The UNBC Timberwolves soccer teams are ready to kick off their sixth seasons in the Canada West Universities Athletic Association.
The UNBC men start their Canada West schedule on Saturday (1 p.m.) at the North Cariboo Senior Soccer League fields with a match against the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack of Kamloops. The teams will also clash on Sunday, same time, same place.
The UNBC women, meanwhile, will see their first game action of 2017 on Friday, Sept. 8, when they host the WolfPack at 3 p.m. On Sept. 10 at noon, the Timberwolves will take on the visiting UBC Okanagan Heat.
The Canada West schedules for both UNBC teams have been altered from their original versions. Originally, the male T-wolves were slated to host the WolfPack on the Friday and Saturday while the female T-wolves had been penciled in to begin their season with road games against the WolfPack and the Kelowna-based Heat.
The UNBC men will play a 16-game schedule and the women will play 14 games.
The men's team is in the Canada West Pacific Division along with Victoria, Trinity Western, UBC, Thompson Rivers, UBC Okanagan and University of the Fraser Valley. Four of the seven clubs will qualify for playoffs. The six-team Prairie Division is formed by Saskatchewan, Mount Royal, Alberta (the defending national champion), MacEwan, Calgary and Lethbridge. Again, four teams will make the postseason.
On the women's side, Canada West is split evenly, with eight teams in each of the Pacific and Prairie Divisions. Postseason berths will go to the top six in each group. UNBC's Pacific opponents are Victoria, Trinity Western, UBC (national finalist last year, lost 2-1 to Laval), Thompson Rivers, UBC Okanagan, University of the Fraser Valley and Alberta. Prairie clubs are Saskatchewan, Mount Royal, MacEwan, Calgary, Lethbridge, Regina, Manitoba and Winnipeg.
New faces for the UNBC men this year include forward Stuart Rowlands, midfielder Joel Watson, goalkeeper Marko Ilich, defender Clay Kiiskila, defender Mitchell Linley, midfielder Aboubacar Cisse, defender Mason Lidbetter, defender Graeme Lewis, midfielder Alex Nielson, midfielder Joseph Giesbrecht and goalkeeper Michael Sexton. Lewis, Nielson, Giesbrecht and Sexton are all hometown players.
The UNBC women also have several new players on their roster. They include local midfielders Hannah Emmond, Kierstin Vohar and Whitney Anderson, as well as midfielder Kaitlyn Chojnacki, defender Hallie Nystedt, midfielder/striker Sonja Neitsch, defender Ashley Volk, defender Mikaela Cadorette, striker Daniela Bergendahl, midfielder Kyra Wallace and goalkeepers Madi Doyle and Brooke Molby.
Last season, the UNBC men finished last in the Pacific with a 4-10-2 record and the women were in the division basement at 0-12-1.
In a 2017 preseason poll of Canada West coaches, the male Timberwolves are ranked 12th out of 13.