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T-wolves caught in CIS Canada West shuffle

Realignment of university teams competing in CIS Canada West next season means a revised schedule for UNBC's soccer and basketball programs.

Realignment of university teams competing in CIS Canada West next season means a revised schedule for UNBC's soccer and basketball programs.

The new-look schedule, which hasn't been released yet, is only for the 2014-15 season, said UNBC athletic director Loralyn Murdoch.

"With Grant MacEwan (Edmonton) coming in [to Canada West] as a probationary member, a lot of decisions had to be made around the Athletic Directors' table," she said. "We put in the schedule for one year knowing it wasn't going to please everybody. Now we're working on some strategic planning what the schedule will look like sport by sport."

On the soccer side, Canada West will be divided into a B.C. division (seven teams each on the men's and women's sides) and an eight-team Alberta-east or Prairie division.

With the addition of Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops and UBC Okanagan (Kelowna) into Canada West, they'll compete against UNBC's Timberwolves, Trinity Western Spartans (Langley), University of the Fraser Valley (Abbotsford/Chilliwack), UBC and University of Victoria.

The top-three teams will qualify for the playoffs and cross over to play the top-three from the Alberta/Prairie division, which includes the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge, University of Saskatchewan, University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg.

Alan Alderson, head coach of UNBC's men's soccer team, expects the B.C. division to be highly competitive.

The T-wolves went 2-9-3 last season and finished last in the Pacific Division but will take direct aim at a playoff berth in the 2014 season.

"I think we're on pace to continue closing the gap and our optimistic hope is that we pass some teams this year," said Alderson recently.

Andy Cameron, head coach of the UNBC women, also knows his team will be in tough in the B.C. division but said the Timberwolves are in position to keep pace with their opponents.

"It just got a whole lot tougher because we play UBC, Trinity Western and UVic twice now, instead of once, but I think we're good enough that we can compete with them," he said recently.

Last season, UNBC had a 1-9-2 record and placed 11th. Meanwhile, UBC, Trinity Western and UVic were all top-four finishers, and TWU went on to win the national title.

On the basketball side, Murdoch said Canada West picked an arbitrary date and time to divide the teams into two divisions.

The Pioneer division will include the more established teams from UBC, UVic, U of A, U of C, U of S, while the Explorers Division will include the newer members of Canada West, including the Timberwolves, TRU, Mount Royal (Calgary) UBCO, and UFV.

Murdoch said while fans attending the games at the Northern Sport Centre won't see any of the big schools (UBC, U of A, UVic) play, it gives UNBC a chance to develop rivalries with other schools.

"It means we need to build some rivalries with some of these closer schools like Thompson Rivers, and UBCO and Grant MacEwan," she said. "No one likes to see us get beat badly by the big schools, we're trying to get better, and in the best-case scenario get more wins, make it more exciting, and this is a good opportunity for a year and become more successful.

"I don't know if people come to see the big schools. People come to watch us play, and the product we're putting on the floor."

The UFV Cascades won the bronze medal at the CIS women's basketball championships this season. The Cascades' success will help the T-wolves in the long run, said Murdoch.

"The level of play is high in Canada West is very, very high," she said. "We're working hard to match that. We're getting the best school in Canada West in our gym for two games. We're going to them for two games. Is it important we go to UBC or get UBC here, maybe? Maybe not. Let's get them up here for some exhibition [games]."

Students who are currently being recruited to play for the T-wolves next season know about the one-year schedule, Murdoch said.

After the 2014-15 season, the schedule will be re-evaluated at the Canada West AGM in June 2015 and a two-year schedule will be put forth.

Murdoch said formulating a schedule that works for all schools is not easy.

"No one is happy with the schedule, but how do we make it feasible with 17 members. We're looking at the Canada West experience, sport by sport and how do we make it feasible and economical in the times that we are in with some cutbacks financially," she said.

- with files from Jason Peters, Citizen