The UNB Varsity Reds men’s soccer team is hoping the third time’s a charm.
The Varsity Reds will be making their third straight appearance at the CIS men’s soccer championship this week in Charlottetown. After losing both games they played in 2012 and finishing third last year, the team is hoping that this is the year they peak.
“The first time we went we learned a lot,” said veteran midfielder Shea Nordheim. “I think we showed our experience last year when we hosted and we were able to get a bronze medal. I think this year we’re even more experienced and we’re feeling great going into it. There are going to be a lot of great teams there but we’re confident in our ability and we’re ready to get a medal and bring back the gold to UNB.”
UNB is 4-10-1 all-time at nationals and their only gold medal came in 1980. The Reds, who have a record of 13-0-2 in the regular season and playoffs combined, enter this year’s tournament as one of the favourites.
Joining UNB at the tournament will be the UQAM Citadins (RSEQ champions), York Lions (OUA champions), Saskatchewan Huskies (Canada West champions), Montreal Carabins (RSEQ runner-ups), McMaster Marauders (OUA runner-ups), Alberta Golden Bears (Canada West runner-ups) and UPEI Panthers (hosts).
UNB’s opening game is on Thursday at 11 a.m. against McMaster.
The Varsity Reds, ranked second in the CIS Top 10 rankings, join York University as the only teams without a loss this season. The Lions have a 17-0-2 combined record.
Nordheim believes that confidence is key in having success at this level.
“I think the biggest thing is just knowing that we’re capable of playing with the top teams in the country and I think we’ve shown that this year. We’ve consistently performed well each week throughout the season and I think it’s shown in the Top 10.”
Although the Varsity Reds won’t be playing on home turf this week, they will be playing in familiar territory with UPEI hosting this year’s event. The Reds visited Charlottetown less than month ago and battled the Panthers to a 3-3 tie.
“It always helps to know your surroundings,” said Nordheim. “UPEI is somewhere that we play during our regular season so it’s nice to have some familiarity with the locker room, the hotel and just the overall surroundings. That will be nice.”
UNB qualified for nationals as AUS champions — their second straight conference title. They defeated Memorial University 5-0 in the semifinals on Saturday and then edged the Cape Breton University Capers 2-1 in Sunday’s final.
Sunday’s win certainly wasn’t easy as the Reds were forced to play a man short for much of the second half when Kenneth Van Aarle was handed a red card. Goalkeeper Aaron McMurray came up with some crucial saves in the final few minutes to keep UNB in front.
“I thought we performed great last weekend as a team. We stuck to the game plan that [head coach] Miles [Pinsent] laid out for us and ultimately we got the job done,” explained Nordheim. “Cape Breton really put the pressure on at the end of Sunday’s game. They’re a great team, especially attacking wise. It was really good to see that we could hold strong defensively like we have all year and then pull out the win.”
This weekend, win or lose, Nordheim’s Varsity Reds career will come to an end. Having played at the 2009 Canada Summer Games in PEI prior to joining the Reds, he feels that his UNB playing career has come full circle.
“Every athlete’s dream is to go out on top. That’s definitely the goal for this weekend.”
UNB Varsity Reds (AUS champions: 11-0-3 regular season / 2-0 playoffs)
UQAM Citadins (RSEQ champions: 9-1-2 regular season / 2-0 playoffs)
York Lions (OUA champions: 14-0-2 regular season / 3-0 playoffs)
Saskatchewan Huskies (Canada West champions: 9-1-2 regular season / 3-0 playoffs)
Montreal Carabins (RSEQ silver medalists: 6-2-4 regular season / 1-1 playoffs)
McMaster Marauders (OUA silver medalists: 11-2-3 regular season / 2-1 playoffs)
Alberta Golden Bears (Canada West silver medalists: 6-3-3 regular season / 2-1 playoffs)
UPEI Panthers (Hosts: 5-2-6 regular season / 1-1 playoffs)
Thursday, Nov. 6
11 a.m. Quarterfinal 1: McMaster vs. UNB
1:30 p.m. Quarterfinal 2: Alberta vs. UQAM
4 p.m. Quarterfinal 3: Montreal vs. York
7 p.m. Quarterfinal 4: UPEI vs. Saskatchewan
Friday, Nov. 7
11 a.m. Consolation 1: Loser QF 1 vs. Loser QF 2
1:30 p.m. Consolation 2: Loser QF 3 vs. Loser QF 4
4 p.m. Semifinal 1: Winner QF 1 vs. Winner QF 2
6:30 p.m. Semifinal 2: Winner QF 3 vs. Winner QF 4
Saturday, Nov. 8
11 a.m. 5th-place game
Sunday, Nov. 9
10 a.m. Bronze medal
1 p.m. Championship final