Nov 11, 2015
(VAUGHAN, ON) This may be UNB’s best shot.
Making their fourth consecutive trip to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship, the Varsity Reds believe this year’s team is the one that can win a national title. "We said that from the minute we got into the season, that this was the best group of players we’ve had in all my time here,” said fourth year VReds defender George Lawton.
“Miles has said this is a special group of players,” said Lawton, of head coach Miles Pinsent, now in his 13th season as UNB coach.
The Varsity Reds’ season did not start well. With a number of players on the sideline, UNB lost it’s first two games. Neither loss was close. In Sydney, they dropped a 5-1 decision to Cape Breton University Capers. The very next day, the VReds fell 4-0 at St. FX.
That shutout, on September 13th, was the last time the Varsity Reds lost a game.
What followed was, simply, impressive. UNB won eight of the last eleven games, recording draws in the other three. One of those draws, in their final road game of the season, came on a penalty kick in the 90th minute.
Atlantic University Sport First Team All-Star midfielder Diego Padilha attributes that success to hard work and team balance. "We have a good left side, good right side, back line, up front, in the middle… everyone is working well and it’s not just about one player, it’s about the team,” said Padilha.
He too feels this year’s team is the best he’s played on. “The talent that we have in the group, I think, I’ve been here for four years and I’m sure that this group is the most talented, so far.”
The Varsity Reds’ 8-2-3 regular season record was good for second place in the AUS and a first round bye at the conference championship tournament.
In the semi-finals, UNB met Acadia. The Varsity Reds emerged with a 1-0 win.
In the final, they met Cape Breton, the team that had beat them badly to begin the season.
Not hobbled by injuries, as they were in September, the Varsity Reds were able to compete against the Capers. Both teams combine for three goals in less than six minutes… UNB taking its third consecutive AUS championship with a 2-1 win.
“We’ve accomplished all of our short-term goals,” said midfield Marcus Lees.
Along with Padilha and fullback Steve Miller, Lees was chosen as a First Team AUS All-Star. Lees was also selected as a Second Team All-Canadian. He believes focusing on short-term goals has helped the team. “I think doing it that way, we’re doing every little thing right and it’s letting us accomplish those long-term goals.”
For Lees, who graduates next spring, this could be the last trip to the national university championship. Previous trips have included a semi-final loss and relegation to a bronze medal game, which UNB won, and a first round loss. So the only round Lees hasn’t seen is the championship round. "I kind of know what each stage is, but that final. So, now the final is where I want to be and I think we’re going to do that this coming week.”
“It’s the most important thing in life, at the minute, to be honest,” says George Lawton.
This Varsity Reds team has been successful and it’s well prepared. Midfield Jose Lopez believes they are ready. "We’re all pretty confident, as a team. We really built belief over the AUS championship that we can take it to any team and we don’t have to fall down on any team."
UNB opens the 2015 CIS Men’s Soccer Championship on Thursday, against the CIS player of the year, Cam Hundal and the University of Victoria.
The Vikes were Canada West finalists, losing to the University of British Columbia.
The VReds practiced Wednesday on the York University turf. George Lawton says he’s focused on winning, but also trying to enjoy the experience. "On game day, it takes over completely, so these next few days where we’ve got the banquet, we’ve got some training, they’re kind of more distractions and they’re kind of welcome distractions, in the sense we want to be doing them rather than just getting too focused, because that can turn to nervousness and panic.”
Thursday’s quarter-final match kicks off at 1:30PM Eastern, 2:30PM Atlantic.