After putting together the most dominant season in program history last year — they went 12-1-1 — the Trinity Western Spartans found themselves in unfamiliar territory: unable to clinch their fourth national championship trophy.
The Spartans lost their CIS women’s soccer national quarter-final game in penalty kicks and placed sixth.
The team was going for its fourth national title and third in the past four years.
“I think the younger (players) that had won it three or four years ago are beginning to realize just how hard it is (to win nationals),” said Graham Roxburgh, who has been at the helm for all three CIS titles. Roxburgh won his second Canada West coach of the year award in 2011 and also won the CIS coach of the year award for the first time.
“It is not just about talent or reputation, but it is about hard work, it is about cohesiveness and everybody playing their part.”
“Until we have that, we are maybe going to be good, but inconsistent.”
The Spartans begin defence of their Canada West title this weekend with a pair of home games at Rogers Park on the TWU campus. On Friday, it is the Lethbridge Pronghorns lining up opposite the Spartans and on Saturday it will be the Calgary Dinos. Both games begin at 5 p.m.
Trinity Western is ranked fourth in the CIS season-opening polls and are a favourite for another Canada West title.
“Certainly I think we have enough of the pieces in place to give ourselves the chance to do that,” Roxburgh said.
“But we also know that we have a lot of strong competition and teams around us that have gotten better, so I would anticipate the most competitive Canada West season in years.”
The key for the Spartans to be successful is simple.
“Some new players and some younger player that are now in the middle of their careers really have to step up and contribute,” Roxburgh said.
“We have returners that have tasted success and are probably hungry again to taste it.”
Team members who have played a supporting role in their first couple of seasons with the Spartans will need to step up and take on bigger roles, he added.
The team had a busy pre-season, going 4-4-1 as they battled both injury and sickness. Despite the average record, Roxburgh said most of the games were competitive with his team coming out on the short end of the score.
Jilian Dietrich, Jennifer Castillo, Colleen Webber and Nikki Byrne — “certainly as solid as a back four this country has seen — will anchor the back line for the team while the bulk of the goaltending duties should fall to reigning Canada West goalkeeper of the year Kristen Funk, who is back for her fifth and final season.
Roxburgh also mentioned midfielders Natalie Boyd and Jenna Di Nunzio, who have both already stepped up and taken on greater leadership roles.
And a couple of the rookies to watch should be midfielder Stephanie Chin and forward Krista Gommeringer.
“She has shown some really good athleticism, really good talent,” Roxburgh said about Gommeringer. “She is a goal scorer.”