The Capilano Blues women's soccer team had high hopes for the 2013 season. Then they played their first game.
What followed was something that head coach Darren Rath says he's never seen before in a single soccer game. As the Blues battled the Thompson Rivers University Wolfpack in Kamloops, injuries began to pile up. Then they continued to pile up. By the time the Wolfpack wrapped up a 2-1 win there was an enormous pile of injured players on the Capilano sidelines. Five players in all - almost half a starting lineup - left the game with various head, back and leg injuries.
"I've never seen anything like it where it all happens all at once," says Rath. "You deal with injuries through your season but never so many all in one game."
To finish off a rotten weekend, the Blues lost one more player to injury the following day as they were defeated 2-0 by the UBC Okanagan Heat. The injuries forced some drastic measures during the next week of practice.
"On the Monday prior to the second week of the season we couldn't field 11 players and we essentially had to have open tryouts that week to add players to our roster just to field a team for the games against Quest and Langara," says Rath.
The shorthanded Blues lost 2-0 at home against Quest to start week 2 but followed up with their first win of the season, 1-0 over Langara. Week 3 brought another 1-0 win, this time over Douglas College last Saturday at Capilano, and the Blues were looking to add another win Sunday against Kwantlen but the game was rained out. The weather may have been stormy but the season, finally, seems to be clearing up.
"Getting the result against Langara last week and getting the result on Saturday was helpful," says Rath. "Much needed. It continued to give our team a good boost in morale.. .. It's a step forward in the right direction. Now we just need to continue to get healthy and continue to work hard to win games."
Slowly those high hopes that came crashing down in game 1 are climbing back up for the Blues. The hopes were focused on a rebuilt roster that contained many experienced players who have played in the PacWest league and elsewhere. For this season Rath's new recruits were mostly transfers or students coming back into the post-secondary world after time away, not fresh-faced rookies right out of high school. That makes a difference, the coach says.
"There's a big difference between a person who is 20 years old and a person who is 17 years old," he says. "Overall maturity - that makes a big difference. Physical maturity and understanding of the game. They bring a little bit more experience to settle the game down. They just settle the game down, calm the team down. Players who are in their third, fourth, fifth years, you're looking at making a huge impact in the team."
New midfielder Andrea Standerwick, a Prince of Wales secondary grad who played for TRU back in 2005, chose Capilano as the place to resume her studies and collegiate playing career after spending the last several years playing in senior women's leagues. Though this is her first year with the team, Rath was confident enough in Standerwick's leadership abilities to name her team captain.
"She brings a veteran presence, maturity, and, on both sides of the ball, can be our best player on the field," he says. "She leads by example at training, doing extra work outside of training.. .. I'm ecstatic to have her in our team."
Goalkeeper Ariel Anderson, a Burnaby product in her second year with the Blues, is another player who has Rath feeling confident about the team.
"I will continue to argue that she's currently the best goalkeeper in our league," he says. "She's a phenomenal team leader on and off the pitch, brings the team together. She gives us a chance to win every single game."
On defence the Blues are relying on Kaila Lawton, a player who returned to Capilano this season after playing her rookie campaign several years ago for former coach Doug Abercrombie, as well as fifthyear Argyle grad Jen Marsh.
"She fulfills every role, completes the task to the best of her ability and I can't ask for anything more," Rath says of Marsh, a player he knows very well after coaching her at Argyle and Capilano. "She's so consistent and quietly just gets the job done."
Alexsandra Aulin-Haynes, another Argyle grad, was supposed to be a key player for the Blues but she is battling injury right now, as is forward Jessica Hurst from Port Coquitlam's Centennial secondary who was supposed to lead the team's offensive attack. With Hurst sidelined some of the scoring expectations have been passed to Parm Rai, a second year forward from Surrey's Queen Elizabeth secondary who transfered from Kwantlen to Capilano.
Goals, however, have been hard to come by so far this season. Scoring more is one part of a list of things Rath hopes to see in the near future to get his team into the top four in the league to qualify for the provincial championships.
"Step 1 is to get healthy," he says. "That's going to dictate a lot of things. Step 2 is to retain more possession of the ball and play the way we would like to play and control more of the game. Step 3 is to score more goals."
With a couple of wins racked up following their hard-luck start, Rath's expectations for the season are still high.
"We want to win provincials and obviously we want to go to nationals and we want to win nationals," he says. "But I'm not even going there now. Our whole thing is getting healthy and preparing for our next game."
The path back to the top takes an interesting turn this Saturday when the Blues will host the Wolfpack, their opponents from game 1 when all the trouble started for the Blues. Capilano will be focused on slowing down TRU's Alanna Bekkering, a forward who was named PacWest player of the week for week 1 and week 2 this season and has already notched seven goals in six games. For comparison, the Blues have only scored three times in their five games.
"Every time she gets the ball she's dangerous," Rath says of Bekkering. "She'll either score the goal or set the goal up. I don't think they've scored a goal that hasn't been set up or scored by her."
Regardless of who lines up on the other side of the pitch, Rath will be focusing his thoughts on what's happening - both on the pitch and in the recovery room - with his Blues.
"Pray for healthy players that can make a difference - and pray for sunshine," he says. "Pray for wins."
The Blues host TRU this Saturday, women 1 p.m. and men 3 p.m., and UBCO on Sunday, women noon and men 2 p.m.
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