Vikes soccer kicks off new season

It’s shaping up to be another big year for UVic Vikes soccer, as both the men’s and women’s teams are looking to build off of playoff appearances last season that left them hungry for more.

Women’s team

The women’s team provided a memorable run for UVic, playing in the national finals last November at Centennial Stadium. The Vikes kicked things off with a bang by downing Sherbrooke 2-1 on opening night, but fell to Canada West rivals, Trinity Western in the semifinals to end their dreams of a national championship. The players proved resilient, however, and returned with a win in penalty kicks over Ottawa in the third-place game to claim a Bronze medal.

While an impressive result from what had been one of the strongest Vikes teams in years, to be so close has left much of the returning team with a desire to prove they can equal and surpass last year’s effort.

“I think our chances are really high,” midfielder Jaclyn Sawicki said of her team’s chances to return to the national championship. “We had a really good pre-season and a good start to our league.”

That good start to the league came courtesy of a 4-1 victory over the UNBC Timberwolves on Sept. 7. The Vikes were in control the entire game, with Sawicki striking the game winner from 20 yards out.

One obstacle the team will have to overcome is the loss of five starters from last season, goalie Stephanie Parker, team assists leader Nathalie Scharf, as well as Carsen Machin and Janelle Smith and Tessa Margetts who helped lead a defense that produced eight shutouts during the season.

Sawicki is confident though that her team has made the necessary moves to stay competitive. “We have 11 rookies this year. A couple of them have definitely stepped up, so I think we have a good bench,” she says.

The Vikes have plenty of returning weapons that should once again see UVic make a deep playoff run. Forward Emma Greig led the Canada West conference in goals last season with 14, including three hat tricks. UVic also boasts a Canadian national player in Sawicki, who is expected to once again be the driving force in the midfield. Returning at the helm is head coach Tracy David. David has coached the women’s squad for the past 11 seasons, highlighted by a national title victory in 2005.

Fresh off a third-place finish in the country, there is no reason to think that the women can’t make another serious run at the title. The last team to stand in their way will likely be Trinity Western yet again, who the Vikes fell to three times last season. The experience gained, along with a massive chip on their shoulders, may finally help them silence their rivals in 2013.

Men’s team

The men’s season ended abruptly in 2012, as hopes of a national title repeat were crushed with a first-round Canada West playoff exit to Saskatchewan. The window of opportunity is still open for the men’s side though, as they look to return to the heights of the 2011 season.

“We should make playoffs,” said defender Gavin Barrett of his team’s post-season outlook. Barrett not only feels the Vikes can make playoffs, but also that they could make a run at first place in the Canada West division. “We’re fighting with UBC and Trinity for first second and third spot.”

Despite losing a trio of veterans in David Adams, Wesley Barrett and Thomas Mallette, the Vikes still retain many of the big names from their Championship run. Chief among those is midfielder Cam Hundal. Hundal, who won 2011 tournament MVP honours along with his national title, stayed active this summer with the Vancouver Whitecaps U-23 side and should be ready to hit the ground running for UVic.

Craig Gorman and Craig Taylor look to be Hundal’s main partners in the midfield, along with Andrew Ravenhill. Seniors Gavin Barrett and Bobby Eng will hold down the backline, while goalie Elliott Mitrou enters his fifth and final year as starting Vikes goalkeeper.

Leading the Vikes is the ever-steady Bruce Wilson, who has headed the team for the past quarter century. The Canadian national player is joined on the sidelines this season by Ian Bridge, a former teammate of Wilson’s on the Canadian national team. Bridge was previously coach of the local Highlanders FC soccer team, so he is well known by the many Vikes players that play for the team during the summer.

The men also started their season this weekend, with their home opener on Friday coming in front of a packed Centennial Stadium. The team faced a tough task in their first game against the defending national champion, UBC Thunderbirds, and was thoroughly outplayed as UBC cruised to a 4-1 win.

The Vikes came up with a big response on Sunday, however, putting in a 90-minute effort to down the rival Trinity Western Spartans 4-0. Hundal had two goals, while Mitrou made two saves for the shutout.

“We always like beating Trinity,” said Gavin Barrett about Sunday’s game. “Especially coming off that loss against UBC, it’s good to bounce back, coming back strong and scoring a bunch of goals.”

This upcoming weekend sees the women start a four-game road trip with games against Trinity Western and UBC. The men also head out of town, playing the Winnipeg Wesmen on Friday and Calgary-side Mount Royal Cougars on Saturday.

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