Posted on: July 29, 2018
Seven months after winning a national bronze medal, the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack men’s soccer team will be back on the field at Hillside Stadium. The WolfPack open up their 2018-19 training camp with two a day sessions.
“Coming off the year we had last year, I am sure the expectations for some of the guys will be very high,” says WolfPack head coach John Antulov. “As a coaching staff, we are looking a tempering those expectations. We know the division we are in and the teams we are playing against. We know those guys are going to be set and ready to go. There are no easy games in Canada West. Maybe now instead of hunters we will be the hunted.”
Antulov is entering his 12th season with the WolfPack program and fifth as head coach.
“We have to change our mindsets on how we go into games and how we be prepared. As coaches we have to make sure our guys are focused and mentally prepared.”
Antulov says the team’s success on the field last year has resulted in a great show of support from the local and soccer communities and says it has helped with the recruiting process. “Absolutely there are benefits to a program progressing. There are players who want to come here which is good. We hope to continue to focus on that route and doing well. The main thing for us is to maintain. We want to be make sure we are not seen as a ‘one hit wonder’. Now we have to continue to grow and have success as a program. We are still very young and need to continue to show and improve on a regular basis.”
The coach admits the biggest questions he has faced in the offseason is how will he replace the skill and leadership of Ryan Glanville (Williams Lake, BC), Colton Walker (Sicamous, BC) and Allan Connor (Kamloops, BC) who have all completed their eligibility. “We lost some pretty key guys not only fantastic guys but fantastic personalities and great leaders. We have guys who can step into those roles. Guys like Mitch Popadynetz (Nelson, BC), Finlay McPhie (Vernon, BC), Justin Donaldson (Kamloops, BC), James Fraser (Penticton, BC), Josh Banton (London, England), Jan (Pirrates-Glasmacher, Barcelona, Spain). They are young but have shown great leadership. I am always asked by people if we are going to be as good as we were last year. We will see. The proof is in the pudding. We have a good core of returning veterans and a good group of guys who will continue to make us competitive. With our summer team program we had some guys come in and surprise us. We hope they will continue that this season.”
Antulov pointed to Emmanual Aniogbe (Port Coquitlam, BC) and Zahk Barone (Kamloops, BC) as players who improved their game playing this summer with the Kamloops Wolfpack in the Pacific Coast Soccer League men’s premier division.
“Jordell Alfonso played very well in Penticton this summer,’ Antulov adds. “We hope those guys will take that next step in their development.”
Popadynetz and McPhie enter this season as fifth year players. Both were all-stars. Popadynetz was a first team Canada West All-Star, USPORTS All-Canadian and Canada West player of the year. Antulov says Popadynetz continues to improve as he played PDL soccer with the Victoria Highlanders. “He had a great season this summer with them and was one of their top players. Mitch is only going to get better. We have a lot of offensive weapons that will help him continue to grow. He is going to be the leader of our program and our offensive leader. We hope he can continue that trend.”
Antulov says Fraser and Donaldson will put pressure on themselves to improve their offensive totals. “Those types of guys have the mindset to go out and play their hardest. I don’t think they put the pressure on themselves to go out and score two or three more goals. The big thing for us as coaches is to do their job. Just do their job and the results will come. As long as their focus is not on the end result but the process. If that is the case, they will do fine.”
Thompson Rivers will have a number of veterans on the back line led by McPhie, Glasmacher and Banton (the latter two being Canada West rookie all-stars). “Fin has been with me since I started four years ago and hasn’t come off the park. He has been a fantastic player for us. We expect all three of them to be leaders. This could be our best back line since we entered U SPORTS. They are all fantastic players and have a mindset to defend and play well.”
They will have a couple of holes to fill as defender Adam Swanson (North Vancouver, BC) will miss the entire season after suffering an off field injury while keeper Lubo Madolen (Kamloops, BC) has decided to retire. “Losing Swannie is a huge one, “ Antulov states. “ If we had Swannie in the mix we would probably have five or six of the best defenders in Canada West. He will be a huge loss but he has been working hard to get fit and will be ready for 2019 for us. He was a very good player, a good guy and a good leader.”
Alex Ram (Leicester, England) will lead a trio of keepers vying for the number one spot. Ram improved his game immensely this summer staying in Kamloops and playing PCSL. Brady Van Ryswyk (Penticton, BC) and rookie Jackson Gardner (Chilliwack, BC) will also battle for playing time.
The WolfPack will have two-a-day practices the first week. The teams will have eight exhibition matches including five at home. Thompson Rivers is hosting a tournament Aug 10-12th. They open the 2018 Canada West season at home on Saturday, August 28th at Hillside Stadium with a 1 pm kick off versus the University of Fraser Valley Cascades.
TRU will have nine home regular season matches this year.