Monday, February 5, 2018
It wasn’t the most auspicious of starts for the Providence Pilots women’s soccer team. Looking to build on last season’s fourth-place finish and 9-3 defeat in the Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference semi-finals, and following months of aggressive recruitment, they lost their first three matches of 2017 by a combined score of 6-0.
They might have given up right then and there, but they never stopped believing they were better than their record, and that they would improve.
“We knew all season we were one of the best teams in the league, and I reminded our players that they needed to prove it to themselves and the league that we belong on top,” says Tory Walker, head coach of the women’s soccer and futsal programs at Providence. “I’m proud of how we played the whole season. This is a determined and focused group.
It’s a group that didn’t find the back of the net until their fourth match of the campaign, and one that didn’t lose another MCAC match after they did. Last weekend the Pilots beat the Canadian Mennonite University Blazers 4-2 in Winnipeg before concluding their provincial schedule with a 4-0 victory over the Assiniboine Community College Cougars at home in Otterburne—results that took them to the top of the table ahead of the upcoming play-offs.
The women will now face the Brandon University Bobcats at noon on Saturday in Winnipeg (all women’s and men’s play-off matches will be played at the Ralph Cantafio Soccer Complex at 900 Waverly St.) with the winner going up against either the Blazers or Les Rouges de l’Universite de Saint-Boniface in Sunday’s 1:00 p.m. final.
Their male counterparts will be looking to share the day with them—hoping to complete a soccer double for Providence.
Coming off a fourth-place finish and extra-time defeat to the Red River College Rebels in last year’s MCAC semi-final, the Pilots men won eight of their ten matches in 2017 en route to the regular season title. Earlier this week they also earned a place in the National Christian College Athletic Association’s prestigious Top 10 ranking of Division II United States schools, and like the Providence women they’re expecting to contend at next month’s NCCAA North Region Tournament in Minneapolis MN.
First, though, is some unfinished business.
“Ever since losing in extra time last year we’ve been waiting to get back to these play-offs,” states Joey Passi, head coach of the Pilots men’s soccer and futsal teams. “We’re proud of winning the league title for the regular season but we definitely aren’t satisfied with that.”
The men will take on the Blazers on Saturday at 2:15 p.m. with a prospective Sunday final against either Les Rouge or the Bobcats awaiting on Sunday at 3:15 p.m.
Naturally, both Pilots teams are hopeful of victory, and given that they enter the play-offs as the top seeds in the province they could also be forgiven for being expectant of it. Sports at Providence, however, is about a lot more than winning trophies.
“We’ve said from Day One that if we wanted to make an impact in the community and show God’s love through our actions that we needed to be united as a team. And this is definitely a united team,” explains Passi. “Multiple times the guys have told me that this is the closest team they’ve ever been on, and I think that shows in their behaviour with each other and around campus. Our goal is to be a positive influence, showing God’s love in the community, and I think we’re making positive steps towards that.”
Walker, too, sees more than just athletic ability in his players.
“The one thing I am most proud of is our team chemistry on and off the field,” he says. “This team not only has fun on the field together, but we also love spending time together.”
And, make no mistake, there has already been a lot of winning. In addition to the first-place finishes the Pilots have had five players (Johnny Fulford, Zoe Kriznic, Evan Bedard, Juan LaFaurie and Courtney Engel) recognized as MCAC Athletes of the Week. Fourth-year forward Julika Phommarath also earned a place on the Women's All-Conference Team while Braeden Owen, Herby Magny and Jorge Vilchis were selected to the Men's All-Conference Team. Passi, for his part, won the 2017 MCAC Men's Soccer Coach of the Year award.
“We’ve been getting better all season,” Walker points out. “We don’t want to slow down now, just as we’re hitting our stride.
Adds Passi: “Our team has been prepared for a while now. We know how to score and make our opponents uncomfortable. This is an amazing group of guys and we are playing like a team. I can’t wait for the play-offs.”