“I think we have the quality, and a little more experience now,” said Lowndes, whose Cascades knocked off the Saskatchewan Huskies on the road in the CW quarter-finals before falling to UBC and Thompson Rivers in the Final Four to wrap up last season. “Every year, making it to the playoffs is the goal. Once you’re in the playoffs, it’s about how high you can finish and set yourself up for a run at qualifying for nationals.”
The strength of this year’s UFV side is up front. Fifth-year forward Gurmaan Jhaj is coming off a phenomenal season, which saw him net 13 goals to shatter the team’s single-season record of eight. The CW first team all-star is within striking distance of the team’s all-time records for goals (he has 17, record is 20) and points (he has 22, record is 31), and he’s wearing the captain’s armband this year following Byrne’s departure.
“He was a big-time player for us last year, scored some important goals and took on a leadership role,” Lowndes said of Jhaj. “That’s something we’re hoping he can continue into his senior year and really lead this team from the front.”
Third-year Parman Minhas could be poised for a breakthrough up front, and fourth-year Atle Koellmel, redshirt freshman Mikael Mainella, and UBC transfer Manpal Brar will also factor into the mix.
The Cascades don’t exactly ease into conference play, hosting the reigning champs before visiting one of CW’s toughest road destinations. UFV is ranked No. 7 in the CW preseason coaches’ poll, while UBC is No. 1 and UVic checks in at No. 8.