UNB’s regular season came to an end on Friday with a 4-0 victory over the Saint Mary’s Huskies at BMO Centre, giving them an AUS best record of 11-0-2.
“It’s a really good feeling,” said third-year striker Oliver Jones. “To go undefeated just shows that hard work has paid off and now we can look forward to playoffs.”
It’s the third straight year that UNB has finished first in the regular season standings. Last year, the team won the AUS Championship and came in third at nationals. Jones said there are some key differences between this year’s Varsity Reds squad and last year’s.
“It’s hard to compare [the two teams] because we lost a lot of players. We’ve adapted the way we play to the players we have this year. I think we’re equally as strong as last year and hopefully we can at least get the same [results] as last year or do better — and that’s what we want to do. We want to go all the way.”
Jones scored twice in Friday’s win over the Huskies while singles came from Kenneth Van Aarle and Robbie Park. Goalkeeper Brandon Eagle started the game in net but was replaced by Aaron McMurray in the second half.
Even though the Varsity Reds had locked up first place last Wednesday with a 5-0 victory over Mount Alison, the team was ready to play and came flying out of the gate on Friday. Jones opened the scoring less than five minutes in and Van Aarle scored three minutes later to make it 2-0.
Jones added his second of the match in stoppage time. Shots were 7-0 in favour of UNB in the opening half.
“I think I played well,” said Jones of his performance. “I had a couple loose balls which I couldn’t get a hold of but I thought I did my best to get my teammates involved in the game.”
Park scored in the 67th minute to make it a 4-0 final. Shots were 5-0 UNB in the second half.
Captain Alex Haiart played in his final game at BMO Centre and left the match in the 80th minute to a loud ovation from his teammates.
“It was great,” said the Winnipeg native. “These guys know how much I love UNB. I live for these guys and I’d do anything for them. They appreciate that and they’d do the same for me. They can see how much work I put into this side and they do the exact same every day. So it was really nice to get the appreciation from them.”
The fifth-year midfielder said the team has changed for the better during his time at UNB.
“We were a blue-collar team when I first came. The skill wasn’t really there, but we worked our hardest. And just to see us evolve from great recruiting from [head coach] Miles [Pinsent] and great coaching from him, we’ve been able to evolve into one of the best technical teams in the country.
“The boys, we just all get along and we’re best friends. It’s not coming here to do work anymore. We’re really enjoying coming here everyday. Every event we do we take it as a positive thing and we always grow from everything we can.”
Thanks to their first-place finish, the Varsity Reds will have a bye for the first round of the AUS Championship, which take place Oct. 31 – Nov. 2 at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. UNB’s first game will be a semifinal matchup against the lowest remaining seed on Saturday afternoon.
Jones, having been part of the Varsity Reds men’s squad for the past two playoff runs, said having a bye is big but the team must still come prepared for some tough competition.
“Having a bye and being able to watch four other teams play 90 minutes … it’s a good position to be in. But at the end of the day anything can happen in playoffs so we’ve got to be on the top of our game.”
The winner of the AUS Championship will take part in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport men’s soccer nationals from Nov. 6 – 9, held this year at the University of Prince Edward Island. If UPEI makes the AUS Championship final then the opposing team, win or lose, will automatically earn a birth.