Fresh off winning the first ACAC championship in program history, the Lethbridge College men’s soccer team is set to battle for a CCAA national championship. The Kodiaks join seven other teams from across Canada at the CCAA men’s soccer championships that begin tomorrow and run through Saturday at Durham College in Oshawa, Ont.
The Kodiaks earned the ACAC banner by winning three straight games at the conference championships from Oct. 25 to 27 in Edmonton. The team secured one of two ACAC berths with a 2-1 win over nationally second-ranked NAIT in the conference semifinal, then capped off the tournament to remember with a 2-0 win over Red Deer College in the gold medal contest.
“The feeling was just elation,” says Sean Carey, Kodiaks soccer head coach. “It's something I've never really felt before. The college supports us so well, right from the top down, so it’s great that we could bring that banner back for the first time ever. As a coaching staff, we said from day one that we wanted to build a legacy here and this is the start of a legacy.”
Nationals begin for the Kodiaks with a CCAA quarterfinal on Wednesday morning against the Vancouver Island University Mariners. VIU earned a wildcard berth to nationals as the runners-up in British Columbia’s PACWEST conference. Both the Kodiaks and Mariners boast the respective players of the year in their conferences in Lethbridge’s Ben Knight (third year, General Studies, Manchester, England) and VIU’s Shun Takano.
“I had the chance to watch every game at last year’s nationals and NAIT – who I think were arguably the best team I’ve ever seen in the ACAC – were right at the top caliber with the rest of the teams there,” says Carey. “So our team is going to have to continue improving. But we have players who don’t like to lose and our defensive system doesn’t concede many goals. At the end of the day, if you keep the ball out of your net, you're tough to beat.”
The Kodiaks went 8-1-3 in the regular season to finish second in the ACAC south division, before winning the ACAC title. Carey was named ACAC coach of the year for the second straight season, while Knight earned player of the year honours. Both are finalists for the CCAA awards, which will be handed out on Tuesday evening at the CCAA awards banquet.
Four players were named to the ACAC all-star team: Knight, Jimmy Bukuru (third year, General Studies, Lethbridge), Jaden Veluw (fourth year, Nursing, Lethbridge) and Cody Ferguson (fourth year, General Studies, Lethbridge). Dave Low (second year, General Studies, Newcastle Upon Tyne, England) was named MVP of the ACAC championships, while Knight and Owen Beers (first year, Business Administration, Taber) were named to the all-tournament team.
“We're a very close-knit group,” says Carey. “All 21 of the players plus all of the coaching staff have really gelled together as a group, and I think this is the most complete team I've ever had. In the past we might have had more skilled teams, but this year is a full team of guys just busting their butts for everybody and they got their just rewards in the end.”
The Kodiaks face the VIU Mariners in a CCAA quarterfinal at 10:30 a.m. MST on Wednesday. Semifinals take place on Thursday and medal games are set for Saturday. The full schedule and results are available on the championships webpage. All tournament games can be viewed online through CCAA Live.
Follow the Kodiaks at the championships on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. High-quality photos are available to download from the Kodiaks Flickr account. Learn more about the Kodiaks at gokodiaks.ca.