Some players sat out 2013 to retain final year of eligibility with team hosting nationals in November
The UPEI Panthers men’s soccer team’s biggest off-season additions will be familiar faces as it prepares to host the national championships in November.
A handful of key Panthers sat out the 2013 season to save their final year of eligibility in order to play in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championship at home from Nov. 6 to 9.
The list includes the likes of Dillon Wight, Jared Murphy and Logan Dawson.
“We had a pretty good recruiting year last year and getting these three guys to return was a big deal for us,” said coach Lewis Page.
“We’re really happy with where our squad is right now. If we had to go and play a national tomorrow, I’d be ready to go.”
Last year’s 12-player recruiting class, included striker Lucas Holmes and midfielder Cullen Mullaly. Team captain Adam Lowther has decided to return for his fifth season and Atlantic University Sport (AUS) all-star Cole MacMillan will also play a key role. MacMillan was second in the conference last year with seven goals in 13 games for a Panthers team that tallied a goal per game.
The roster will receive a boost from James Mallard, who sat out this past year after transferring from Acadia.
“He was a very good player at Acadia and one we tried to keep at home,” Page said. “We’re happy to have him back, too. He will have a big impact on the team.”
Mallard can play up front or on the back-line, Page said, noting, “he’s just a great athlete.”
The Panthers’ success in 1998, 2002 and 2005 had a similar component.
“They were all teams that were built on solid Canada Games programs from the P.E.I. Soccer Association,” Page said.
The core of the 2014 Panthers will be players from the 2009 Games in Charlottetown, which finished fifth and defeated Ontario in a pool game.
UPEI last went to the CIS championships in 2009 in Trinity Western. The team started six rookies in the AUS championship game and some of Panthers from that squad, including MacMillan, Dawson, Wight and Murphy, will be on this year’s club.
The Panthers went 4-6-3 last year, finished eighth and missed the playoffs in the 10-team league, but it was not a lost season.
“We got a ton of experience for our younger players,” Page said. “That’s going to make us a stronger squad as a whole this year.”
The conference is always competitive and Page pointed to recent results at nationals with UNB finishing third last year while Cape Breton and Saint Mary’s finished second in 2012 and 2011, respectively.
Page coached both men’s and women’s soccer teams in 2013, but will concentrate on the men’s team this year with Graeme McDonald and Glenn Smiley running the women’s program.
Page said there is excitement already starting to build for the fall.
“The guys have been having the conversation for the past two months,” he said. “They all have a good idea of what they need to do in the summer to be coming in in the fall ready to go right from the start, realizing how important the year is.”
A look at some key dates for the UPEI Panthers men’s soccer team.
Sept. 5 – First game of the season. UPEI at Acadia.
Sept. 7 – First home game. Moncton at UPEI.
Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 – Atlantic University Sport championship hosted by Memorial in St. John’s, N.L.
Nov. 6 to 9 – Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship hosted by UPEI.