In a little more than five months, both UNBC Timberwolves soccer teams will be booting balls around the field, playing for points in the CIS Canada West Conference.
With that in mind, both UNBC teams have signed new recruits from Victoria to bolster their lineups for the 2016 season.
The women Timberwolves have signed centreback Mara McCleary, of Stelly's secondary school in Victoria, while the UNBC men have added Jonah Smith, a centre midfielder from Reynolds secondary school in Victoria
McCleary won two consecutive Nike Spring Classic championships in Victoria and was the tournament MVP in 2015. At the club level, she played defence for the Vancouver Island Wave, winning the Under-16 Sounders FC Cup championship in 2013.
McCleary made her decision to join the Timberwolves after a recent visit to the UNBC campus, where she was impressed with the facilities and the warm welcome she received from her teammates. She has applied to UNBC's physics program.
"The school was beautiful and the facilities were great, so by the end, all of these factors made it easy for me to envision myself attending UNBC," said McCleary, in a UNBC release.
Timberwolves head coach Neil Sedgwick knows McCleary and what she is capable of on the soccer field. Until he was hired in February to replace Andy Cameron, whose contract was not renewed, Sedgwick was director of youth development at EPIC Sport Management, a Victoria-based soccer academy.
"Mara is an incredibly focused and conscientious individual," Sedgwick said. "She takes every opportunity to grow and trains now at a very high level in Victoria with both her same age female and male players, while also playing in the top senior women's league.
"Mara is comfortable in any environment, and in my opinion, she is one of the top defenders in British Columbia graduating this year."
The UNBC women finished last in the West Division in 2015 with a 1-10-3 record. In four years in the CIS, the T-wolves were a combined 3-27-10.
"I always love to win, but more importantly, I want to play for a team and community that really gives it their all every time because you'll never regret playing your heart out," McCleary said. "I also want to keep growing and improving for all four years, which can sometimes mean setback, but will ultimately result in an improvement.
"If I am able to bring this winning atmosphere to UNBC, I would be very proud to play with my team and support all others in this encouraging environment."
Smith also played for the Vancouver Island Wave, serving as team captain. He led his Under-21 team to the Vancouver Island Soccer League championship in 2014-15 and helped the team capture the Adidas Cup tournament.
Smith has been accepted into in the biomedical services program at UNBC this fall.
"UNBC had the sort of degrees I was looking for, and you can't argue with a Number 1 (Maclean's magazine) ranking," said Smith, in a team release. "I think the facilities, both academically and athletically, will allow me to thrive as a student-athlete.
"I have to help the team in whatever way is needed on the day. If that means scoring a goal or making a key tackle, I need to be able to do it."
UNBC men's head coach Steve Simonson coached Smith for several years in youth soccer in Victoria.
"Jonah fits the overall philosophy of the program greatly," he said. "He is incredibly rounded as a student athlete and is a high achiever. He understands what we are trying to build at this school and has invested with us.
"He can play as a holding player, as an attacking player and has a great range in his passing. He has great leadership abilities as well which I think will profit our program greatly throughout his time at UNBC."
As an honours student at Reynolds, Smith received a President's Silver Anniversary Award of Excellence in Leadership for his contributions and involvement in civic, athletic, philanthropic, and environmental fields.
Smith is also joining a team which can only climb in the standings. The UNBC men finished last in the Canada West Pacific Division in 2015 with a 1-10-1 record.
"I hope we will be able to make it to nationals before I graduate," Smith said. "If I can accomplish something individual as well, that would be great, but the team's success is my primary focus."