Taking home a Canada West championship as well as a bronze medal, the University of Saskatchewan’s soccer programs experienced the best season in the institution’s history.
Culminating with an appearance at the Canadian Interuniversity Sports national championships in Prince Edward Island, the men’s soccer team had an unbelievable season. They had an impressive regular season — losing just once in their second last game against the Mount Royal University Cougars— and finished with a 9–1–2 record, which was good enough for first place in the Prairie Division and allowed them to host the Canada West Final Four.
As a team, they scored 44 goals and allowed just 13 against during the regular season. Their goals for ranked fifth in the country, while their goals against were tied for ninth. It wasn’t just the team enjoying success as many individuals enjoyed stellar years as well. Striker Brett Levis led the CIS in points with 17 and his teammates Luigi Bekwayo and David Brown also made the national top 15. Brown and Bekwayo were third and sixth, respectively, in Canada West scoring.
Levis said he would much prefer team success to individual honours.
“To be honest, I didn’t know I was leading the CIS [in scoring] until another player from the team told me when we were in the airport heading to P.E.I. It’s an honour, but winning the CanWest banner was the highlight of the year,” Levis wrote to the Sheaf.
Levis was also named a CIS First Team All-Canadian. Team captain Jordian Farahani and goalkeeper Michal Bandula were named to the Canada West All-Star teams.
The regular season was by far the most successful the team had ever had, but they weren’t done there. After a silver medal at last year’s CanWest championships, the Dogs were determined to right the ship at home in 2014.
The Huskies were matched up with a tough University of Victoria Vikes squad in the semifinals and on a chilly and windy prairie day where they would prevail with a 2–0 victory. The win meant they had a shot at redemption in the CanWest final but that they would also qualify for the national tournament.
“Winning our CanWest semifinal match against Victoria was my favourite memory [of the season]. As individuals and as a team we had invested so much time and effort making our way back to nationals,” fourth-year striker Garrett Peters wrote to the Sheaf. “In the semi, we felt like we would be facing our first true tough test. Being able to overcome and win that game was such a relief. It gave us the confidence to go and win the final knowing that no matter what we were still guaranteed a berth at nationals. In my mind, our season would have felt like a wasted effort if we lost that game.”
Their opponent in the finals would be the University of Alberta Golden Bears and at halftime the Dogs trailed 2–1. Second half goals from Bobbi Nicholat, Farahani and Brown would give the Huskies the gold medal.
“I can’t really explain the feeling,” Levis wrote. “Obviously it was an amazing feeling. It’s something we have been working towards and this is the first time it’s ever been done.”
From there the Huskies travelled to Charlottetown, P.E.I. but wouldn’t quite get the results they were looking for. In the national quarter-final they drew the hosting University of Prince Edward Island Panthers. It was a tight game with neither side being able to capitalize on their chances. The game would be tied at zero heading into overtime.
With no goals after the first overtime session, the game grew even more intense as a penalty kick shootout neared. With time winding down, the home crowd got their wish as PEI potted two goals late to take the win 2–0. It was definitely a disappointing loss for the Huskies as it was the exact same game they lost in the previous year.
However, Peters was very pleased with how the season went.
“I think the season was definitely a success. After our first ever trip to CIS Nationals in 2013, we set a team goal, to return a second time as Canada West champions,” Peters wrote. “Our team was able to accomplish this in an incredibly tough conference, so our season was a success.”
Looking ahead to next season the Huskies will only graduate one player, their captain and leader Farahani.
“Having Chico [Farahani] was invaluable. We had a fairly young team this year and he made it easy to just focus on soccer,” Peters said. “He dealt with the coaches, he dealt with the refs, he lead our team in each game he played. Sometimes having too many voices to listen to causes confusion for teams. Chico was one of the best captains I’ve ever played and it will be incredibly difficult to try and replace him.”
Other than the loss of Farahani, the Dogs should have a very good chance of building even more on this year’s success. Another conference championship banner is well within reach and maybe even another run at the national title.
The women’s team also had a storybook season, as for the first time ever they earned a medal at the conference championships.
The story is how this team has emerged as a contender after being a cellar dweller just five short seasons ago. In 2010, the team had its first ever winning record and in 2011 and 2012 they slowly moved up the standings. Last season saw them finish with the best record to date, but they still couldn’t win a playoff game in all these seasons.
Fast-forward to 2014 and the Huskies had a 7–2–3 record, earning them second place in the Prairie Division. They hosted a playoff game against MacEwan University, who finished with an identical regular season record.
It was a tough game tied at 1–1 for almost the entire contest. With time winding down and the home crowd growing ever more nervous, star striker Jenelle Zapski scored the game-winning goal and gave the program its first ever playoff win.
“To finally win a playoff game was just such an incredible feeling. To finally get over the hump, to know that all our hard work and dedication we put in had finally paid off,” Zapski wrote to the Sheaf. “We went out there this season and we played our hearts out for each other and it truly showed in how we finished, that game especially.”
With the win, the team advanced to the Canada West Final Four and took on the Trinity Western University Spartans in the semifinal. A win would book their ticket to the CIS championships, but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be — the Spartans pulled out a 1–0 victory in the middle of the second half. Following the disappointing loss, the team took on the University of Alberta Pandas in the bronze medal game, which would be the final match of their season.
In another tight game, Zapski again would be the hero as she scored twice in the second half to guide the Huskies to a 2–0 win and with it, their first medal of any kind.
“Taking the team picture in the net with our bronze medals was such a surreal feeling. Being able to look around at your teammates and coaches and say, ‘Wow, we did it,’” Zapski wrote. “The program had never been to the Final Four so to be able to come out with a medal is pretty amazing.”
Fourth-year midfielder Gillian Pinder has been a part of the slow rebuild of the Huskie soccer program.
“Our success has been building over the past four years that I have been a part of the program and it was great to finish this year with a medal,” Pinder wrote to the Sheaf. “It was a very gratifying feeling to have something to show for all of the hard work and dedication we put into the season. I am very proud of my team for what we accomplished and look forward to trading the bronze in for a gold next year.”
Similar to the men’s team, there were also some individuals who enjoyed a lot of success. Zapski led Canada West in goals and scoring while her teammate Erica Hindmarsh wasn’t far behind. With 14 goals, Zapski was fourth in the CIS in scoring and set a team record for goals in a single season. She also broke the team record for points in a single season with 16. Zapski and defender Jennifer Miller were named to the Canada West All-Star teams.
Zapski was aware of her record breaking season, but attributes much of her individual success to her teammates and coaches.
“It feels awesome. This was a big season for our entire team. The records are a testament to my teammates and their hard work to get me the ball when I was in the right places. I think it also shows a lot about our coaching staff as well. They came into this season as new coaches and taught us a lot of things, including a different style of play that allowed our team to be very successful.”
With no graduating players, the core of this team will be able to stick together and be even better next year. Players on the team have said numerous times they are such a tight-knit group off the field that it strengthens them on the field.
Pinder wrote that the team’s success on the field was definitely a byproduct of their relationship off the pitch.
“My fondest memories often took place before game time. I loved listening to the playlist in the dressing room while sharing lots of laughs with my teammates and putting on a jersey that I was proud to wear each game,” she wrote.
Without a doubt, 2014 will go down in this program’s history as one of the most successful seasons ever. There were plenty of highlights from the year, along with some low points that the team will look to fix next year. With the two teams combining to lose just one player, the best is yet to come from Huskie soccer. Although 2014 was a huge success, 2015 has serious potential to be even better.