The University of Calgary men's soccer season is well underway and the team has high hopes for the season which has started out strong with a 3-1 record so far. It isn't all fun and soccer, however. According to Dinos head coach Brian McDonnell, success also matters off the pitch in the classroom.
"It's the first and foremost reason they're here," he said. "After five years, if these guys don't come out with a degree, then we've failed them as a program. If they need time off to study for a big test, or they have a paper that's due and they need a night off, then that's fine."
Midfielder and team captain Devin Delaney-- a 2010 Canada West all-star-- agreed. The fifth-year business student believes time management is the key to balancing soccer and studies. "I pretty much have to be on top of my work," he said. "I really enjoy taking on a leadership role. I definitely prepare differently as captain than I did as a regular player. I try to lead by example-- first one to practice, last one off the pitch, have a good work ethic and a positive attitude." The team prepares for the upcoming season with fresh new faces ready to join the ranks of older players.
Striker Izak Lawrence, who has been playing soccer since he was five, is excited for the upcoming season -- figuring out the position and style of play of each of his teammates and bringing it together for team success. Lawrence said his focus and dedication will be an asset to the team and he will use this year to work on his weaknesses like "getting down on a situation too quickly when things start going downwards." He said the coaches have done an excellent job recruiting this summer. "It's good that we've got a group that are ambitious and talented."
As a former player, McDonnell knows other aspects of a Canada Interuniversity Sport athlete's routine and believes team-building is critical to any team's success. "We do a few different things, we do some cooperative things, team-building games, stuff like that."
Nutrition is important in order to keep a team ready and McDonnell said the team stays aware of what they eat, especially on the road.
Playing time is the only motivational tool McDonnell uses for the players. "At this level there's not a whole lot of motivation that they actually need. Playing time is the big thing-- if you're not doing your job you're not going to be on the field."
McDonnell said the team has definitely improved this year. While last year's group set a new school record for points for the season, this year's younger, more technical players should do even better. "The team plays a unique formation," he explained. "The biggest thing for us [is to] understand our role and responsibility at a very high pace."
McDonnell said positional play is extremely important, especially when you're not in possession of the ball in order to support teammates. In order to play as a team, players must know what their role is in the system and are "willing to do whatever [they] can to get the ball back."
McDonnell said the team has a wide range of talent and a lot of youth who could play any position.
"I'll take hard work and effort all 90 minutes over talent and skill any day," said McDonnell. "If you are not prepared to match the opposition's hard work and effort, your talent and skills aren't going to show."
The team has a standing goal to make the playoffs every year and they plan to improve on last year's record by maintaining their home excellence while playing better on the road. Delaney wants to lead the team to Nationals this year. "Last year we had a great year making it to playoffs, but we really didn't bring it as well as we could have, so hopefully we'll overcome that hump and lead the team into Nationals."
The coaching staff are always looking for potential new players and the process is simple: "The game is played at a very high level pace-wise. It's a very athletic game . . . so if you're technically competent, that's the first thing we look at-- if you can move both ways, turn with both feet, inside and outside, that's the biggest thing that we look for. The second thing is being able to do that under pressure."
The team graduated four players from last year's squad. "That's my big priority -- recruiting new athletes." McDonnell typically recruits more players than he loses, to ensure that the team has options at game time.