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Canada West retools women's soccer

The UNBC women's soccer side will tackle some old but familiar rivals in the 2015 season under proposed changes to the CIS Canada West schedule.

The UNBC women's soccer side will tackle some old but familiar rivals in the 2015 season under proposed changes to the CIS Canada West schedule.

In a statement to The Citizen, Canadian Interuniversity Sport's Canada West conference said women's soccer will be a "new competitive format of two regions, four divisions and a 14-game regular season with the top six teams from each region advancing to the playoffs that culminates in a Final Six."

The decision was made at Canada West's winter meeting where "conference leadership made the decision to keep the present single-division format for volleyball, and approved changes for soccer effective immediately for the 2015 season."

It's a change from the 2014 season where Canada West women's soccer was divided into the Pacific and Prairie Divisions.

UNBC competed in the Pacific Division against teams from within B.C.

Under the proposed format change, UNBC head coach Andy Cameron said the Timberwolves would be grouped in a yet-to-be-named division with Thompson Rivers University of Kamloops, UBC Okanagan of Kelowna and the University of Alberta, based in Edmonton.

Cameron said the changes will benefit his stable of athletes.

"It gives student-athletes a chance to play all of the Canada West teams over the course of their careers," he said.

"Last year, we only played B.C. teams and our schedule was pretty darn tough. Two years ago when we competed with Prairie teams we had success. We're looking forward to it."

Cameron said schools in the Lower Mainland would be grouped together (Trinity Western, the University of Victoria, UBC and the University of the Fraser Valley) in another division.

Four squads from Alberta (MacEwan, Mount Royal, University of Lethbridge and University of Calgary) would be in another division, while the University of Saskatchewan, University of Regina, University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba would round out the other division.

Cameron said the Timberwolves would play each side in their division twice, the Lower Mainland teams once, and would go across the Rockies for two games against Saskatchewan and Regina tentatively, while Calgary and Lethbridge would travel to Prince George.

The University of Alberta would rotate out of UNBC's division in 2016 and the Timberwolves would play different Prairie teams.

Canada West said in its statement that growth in the conference over the last five years - which meant adding four new member schools and a total of 40 new teams (30 per cent growth in membership) - has presented challenges.

"Canada West has been met with the structural challenge of maintaining its historic rivalries while welcoming its new members, and at the same time managing the logistical challenges created by the wide geographical landscape of the association.

"In the fall of 2013 the Canada West Board of Directors initiated a strategic planning dialogue that led to significant ad hoc committee work over the last 12 months to review its competitive formats in volleyball, soccer and basketball."

Canada West said men's soccer will keep the status quo of two divisions (Pacific and Prairies) and a 12-game season. A new post-season format will be implemented with the top four teams from each division advancing to a first-round crossover playoff.

Winners will then advance to a Final Four.

"Dialogue continues on other possible changes to the competitive structure for men's soccer," said the statement from Canada West.

That means UNBC will compete against UBC, UVic, Thompson Rivers, Trinity Western, UBCO, and UFV.

Alan Alderson, head coach of UNBC's men's soccer team, said the changes to the playoff format will provide a great experience for athletes who participate in Canada West.

"It's an exciting addition to the schedule," he said.

"Traditionally teams in the Pacific Division have done very well in Canada West."

He added, with UNBC returning with a starting lineup who are a year older and with more experience, he hopes they can experience a cross-over game in the playoffs.

As for basketball, Canada West said it continues to discuss and study competitive formats.

More discussion will take place at the 2015 annual general meeting the first week of May.

The 2015-16 schedules will be announced at a later date.