After a pair of wins at home to open their season this weekend, the Dinos men's soccer team gained confidence for the tough games that lie ahead.
"We have a pretty good team on paper," said head coach Brian McDonnell. "It's nice to give them a little bit of confidence at the beginning of the season, showing that they worked hard, preparing for the last month or so."
The weekend's first matchup pitted the Dinos against last year's conference champions, the University of Victoria Vikes, on a rainy Saturday. Despite weather delays of about half an hour in the second half, the Dinos built and held a 3-0 lead facing only four shots from the Vikes.
Coming up strong for the Dinos was second-year forward Izak Lawrence, who returns after a year on the sidelines with a knee injury.
"I've been training extra hard during the off-season to make sure that this injury doesn't reoccur," said Lawrence. "It's benefitted me in that it's kept me on the go and kept me in shape."
Lawrence isn't the only one happy he's back, his team is also grateful for his strong presence.
"We were hurt last year when Izak wasn't healthy," said McDonnel. "We've known what he can do all along. He had a really productive off-season with us in the summer with our club program."
Lawrence's success in the off-season -- he led the Alberta Major Soccer League with 15 goals in 18 games -- seems to have rolled on into this season with him netting a pair of goals on two shots of the Dinos' total 12 shots against Victoria goaltender Elliot Mitrou.
"We really rely on him heavily up front and whenever we have him on the pitch," said McDonnell. "He just creates havoc for the opposition and draws guys to him. When he gets half a step, he puts the ball in the back of the net. He's a true and true just straight goal scorer and we haven't had that in years past, so having him is a huge help on the field."
Lawrence's success followed him into the weekend's second game against the University of Fraser Valley Cascades when he scored the opener -- his third of the weekend.
"It feels really good. I'm glad to see all the hard work during the long off-season throughout the summer really paying off now," said Lawrence. "The service up front has been excellent. I am just trying to do my job there."
UFV erased the 2-0 deficit built by the Dinos to tie the game until the Dinos rallied late, netting two goals to make the final score 4-2.
"We had a bit of a lapse," admitted McDonnell. "We could have really stomped them out."
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Despite a brief moment of weakness, the Dinos stand atop the Canada West standings with six points and cracked the Blackberry CIS Top 10 at number eight for the first time in four years, behind Trinity Western and ahead of Saint Mary's.
"It's a nice feeling for sure. We try not to pay too much attention to it because one bad week and your are out of that," said McDonnell. "Early on in the season it's nice to see that things are paying off."
McDonnell and the team are taking their success in stride, knowing that they face some of Canada West's fiercest competition in the weeks ahead, three of the next four teams finished in the top four last year.
"That's going to be a true marker for us, seeing how we're going to stack up. It was nice to start like this but things really kind of get hard now."
In the coach's opinion they are ready for the challenges that lie ahead.
The Dinos face Alberta this Saturday in Edmonton followed by the Huskies on Sunday in Saskatchewan.