Women's soccer team kicking into gear

Tianna Pius' expectations for her soccer team this season are high.

"I don't see any reason why we can't make the playoffs," said the junior midfielder with the UNBC women's soccer side. "We should be a force to be reckoned with."

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To prepare for the 2015 campaign, Pius and the Timberwolves, all together for the first time, spent last weekend undergoing team building in Penticton with Sean Bacon of Dynamic Shift Consulting. Bacon worked with the team on the mental aspect of the game.

The T-wolves returned to Prince George Monday and are enduring two-a-day training sessions.

"I thought it was very productive with (Sean) Sgt. Bacon... it was good bringing all the new girls together and we played some intrasquad games which were evenly-matched," said Pius a 20-year-old bio-medical student. "They were high intensity and set the standard for this season."

The Timberwolves have seen almost half of their lineup turn over and head coach Andy Cameron has added 11 freshman to the roster. In addition to the eight recruits he signed in the spring, three more joined the fold over the summer. They include midfielder Megan Ehlers from Penticton and Prince George midfielder Caitlin Lamble. Cameron also went back to his Atlantic Canadian roots to recruit Kristina Slaney from St. Lawrence, Nfld., having known her family when he was the technical director for Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer.

"Megan is returning to school after a couple of years traveling in Europe," said Cameron. "Caitlin is from Prince George but she played in the U.S. She can play centre-midfield or on the wing. She's also left-sided (strikes the ball with her left foot)."

The eight recruited in the spring include a trio from College Heights secondary school - Taylor Samuelson, a five-foot-10 central defender; Madeline Doucette, a five-foot-nine striker; and Julia Babicz, a five-foot-three midfielder. Rounding out the Prince George contingent are Lianna Toopitsin, a five-foot-seven goalkeeper from Westside Academy and Shanna Olsen, a five-foot-five left-winger from Duchess Park.

The remainder of the class includes Kaitlin Godsoe, a five-foot-10 winger from Correlieu secondary in Quesnel; Lenasia Ned, a five-foot-nine fullback from Kelowna; and Sasha Eldsvik, a five-foot-three midfielder from Squamish.

"Shanna was a bit of a question mark coming into camp but she has shown very well and she's a left-side player," said Cameron.

In high school, Olsen was always a three-sport athlete, playing on the Condors basketball and volleyball teams in addition to soccer.

"I didn't know what sport I was going to play (in university) but I'm really happy I chose soccer," said the 18-year-old who's enrolled in general studies. "The veterans have made me feel so much more comfortable and busing down together instead of separate vans was more beneficial."

For years, Olsen was part of the Duchess Park versus College Heights rivalry in high school and now her traditional opponents - Doucette, Samuelson and Babicz - are on the same team.

"It's kind of nice to be on the same team as them," said Olsen. "I'm used to playing against them and I'm excited to see how we fit in as a team and how I fit in."

And despite the number of wins and losses, Olsen knows something special is being built.

"Statistically there is an improvement and we're building as a program," she said.

"The program has moved forward in each of the last three years and we're looking forward to another big step," added Cameron.

In April, CIS Canada West realigned the divisions and regions. The Timberwolves will compete in a new West Region divided into two divisions: the Mountain Division (UNBC, Thompson Rivers, UBC Okanagan and the University of Alberta) and the Pacific Division: (Victoria, UBC, Trinity Western and University of the Fraser Valley).

The East Region is comprised of the prairie schools, divided into two divisions: the Prairie Division (Lethbridge, Calgary, Mount Royal and MacEwan) and the GPAC Division: (Saskatchewan, Regina, Winnipeg and Manitoba).

UNBC will play each team in its own division twice and Lethbridge, Calgary, Saskatchewan and Regina twice.

The top six teams from each region will advance to the playoffs.

Last season in the old Pacific Division, UNBC finished fifth with a record of 1-9-2 and five points.

Cameron liked the changes when they were announced.

"Last year, we only played B.C. teams and our schedule was pretty darn tough. Two years ago when we competed with Prairie teams we had success. We're looking forward to it."

The Timberwolves' first test for 2015 begins this weekend in a three-team exhibition series against their CIS rivals on the North Cariboo Senior Soccer League fields. The T-wolves take on the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack Friday at 11 a.m. The WolfPack will battle Edmonton's MacEwan University Saturday at 11 a.m. and UNBC and MacEwan face each other Sunday at 11 a.m.

"It's all part of pre-season training," said Cameron. "I'll be able to see the young players in a realistic CIS environment. The positive thing about the team this year is that it's made it extremely difficult to choose the starting 11. It's very exciting."

Pius believes Cameron's choices will benefit everyone.

"I believe everybody has a role on the team and it's great to have healthy competition."

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