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Improved UNBC side taking on T-birds

By virtually every measuring stick, the UNBC Timberwolves are well on their way to their best-ever Canada West men's soccer season.
unbc soccer
Francesco Bartolillo of the UNBC Timberwolves uses some slick footwork to keep the ball away from Thompson Rivers University WolfPack defender Adam Swanson during a Canada West men’s soccer game earlier this season at the North Cariboo Senior Soccer League fields. The T-wolves will clash with the UBC Thunderbirds today at 3 p.m. – JAMES DOYLE

By virtually every measuring stick, the UNBC Timberwolves are well on their way to their best-ever Canada West men's soccer season.

Just past the halfway mark, the fifth-place T-wolves sport a 3-4-3 record, well within striking distance of the UBC Okanagan Heat for the fourth and final playoff spot in the U Sports Canada West Pacific Division.

They've scored more goals (12) than they've allowed (11) and have proven they're on equal footing or better than two of the teams ahead of them in the standings. They even remained tied with the defending national champions - the Alberta Golden Bears - until the Bears pulled away with two goals in a second-half push.

If that doesn't boost confidence in the Wolves' den, nothing will.

"I think what's happened in this league since us coming in with the other schools is the top to bottom has shrunk quite a bit - we've come up quite a bit and closed that gap on teams," said T-wolves head coach Steve Simonson.

"It was always an uphill battle for us and now we know that on any given day we can play with any team and beat any team."

The T-wolves split last weekend on their trip to Alberta, beating Grant MacEwan 3-0, followed by a 1-0 loss in Lethbridge.

"Grant MacEwan is a better team than where they're sitting in the standings, they've been close in pretty much every game and we played well," said Simonson. "We took our chances and scored three goals. Scoring's been a bit of a challenge for us so to get three in that game was a bit of a plus for us.

"Our goals against is way down - we've only let in 11 in 10 games and goals are coming a little bit more, but that's what's hurt us. We lost 1-0 to Mount Royal where we had chances to score and we didn't take those chances and Lethbridge was the same. We had plenty of opportunity to win that game and we didn't take it."

The T-wolves are home today and Saturday at North Cariboo fields where they face their stiffest test of the season - a doubleheader clash with the high and mighty UBC Thunderbirds.

How dominant are they? In the five previous seasons UNBC has been in the league the T-birds reeled off 50 wins, four losses and 12 ties. They have 13 national titles to their credit. No other team in the country comes close.

UBC came up one game short of winning a second-straight Canada West title in the playoffs last year, losing in the final 2-1 to the Golden Bears.

"We know we'll have a better chance against UBC than we've had in past years but they're still a heavy favourite," said Simonson. "They're ranked No. 3 in the country and were No. 2 until last week because they lost 1-0 to Alberta but they're a top-three team in the country and you never go into that game thinking it's going to be easy. Maybe that's a pressure-release for us just to play a team that you are an underdog against and that's good to be able to play free and not worry about the outcome."

Today's game starts at 3 p.m. Saturday's rematch is scheduled for a 1:30 p.m. start.

The UNBC women have fallen back to earth with four straight losses after winning their first two games of the season. They're on the road now, as they will be for the remaining eight games of the season, and play this weekend at Victoria and UBC.

Sunday's 3-0 loss at North Cariboo to the Fraser Valley Cascades was the final home game in the university careers of T-wolves seniors Fiona Raymond, Tianna Pius, Tianna Rossi, Sidney Roy and Rhianne Ferdinandi.

"They've done a lot for the program and it was a good weekend for them, I know it was an emotional Sunday for them," said women's team head coach Neil Sedgwick.

"This season, that has to be the earliest senior day on record."

Losing back to back to Trinity Western and Fraser Valley, both by 3-0 counts, was tough to swallow for the T-wolves and they've spent time in practice since then trying to shore up their defence paying particular attention to their formations on corner kicks.

"Certainly we conceded six goals - five of them in the second half - and three of them were from knockdowns off set pieces," said Sedgwick.

"We've had discussions about that and the girls have had a chance to watch the videos from the weekend but those are tidy-ups. The positives that came out of it is the way they grew with their possession and they grew with their attacking play.

"We played two Tier 1 teams - teams that recruit and bring players in from a major soccer centre and they've perennially been at the top of the conference and have been to national championships and we competed well through big parts of the games and that's something we have to build on. The performance indicators we look at now compared to where we were a year ago, we've made massive gains."

Brooke Molby has been the go-to starter in goal for the T-wolves since the first weekend of the season. Madi Doyle, UNBC's other first-year goalie, hasn't played since the opening game of the season, a 3-0 shutout over Thompson Rivers, due to a quad muscle injury that's kept her off the field until this week. Doyle is doubtful for either game this weekend.

Game time tonight in Victoria is 5 p.m. UNBC will be back on the field in Vancouver Sunday at 2 p.m.