Three years. Three trips to nationals. No appearances in the gold medal game.
What’s it going to take for the UNB Varsity Reds men’s soccer team to win the school’s first CIS men’s soccer championship since 1980?
“I think we are there,” said head coach Miles Pinsent. “I think we just need to continue to push and continue to grow and get better in every little way that we possibly can to make sure that in those tight games that there’s absolutely no question about coming out on top.”
Despite not winning a gold medal, it’s been an impressive three-year run for the Varsity Reds. In regular season Atlantic University Sport play, the team has amassed a combined record of 28-5-6 over the past three years. The V-Reds reached the AUS finals each season, winning the conference championship this year and last. But a national championship continues to elude the team.
The Varsity Reds have qualified for nationals in each of the past three seasons. They didn’t win a game at the 2012 tournament but rebounded in 2013 and won bronze. This year, the Reds appeared poised to have a big run at the CIS championship, but a shootout loss in the quarterfinals cost them a chance to play for a medal.
The loss was especially painful for UNB because of the fact they were undefeated up until that point. The Reds went on to win their two consolation games at nationals to clinch fifth place in the nation and end the year with a 15-1-2 record.
“Other than the first half of our first game, where I felt we were playing a little timid and just didn’t relax and play our game, every minute after that I was quite pleased with our performance. We showed that we can create things against teams from all the different conferences and the best teams around the country. At the same time, for the second year in a row, defensively we [proved we] can handle pretty much all offences across the country.”
Pinsent said he was especially pleased with how his team handled some adversity at nationals. UNB had to play their first game without Kenneth Van Aarle after he received a red card in the AUS final. Then in the quarterfinal game, Oliver Jones, Steve Miller and Matt Mountney all suffered injuries.
“I thought we were prepared to handle anything. You can’t anticipate what’s going to happen with cards or injuries. I thought we handled all those issues quite well.”
Although the quarterfinal loss to McMaster still stings, the impressive season as a whole can’t be overlooked.
“For them to consistently show up and put in those efforts … I think that’s probably the biggest trap with young players playing in a difficult league like the AUS. Yes, maybe you are capable of beating any team on any day but to go out and actually do it each and every time is the impressive part. Sometimes you’re playing against a team whose home field is difficult to play on. Sometimes your playing against a team that’s rested and you played a game less than 24 hours before that. There are many challenges throughout the league and I thought we handled those all extremely well.
“We lost a shootout — it’s the only thing we lost all year. We never got beat on the field in the run of play. I’m sure at some point we’ll be able to take some pride in that but right now that kind of stings a little bit,” Pinsent said with a grin.
The coach said that part of the team’s success this year was balanced scoring — and much of that scoring will be back next year. The team is expected to have just three players graduating, meaning the core group that makes up the team will, for the most part, remain intact.
“I think most coaches across the country would be excited to be in the position that I’m in as we look forward to next year,” he said.
In terms of additions the team hopes to make, Pinsent said he wants to add a wing player and more depth up front and in the midfield. Also, with Aaron McMurray graduating and Brandon Eagle taking over No. 1 goalkeeping duties, the team hopes to add a young new keeper.
Like any team, there is also the expectation that returning players will also step up and help fill some of the holes left by graduating players.
“It’ll just be a natural process for these guys that’ll all be a year older and hopefully a year better next year. Hopefully we’ll just keep building on what we’ve been doing here for over the past three years.”