James Fraser is TRU’s lone fifth-year player and has toiled for the most successful iterations of the WolfPack men’s soccer team since its U Sports inception in 2014, including the squad that won national bronze in 2017.
“In all my years here, this is the strongest team we’ve had, with the most depth, and the boys’ attitudes are phenomenal,” said James Fraser, a striker from Penticton. “There is no reason not to make a national run this year.”
WolfPack head coach John Antulov told KTW last summer — while his team was mired in a pandemic season that featured no meaningful matches — the goal for 2021 is to change the colour of the medals.
Bronze has been done before, including at the Canada West level in 2017 and 2018, so it appears nothing less than silver will suffice this year.
“Yeah, our goals are the same,” Antulov said. “We want to do that. But like I say to the guys, it’s always about process. On paper, it always looks good. It’s how the guys go out and perform, how we prepare, what our mindset is going into the games.”
The WolfPack roster remained completely intact this past off-season and will likely remain largely unchanged in 2022, when TRU is scheduled to host the U Sports Men’s Soccer Championship.
This is a winning window for the club, which is high on its recruiting classes in 2021 and 2020, the new faces that will augment a host of established stalwarts, including fourth-year defender Josh Banton.
“It’s a real culture we’ve built, a real family,” Banton said. “On the pitch, off the pitch — the team’s looking good.”
A sizeable group of rookies was introduced in 2019, when sickness and injury heavily impacted the lineup and team cohesion never quite materialized.
Still, the Pack enjoyed a late-season surge and snuck into the playoffs before falling 2-1 to hometown Mount Royal of Calgary in a Round 1 quarter-final matchup.
That game, played on Oct. 26, 2019, is TRU’s most-recent Canada West clash.
Nearly two years of waiting is scheduled to come to an end on Saturday, Sept. 10, when the Pack host the UBC Thunderbirds, the three-time defending Canada West champions.
“It’s felt like forever,” Banton said. “And it’s been a long two years, with everything else going on, distractions.
“It’s a real good time and I can’t believe it’s here, but we’re ready.”
Recently imposed Interior Health restrictions do not allow for spectators to attend home-opening weekend, which includes a rematch against UBC on Sept. 11.
The WolfPack had big plans to make a spectacle of the weekend, which was to coincide with the institution’s back-to-school barbecue, but those have been postponed.
Interior Health is expected to review its restrictions at the end of September. After home opening weekend, the WolfPack’s next home matches are slated for Oct. 1 and Oct. 2 against the Trinity Western Spartans of Langley.
All of the WolfPack’s regular-season matches will be played against B.C.-based teams. The hope is for interprovincial matches to begin during the playoffs.
“Would it be great if we had spectators and it was the other format? Yeah, for sure, that would be awesome,” Antulov said.
“But really, after the last 18 months, we’ll take what we can get right now. For me, I’m pretty excited.”