In Canada West Universities Athletic Association men's soccer, you have to learn to walk before you run.
Those were baby steps the UNBC Timberwolves took this weekend at North Cariboo Field against the high and mighty UBC Thunderbirds. Considering the T-birds have won 12 CIS CIS titles, are 16-time CIS finalists, and are the defending national champions, the T-wolves have a long way to climb as a second-year probationary member of the league.
But all that history got tossed aside while the teams clashed in two 90-minute weekend games on the T-wolves' home turf. Predictably, UBC prevailed, 4-1 on Saturday and 3-0 on Sunday.
Milad Mehrabi collected two goals on Sunday and Reynold Stewart had a two-goal effort Saturday for UBC, which improved its first-place record to 10-1-0 at the expense of the Timberwolves (1-5-2 ).
There's nothing to crow about in a pair of losses, but from a UNBC perspective there were a few small victories to celebrate. They did manage to score a goal against a team that 's given up just nine goals in 11 games this season. That came with just 10 minutes left in Saturday's game, a free kick from short range off the boot of Connor Noftle.
The T-wolves were also four goals closer to UBC than they were last year. In the two games combined, they were outscored 7-1. The two -game goal differential was 11-1 a year ago. Not only that, but in the second half Sunday they actually had a few good scoring chances.
"They put up a better fight, especially in the second half and it was a battle for a little bit and then we got the third goal and that sort of put the game to bed," said UBC head coach Mike Mosher. "Many of these [UBC] guys have played in two national finals in three years and that's the goal this year, to defend our championship. UNBC is still a very young group and they're making strides forward.
"The standard of Canada West is very good and it takes a few years for the younger players to catch up. The good news for them is they have lots of first- and second-years who are getting 80 or 90 minutes a game and that's how you get better."
Both UNBC goalies -- Ty Venhola and Mitch Macfarlane -- turned in stellar outings while splitting the playing time Sunday. Venhola was victimized by Mehrabi's deflection off a UNBC defender and a free kick rocket from Mehrabi which gave UBC a 2-0 lead by the 17-minute mark.
"Both of our goalies played very well and that gives us a lot of confidence in the back when we know w have a great goalie to inspire us," said 22 year-old UNBC defender Liam MacPhail, whose shot-blocking and tight coverage stalled numerous UBC drives.
"It was definitely a big improvement from last year. We know what we're capable of and we know we can compete with these guys. Playing these types of teams every week, we can only get better."
Macfarlane made at least four quality saves off UBC's Harry Lakhan, one of three T-birds who played this summer for the Vancouver Whitecaps under-23 team. The only goal Macfarlane let in was off the head of UNBC midfielder Logan Phenuff as he tried to block a dangerous centring pass in front of the net but instead ended up in the own-goal statistical file.
"We had a poor first half, which was very disappointing, but in the second half was we started going at them," said UNBC head coach Alan Alderson. "They still got chances, they're defending national champions and they've only lost one game in their last 30-odd games. For us to hang in there and still be only 2-nil down and then have a much better second half and create some scoring chances and go both ways with them, it's good for our program."
Mehrabi, a third-year midfielder from Coquitlam, and Mitch Popadynetz also scored for UBC in Saturday's game. Richard Meister notched the shutout on Sunday. His best save came with about 10 minutes left when UNBC forward Christopher Russell coralled a high pass in the red zone and zipped a low shot that forced Meister to dive.