It was only a tie, but it sure felt like a win for Capilano University women's soccer rookie head coach Dennis Kindel and his new-look Blues.
Capilano opened their season on the road against the Kwantlen Eagles Wednesday and - after trading goals in the first half, including a tally for Blues rookie forward Martina Bohomol Villa - found themselves down 2-1 in the dying seconds of the game. With less than a minute to play the Blues won a corner kick, giving them one final shot at a draw. "We threw everybody, even our goalie, into the box. We could lose by 2-1 or 3-1, it didn't matter," said Kindel.
Dayne McGregor swung in the cross and rookie defender Jessica Price rose up above the crowd to nod in the equalizer. For the players on the field it felt like a 2-2 win for Capilano.
"The other team felt like they lost," said Kindel. "They got to half and the ref blew the whistle. It was one of those 'don't give up, don't die' (games). It was a good way to start. It felt like a win even though it was a tie."
The feel-good draw provided a nice first impression of the PacWest league for Kindel, a former Capilano player who helped guide the Blues to a CCAA national title
in 2003, winning the top goalkeeper award at the tournament. Earlier this year Kindel was hired as the head coach of the Capilano women following the departure of Darren Rath. Kindel, a Burnaby native, has a long coaching resumé that includes a current position in the Sentinel secondary soccer academy. The Capilano job, however, is a special one for him.
"For me it was like a dream job to come back and coach somewhere that I had the best three years of my life when I was younger," Kindel said. "I've coached women's soccer before in the premier league but this one is definitely slightly
different and better. All the girls want to be there - they're there for school, they want to be part of a program, to be part of something while they are in university. Being around that atmosphere, it's really fulfilling."
Kindel is coming into a team that didn't record a win last season, finishing last in the league, and hasn't made the PacWest playoffs since 2009. Turning around those numbers sounds like a daunting task but Kindel looks at it a different way.
"I don't feel that it's that tough - the only thing I can do is go up," he said, adding that he isn't worried about the past, only the present and the future. There isn't much of a past to speak of on this team - only a handful of players are back from last season, with only three players boasting more than one year of experience at the post-secondary level.
"My worry would just be revamping this program," said Kindel. "We only had five players from last year stay on the team, so we had to go recruit another 15. We had to get a whole new team."
The three longest-serving Blues are fifth-year Handsworth grad Demi Skierka, fourth-year defender McGregor, and third-year forward Olivia Ruygrok.
The team's rookie crop is bolstered by several recruits from a youth team in the Coquitlam Metro-Ford club that Kindel has been coaching for several years. "I've been coaching them since they were 13, and it just so happens that they graduated the same time I got this job," he said. That list includes rookie headliner Taylor Einhorn, whom Kindel is counting on to make big contributions early in the season. "She covers a lot of ground and is a workhorse in the middle for this team," said Kindel, who has already named Einhorn one of the team's four rotating co-captains along with Skierka, McGregor and Ruygrok. The first job for Kindel and the returning players is getting the team's army of rookies ready to play against players that are older, bigger and stronger than any they've ever faced.
"The biggest thing I think is just gaining the confidence," said Kindel.
"This team, when they're training, is just 100 miles an hour. They're gelling so well together, their possession and keeping the ball in training and practice is unbelievable. They're still slightly shy with it on the field (in games), but I feel like as they get more mature - especially the young ones not getting pushed off the ball going up against players four years older than them - once they get used to that then I feel like it's just going to all come together. It's on the verge of getting there, I just don't know when it's going to explode.... I'm just hoping some of them burst out of their bubble a little bit. I see it happening, it's just a matter of time."
Goal number 1 is to get the Blues - a perennial championship contender before their recent drought - back into the playoffs. Kindel said he is "very confident" that Capilano will make the top four in regular season play to book a spot in the provincial championship tournament. Beyond that, he said he's hoping to make Capilano a destination program for talented Lower Mainland soccer players who have a lot of options when they come out of high school.
"My biggest thing for the program is start making an atmosphere where I don't even have to recruit - players from all over the Lower Mainland are hearing about the program, that it's a good program and players that are in it are enjoying it," he said. "Obviously that comes with getting success on the field as well, but if I can create an atmosphere where people are talking about it, then it makes recruiting even easier. People will just email me saying '(I) want to be part of the program, when are tryouts?'" The Blues will be looking to add more points this weekend in a pair of contests, including a trip to Squamish to take on Quest on Saturday followed by the home opener against Vancouver Island University on Sunday. Kindel is hoping their dramatic tie in the season opener will set the stage for bigger things to come. "I feel like this weekend we can carry on that energy from that tying goal and hopefully that will give us the confidence to go get our first win."
The Blues host the VIU Mariners in the home opener Sunday, Sept. 13 with the women kicking off at noon and the men to follow at 2:30 p.m.