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Blues men look sharp playing for third straight PacWest title

Jackson's hat trick powers Capilano to 4-1 win in season opener
Keith Jackson of the Capilano Blues charges downfield on his way to scoring a hat trick during a 4-1 season-opening win against the Langara Falcons Sunday at Burnaby Lake Sports Complex. The Blues are back-to-back defending PacWest champions. photo Paul Yates/Vancouver Sports Pictures

PacWest soccer: Douglas @ Capilano Sept. 16., 1 p.m. women, 3:30 p.m. men. VIU @ Capilano, Sept. 17, noon women, 2:30 p.m. men. 

They may not be talking about a three-peat, but judging by the results of their first game of the season, the Capilano University men’s soccer team sure are gunning for one.

The two-time defending PacWest champions opened their season with a convincing 4-1 win over the Langara Falcons Sunday afternoon, led by a hat trick from fourth-year co-captain Keith Jackson. Coming into this season the Blues lost a few key members of those championships teams, notably hard-hitting fullback Devan Woolley, who is now back as an assistant coach, and high-scoring forward Kristian Yli-Hietanen, who is now running with the UBC Thunderbirds. But there are plenty of talented veterans left, as well as a new crop of young players ready to step in, said head coach Paul Dailly. The coach added that he was pleased with how his team looked in the opener but maintained that chasing a three-peat is not what will define his team’s season.  

“Obviously it’s something we all want, but there’s no talk of a three-peat in our locker room,” he said. “Every game is important. We’re looking at Saturday’s game versus Douglas as our next big one and we’ll move on through the season from there.”

Jackson is one of those key returning players Dailly will be counting on to lead the Blues. The Seycove Secondary grad already has a stellar PacWest resume, earning all-Canadian status last year after scoring 18 goals in 18 games.

“He’s just a workhorse, he really seems to have found his niche playing for this team,” said Dailly. “He’s definitely got a nose for the net as well. … He keeps maturing every year. He’s getting better at recognizing opponents and what they’re giving him and taking advantage of it. One-on-one he’s quick, he can make defenders miss and when he gets one-on-one on goal he’s a good finisher.”

Backing up Jackson will be North Vancouver brothers Nicolas and Daniel Morello.

Nicolas, now in his fifth year, was named team MVP last year while also earning MVP honours at the PacWest championships. Daniel, now in his third year, teamed up with Nicolas to provide great two-way play from the back line.

Both brothers, however, will take on more central roles this season with Daniel playing a holding midfield position and Nicolas in front of him in an attacking midfield role. Moving the Morellos up has already paid dividends as Daniel scored Capilano’s fourth goal in the opener and Nicolas played creator, setting up two goals.  

“It’s a bit different for both of them role-wise but it’s something we’re experimenting with and we’re happy so far,” said Dailly. “I thought they both played well. That whole veteran group played well.”

Included in that veteran group is goaltender Hudson Nelles, a fourth-year West Vancouver Secondary grad.

“We’re expecting big things from him and the back four in front of him,” said Dailly, adding that he felt comfortable moving the Morellos up because of new strength in the backline provided by defenders Andres Romo, Stephane Obergfell, Joel Prasad, Luca Klotz, and Cooper Courvoisier.

Rookie forwards Kaveer Brar and Adrian Sahagun are expected to provide pop up front playing beside Jackson.

This season Vancouver Island University is hosting the national championships, meaning that the rest of the teams in the PacWest league will be left to fight it out for one more berth. Dailly is hoping his Blues will be there at the end again.

“I’m more than happy with our veteran core group, I think they’re very capable of lifting this team and taking it where it needs to be,” he said. “It’s different, but the pieces we’ve added are very similar to what we had last year. I’m quietly confident with the group we have. I know the young guys as the season goes on are going to get better and better and better.”

The Blues may be the favourites again in the PacWest following their back-to-back championships, but they’ve ended each year in disappointment at the CCAA national championships. In 2015 they made it to the final and looked certain for victory after their opponents lost two players to red cards, but the Blues couldn’t find the finish they needed, losing in penalty kicks following a 0-0 draw.

Last year they were again one of the favourites, coming into the national championships without losing a single game all season, but fell in the semifinals after a couple of uncharacteristic miscues put them down early. They lost one game all year and ended up with bronze.

“It definitely leaves a bad taste in the back of your throat,” said Dailly. “That’s sport – it happens. You’ve got to shake it off, you’ve got to move on from it. I know the guys that have been there with me the last two years are very, very hungry to right the ship. There’s nothing more that any of us want than to take it all this year.”

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The Capilano women opened their season with a 1-1 tie against Langara Sunday. The Blues fell behind early but rookie midfielder Adrianna Babinski scored in the second half to earn the draw.