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Soccer 2011: looking for answers

Looking back, it’s been a rough year for UFV soccer. After two months and 14 games apiece, the men’s and women’s teams ended the 2011 with a combined four wins. The numbers beg for some explanation, and Head Coaches Alan Errington (Men) and Rob Giesbrecht (Women) each have their own answers.

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By Paul Esau (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: November 16, 2011

Looking back, it’s been a rough year for UFV soccer.

At the end of the 2010 regular season, the men’s and women’s teams had combined for twelve wins on the year, and the women had squeaked into a berth in the Canada West playoffs. The women went on to grab a bronze medal in the national tournament as UFV’s great Cinderella story, and both programs seemed poised to accomplish greater things in the coming year.

“Seemed” being of course, the key word.

After two months and 14 games apiece, the men’s and women’s teams ended the 2011 with a combined four wins. The women finished 3-8-3 with 13 goals for and 23 against, while the men struggled to 1-11-2 with 13 goals for and a whopping 34 against.

The numbers beg for some explanation, and Head Coaches Alan Errington (Men) and Rob Giesbrecht (Women) each have their own answers.

The Cascade caught up with Errington during last weekend’s CIS National Championships, while he was in Victoria to help select an MVP and All Star team. Errington admitted it was hard to be at the tournament as a judge rather than a coach, and had some frank comments to make about the past season.

“It was a disappointing season obviously,” he said, “we didn’t finish off where we wanted to be…we were a very young team, and we had nine rookies, and we lost three or four big players for us. We lost a couple of players who left to go to work rather than stay in university. One of our great leaders was Brent Wantke who left to be a police officer, so we lost a lot of our seniors. The young players came in and battled away, but we just lacked that experience.”

Errington believes the youth of his team will be a great asset moving forward, but that it cost his squad over the course of the season. The Cascades developed a habit of exploding to quick leads in the early game, only to cough them up in the second half.

“It’s something we’ve identified and we tried to correct,” Errington said, “but player have to dig in a bit. I thought we had a few what I call “shrinking violets,” when the going got tough they played hide-and-seek. We need players with character who can step up and I think we lost [some of] those when we lost the Ben Wantkes, the James Geibelhauses, the Andrew McCullocks. And I think that was an issue this year… we lost our captain Trevor O’Neill with an injury, he was out most of the season.”

“I honestly believe that winning is a habit and so is losing. I think we got into the habit of losing,” concluded Errington, although he argued that the Cascades dismal record was hardly a reflection of his team’s ability.

“In all honesty… we’re not that far away. I don’t think we ever got blown away by anybody in any of the games, so we’re not far way,” he said.  He mentioned the October 29 game against the University of Alberta (who finished fourth at the CIS National Championship), during which the Cascades jumped to a 3-1 lead at the half, only to lose 4-3. “The difference between being where we are and being in the playoffs,” Errington continued, “is just that little bit of confidence and a little bit of grit in certain areas… I know all the coaches in the league fairly well, and none of them relished playing against us, even though looking on paper we should have been an easy game.”

The UFV Women’s team have had a similarly disappointing experience, made more frustrating by the memory of last year’s accomplishments. Head coach Rob Giesbrecht described his squad as starting strong, only to falter under key injuries and a lack of finish. The Cascades played three of last year’s national semi-finalists in the preseason, winning two and tying one, before settling in for a mediocre fall. Giesbrecht pointed to the home opener as the turning point.

“After that,” he said, “we never really were able to get the results that we deserved. Actually, I take that back, we were unable to finish in our games, to turn our positive play into positive results. I think we never found that extra level of desire or competitiveness to put the ball into the back of the net.  That was the biggest difference.”

Giesbrecht’s squad was also plagued by injuries during the season, including the loss of veteran center back Emma Broadfoot and star midfielder Chelsea Steffen. Without them, the Cascades played much of October with first year players in the key center back and center mid positions. Giesbrecht was quick to point out that “all four of them have bright futures and all four of them played well, but just at this level it’s sometimes difficult to get the results with that much youth.”

“I think the most positive thing from this year,” said Giesbrecht, “is that we learned that no matter what you’ve done in the past it doesn’t mean anything on game day, you have to bring it every day. Even though you can talk about missed chances, lack of experience, I think at the end of the day we just didn’t have that extra level of desire and competitiveness that we possessed [the year before].”

Prior to 2010 the women’s soccer team had never won six games in a season, yet Giesbrecht insists that his team’s bronze medal finish wasn’t a lucky accident:

“I expect us to get back to winning ways. My team is very hungry to be successful, and they’re committed to doing what it takes this offseason to develop and to progress. Recruiting has gone very well, we’re going to bring in some very talented players… I expect us to be much better next year.”

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