T-wolves hand reins to Sedgwick

Neil Sedgwick, the newly-minted coach of the UNBC Timberwolves women's soccer team, is the answer to a Canadian pro soccer history trivia question.

What player was drafted in the Canadian Soccer League three consecutive years?

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It happened to Sedgwick while he was attending Dalhousie University in Halifax looking for a soccer paycheque as a defender in the now-defunct semi-pro league. The Winnipeg Fury picked him fifth overall in the 1990 entry draft, and after one season he was made available in the league expansion draft and taken by the Nova Scotia Clippers. When the Clippers folded after just one season, he was selected in the dispersal draft by the Montreal Supra.

His coaching career has provided much more stability, and now that he's in Prince George, the 49-year-old native of Leeds, England, has begun laying the groundwork to attract players and develop strategies he hopes will turn the T-wolves into a CIS powerhouse.

Sedgwick was hired in February to replace Andy Cameron, who served as head coach for the first four seasons the T-wolves played in the CIS. The team has struggled since it made the jump from the college ranks, compiling a 3-37-10 record in those four years. Last year they went 1-10-3, finishing last in the Canada West standings.

At the time of his hiring, Sedgwick was director of youth development for EPIC Sport Management, a Victoria soccer academy. He and UNBC men's team head coach Steve Simonson worked together as coaches of the Victoria Highlanders senior men's team and they have already tapped into that talent pipeline.

"A big part of recruiting is familiarity and there's a lot players down there, male and female, that are familiar with Steve and I," said Sedgwick. "Some of the players that are coming up now (to play for UNBC) with Johan (Smith) Cody (Gysbers) and Mara (McCleary), that certainly connects Victoria to us at the top level because they are top players in the city. So younger (high school) players, the class of 2017 or 2018, will see this as a legitimate place to play when the top players from Victoria are already here."

It also helps that UNBC is perennially rated academically as one of the top-rated small universities in Canada, which makes Sedgwick's job of recruiting that much easier. He's noticed the welcoming culture is similar on the T-wolves' men's and women's teams; veteran players are quick to welcome newcomers and make them feel part of the team.

"We're fortunate that we have two teams that are incredibly close together," said Sedgwick. "Most of these girls have grown up together and played together and they're very accepting of people who come in to join them because usually you don't get a group that's this tight."

Sedgwick was born in England but grew up in Halifax, where he earned degrees in education and physical education at Dalhousie. His coaching career began in 1999, when he started a two-year stint as women's team head coach at the University of North Dakota. In 2001, he was hired as an assistant at the University of Southern California and in 2003 became an associate head coach. As USC's head recruiter, he guided the Trojan women to three straight NCAA tournament appearances. From 2004-2010 he was the women's team head coach at the University of Montana, leading the Grizzlies to three Big Sky Conference tournament berths.

He attended the National Coaching Institute at UVic in 1995-96 and achieved his masters degree in coaching in 1998.

He's also served as a national youth team coach and headed the women's under-17 women's program.

"I've been able to continue to progress as a coach and as a teacher and really that's what I see here," he said. "Hopefully I can get more connected to the community, working with the club to see what we can do to grow the game here."

The CIS season doesn't start until September but Sedgwick has already seen the core of his team in action for four games on the outdoor fields in Squamish (where they faced a U-18 select team and Quest University) and Kamloops (two games against a combined Thompson Rivers University/women's club team). The T-wolves have been training indoors at the Northern Sport Centre the past two months.

"We've had four games and 30 training sessions and they've showed a great deal of progress, they've really accepted some new ideas and they've been able to put that into play," said Sedgwick. "They were very accepting and welcomed me, in full compliments to what Andy and Iain (assistant coach Flannagan, now retired after seven seasons) have done in just bringing in some wonderful people."

"What we have to do is look to that next tier in Canada West. Our objective is to move to that top tier with the UBCs and the UVics. We certainly feel that there's great possibility here."

The team is losing just three players from last year, all to graduation, but all three were key components last season. Jordan Hall was UNBC's starting goalie, her twin sister Sydney was their striker and leading goal-scorer and Fiona Richmond was one of their top defenders.

With the winter semester now almost complete, UNBC's out-of-town players will be going home for the summer, meaning there won't be any more T-wolves' games until August. Sedgwick is encouraging those who remain in the city to play in the Prince George Women's Soccer Association, which starts its schedule in May. He plans to continue recruiting at college identification camps while he organizes the program for the fall season.

Sedgwick is still in the process of moving his wife and two children, aged three and seven, to Prince George, where there are some family ties. His wife Riki's parents used to live in Quesnel and her uncle lives in Prince George.

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