The winding road from small-town kid to UVic soccer star

Sports Sports | Lifestyle

He’s been the face of UVic men’s soccer for the past two years, bringing the Vikes their fifth all-time national championship along with back-to-back playoff appearances. Now, in his third year, midfielder Cam Hundal continues to lead the UVic squad as they begin their pursuit of the 2013 title. While many know of his accomplishments on the field, few know of the long road Hundal travelled in becoming one of the top soccer players in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport league (CIS).

Since an early age, the soccer path was an attractive one to Hundal, which he credits in part to his family.

“My interest started when I was two or three years old. In my household, soccer was played a lot. My older brother and sister played and my dad was always really into it. Soccer has been a part of the family ever since I could walk.”

While there is no doubt the passion was present, the opportunities were a different story. Hundal was born and raised in Terrace, a small northern B.C. town with a population of around 12 000. And, while he has no knocks against his hometown, it quickly became clear that the community would not allow him to realize his full potential as a player.

“Growing up in a small town in northern B.C., with the weather and population, it’s not an optimal place to be playing soccer in terms of playing at a high level,” said Hundal. “You’re limited in terms of your options and your ability to progress in the sport.”

This left Hundal with the obvious, yet difficult realization that to pursue his soccer dreams he would have to leave home. He was fortunate to have an uncle in Surrey to live with, though this did not make the decision any easier on his immediate family.

Tyler Mertens and Cam Hundal battle toe-to-toe for possession. File photo by James Sturrock

“It was tough, especially for my mom,” Hundal recalled of the discussion with his family. “But they knew I really wanted to do it and knew I’d make something of it, so they were super supportive.”

Leaving Terrace at age 15 to move to B.C.’s second-largest city provided Hundal with a soccer landscape he previously could have only dreamed of. The radical change also brought with it some adjustments.

“At first it was a bit intimidating and overwhelming, but at the same time it was really exciting because I got to finally test my talents against the best in the province.”

Hundal is sure to praise the opportunity to remain with his family as a major factor in the success of such a life-changing move.

“I was able to move with relatives and not just on my own or at a boarding school with billets, so it wasn’t as hard, and made the transition a lot easier.”

As he became more experienced in the leagues of the lower mainland, Hundal began to notice positive changes in his game.

“As soon as I got to play with players who were at the same level or better than me, it obviously made me a lot better,” says Hundal. “The level [of play] was high, a lot of players were really competitive and really professional about the sport, even at that age.”

Ultimately, the move to Surrey proved a resounding success for Hundal, allowing him to hone his soccer skills by playing alongside some of the best players in the province.

“Once I got there, I had so many options and I progressed really quickly,” Hundal says. As the years went on and he kept improving, Hundal was eventually able to turn his sights towards the collegiate level.

Already living in the lower mainland, the obvious choices to pursue soccer at university would appear to be SFU or UBC. Luckily for UVic, the unenvious prospect of a grinding Vancouver commute may have made all the difference.

“UBC was an option of mine that I really looked into, but living in Surrey and having to commute all the way to Vancouver was just too much. I figured if I had to move away from home anyway, I might as well move away from Vancouver and go have an experience somewhere else.”

The experience Hundal sought led him to investigate UVic, which quickly captured him for a variety of reasons.

“I always knew UVic had a good tradition of sports with the Vikes, and a very successful athletic program,” says Hundal, who was also well aware that the team was coached by Canadian soccer legend Bruce Wilson.

But, like any athlete, Hundal’s time would not all be spent on the field; he also had to enjoy the community and city he was considering being a part of. Victoria turned out to be the perfect fit.

File photo by Nikki Koutsochilis

“I heard great things about Victoria. It’s a great city and a really nice school, so it was intriguing for me. I came here and I liked the community, the school, the atmosphere, and obviously the soccer, so that made the decision for me.”

Hundal’s impact was instant, helping guide hosts UVic to victory in the 2011 CIS National Championship. Hundal was named tournament MVP for his efforts, which included the game-winning goal in the final against the Saint Mary’s Huskies. While thrilling to reach the pinnacle of collegiate soccer just three months into his career at UVic, the time since then has led Hundal to see how special the moment really was.

“At the time I didn’t think too much of it because it happened so fast,” Hundal said. “But now being in my third year, I see what a privilege it is to get to the national championship and how difficult it is.”

Getting a shot to experience the moment again ranks high on Hundal’s to-do list. “Even though we won first year, I’m still hungry for another championship.” He and the Vikes are certainly doing their part to earn that chance so far this season. UVic is 4-2-0, good for second in the Canada West Pacific division, while Hundal’s four goals place him second in the Canada West conference.

Hundal has three seasons remaining including the current one, and he plans to make the most of them on the field. He is actively pursuing his education as well, but makes it clear he has no plans to give up pursuing his athletic dreams when his eligibility is up.

“I think I’m at the age right now where soccer is more important simply because you have certain opportunities that are open at this age that won’t be open down the road,” Hundal says on whether soccer or school are in the front of his mind.

“If I could pursue a career in some professional league, whether that be in Canada, the U.S., or over in Europe, that’s my goal. Hopefully after I’m done here at university, I’ll be playing somewhere as a pro.”