Rob Giesbrecht and the University of the Fraser Valley women’s soccer team are about to embark on a brand new Canada West regular season, but the Cascades bench boss could be forgiven if it all felt like déjà vu.
For the second straight year, knee injuries are wreaking havoc on the UFV midfield.
In 2012, before the Cascades’ first regular season game was even in the books, stars Mackenzie Shopland and Chelsea Steffen were lost for the season with torn anterior cruciate ligaments. The UFV side, hobbled though it was, still managed to nail down a playoff berth, finishing seventh in Canada West at 6-5-1, but they were bounced in the first round by the second-seeded Victoria Vikes.
Fast forward to last month, and during preseason practices, starting midfielders Shopland and Kara Delwo both went down with knee injuries.
The good news is, neither injury appears to be season-ending – Giesbrecht told The News last week that Shopland (torn meniscus) and Delwo (ligament sprain) are both expected back by late September.
Nevertheless, it’s an obstacle to be overcome as the Cascades seek to return to the lofty heights of 2010, when they won the Canada West title and a bronze medal at nationals.
“This year, I was really looking forward to having better depth,” Giesbrecht said with a wry chuckle. “But our depth is being tested a little earlier than I was hoping for.
“We do so much injury-preventative stuff – the warm-ups, the off-season weight training, all of that stuff is geared to protect them. And then weird things happen sometimes.”
Giesbrecht feels better-equipped to deal with injury-related adversity this season. After graduating a huge chunk of 2010’s title-winning team, the UFV roster the last two years has been populated largely by youngsters. Those players have gained valuable experience, and that bodes well.
Key returnees include reigning team MVP Carly Neeson, who will be moving from her natural striker spot to midfield while Shopland and Delwo are absent, and keeper Kayla Klim, who spent the summer with the W-League’s Dayton (Ohio) Dutch Lions.
Rookie midfielder Carley Radomski, a former Canada U17 team player and a product of the Whitecaps Girls Elite program, is expected to make an immediate impact.
“We had to completely rebuild the program, and I think we’ve done it – we’ve got a good team here,” Giesbrecht said. “We want to be one of the top four teams so we can host a playoff game and get to the Canada West Final Four. And once you’re there, you might as well plan on winning the thing and going to nationals.
“That one banner hanging up there in our gym is looking a bit lonely. We’d like to hang one up there beside it.”
• On the men’s side, Canada West’s Pacific Division in arguably the toughest in the nation, housing traditional powerhouses UBC, Trinity Western and UVic.
With only three playoff spots up for grabs in the division, it’s easy to see why the UFV men are still seeking their first-ever post-season berth heading into their eighth Canada West campaign.
Cascades coach Alan Errington views defending national champ UBC as the clear favourite again in 2013, but believes his side has what it takes to overtake one (or both) of the other two teams and finally taste the playoffs.
“UVic and Trinity, we’re as good as them if not better,” asserted Errington, whose team went 5-5-4 and missed the post-season by a single point in 2012. “That’s what we’ve got to shoot for.
“It’s a good challenge, because it’s always great games against the two of them,” he added. “It’s sometimes not the best team that wins, it’s the one with the most passion and desire. They’re real derby games – there’s more to it than just the game of football between us and Trinity, and UVic as well.”
Errington welcomes back a veteran-laden roster which includes the three O’Neill brothers (defenders Colton and Trevor, and midfielder Connor), strikers Justin Sekhon and Dalibor Plavsic, and defenders Ravi Singh and Sahib Phagura. Keeper Mark Village, a second team Canada West all-star last year, also returns.
• The UFV soccer teams open the regular season this Friday at their home pitch, Chilliwack’s Exhibition Field. The women kick things off vs. UNBC at 5 p.m., followed by the men vs. Trinity Western at 7:15 p.m.