SPARTANS TAKE ON ALBERTA TO OPEN CANADA WEST FINAL FOUR

SPARTANS TAKE ON ALBERTA TO OPEN CANADA WEST FINAL FOUR

LANGLEY, British Columbia – Four teams, two trips to nationals and one conference title.

That’s the equation this weekend in Edmonton, where the top four teams in Canada West men’s soccer will take aim at the conference championship Saturday and Sunday at Foote Field.

It all starts on Saturday, November 5 with semifinal action, as the UBC Thunderbirds and Calgary Dinos square off (10 a.m. PT), followed by the host Alberta Golden Bears taking on the Trinity Western Spartans (12:30 p.m. PT).

The Spartans are in the Final Four for the second year in a row and are looking to get back to the U Sports championship for the first time since 2009. Coming off a 3-0 win over Mount Royal in the Canada West quarter-finals, the Spartans will be in tough in the semifinals as they take on an Alberta side that lost just once this year in 16 games.

The Bears enter the tournament looking to end a four-year conference championship drought, and have the weapons to return to the top of the conference.

Led by forward Ajeej Sarkaria, who set the Canada West single-season scoring record this season with 18 goals, the Bears are a balanced side keen on capturing an 11th conference crown.

That won’t be an easy feat, as the Bears – who won the regular season title with a 13-1-2 record and downed UBCO 1-0 in the quarters last weekend – are joined by the three teams that came closest to them in the standings.

Taking aim at a conference record 17th Canada West banner are the UBC Thunderbirds, who claimed conference gold in 2015 and are coming off their 2-1 quarter-final win last weekend against Lethbridge.

The T-Birds provided a tough defensive test all season, yielding a conference-best 10 goals against and giving up multiple goals against just twice during the 16-game regular season schedule.

Looking to crack that strong defensive wall is Calgary, who had no problem scoring all season long, as the Dinos led the conference in goals with 45 thanks in large part to Dominic Russo, who accounted for a third of his team’s scores.

Calgary and TWU could be considered the wild cards in the tournament, as the powerful Bears and Thunderbirds are the favourites to secure the conference’s two national tournament berths.

The national tournament is slated for November 10-13 at the University of Guelph.

Viewers will be able to watch every Final Four game on CanadaWest.tv with a tournament pass for $7.50 CAD.

CANADA WEST CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW

TRINITY WESTERN UNIVERSITY SPARTANS

2016 CW regular season record: 9-5-2, 2nd in Pacific Division
2016 record vs. Final Four: 0-1-1 vs. UBC

Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2007 / 3
Last U Sports championship / total U Sports championships: 0
 
2016 CW regular season ranks:
Offence: 22 goals, 9th
Defence: 21 goals against, 7th
 
2016 CW regular season leaders:
Goals: 6 – Elijah Adekugbe, Midfielder
Assists: 6 – Elijah Adekugbe, Midfielder
Points: 12 – Elijah Adekugbe, Midfielder
Wins: 9 – Andrew Hicks, Goalkeeper
Shutouts: 4 – Andrew Hicks, Goalkeeper
 
Key performer:
Joel Waterman
Midfielder
3rd-Year
Aldergrove, B.C.

The third-year midfielder didn't have the flashy offensive numbers this season – he had one goal and one assist – but Waterman quietly put together a quality season in which he was a critical piece in a TWU midfield that could well be as good as any team in the country. Along with fellow midfielders Elijah Adekugbe and Elie Gindo, Waterman was an instrumental part of making the Spartans possession game a success this year.

UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA GOLDEN BEARS

2016 CW regular season record: 13-1-2, 1st overall
2016 record vs. Final Four teams: 1-0-0 vs. Calgary, 0-0-1 vs. UBC

Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2012 / 10
Last U Sports championship / total U Sports championships: 2007 / 4
 
2016 CW regular season ranks:
Offence: 41, 2nd
Defence: 14, 2nd
 
2016 CW regular season leaders:
Goals: 19 – Ajeej Sarkaria, Striker
Assists: 7 – Niko Saler, Defender
Points: 25 – Ajeej Sarkaria, Striker
Wins: 13 – Connor James, Goalie
Shutouts: 8 – Connor James, Goalie
 
Key performer:
Niko Saler
Defender
5th
Lethbridge, AB

If the University of Alberta Golden Bears soccer team is to advance to the Canada West gold medal game, and beyond, they will undoubtedly need contributions from stalwart defender and conference all-star, Niko Saler.

Saler, who led Canada West in assists last season and is a multiple conference all-star and CIS all-Canadian, is an absolute fixture on Alberta's starting 11 and an anchor at left back. The fifth-year defender, who originally hails from Lethbridge, is as widely respected for his defensive prowess as is he for his pin-point passing, corner kicks and set pieces. He scored two goals this season, both off free kicks, and earned seven assists to finish second in team scoring. He also set up Alberta's only goal, off a corner kick, in their 1-0 quarterfinal victory over the UBC-O Heat.

UBC THUNDERBIRDS

2016 CW regular season record: 9-1-6, 1st Pacific Division
2016 record vs. Final Four or Select Six teams: 1-0-1 vs. Trinity Western, 0-0-1 vs. Alberta

Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2015 / 16
Last U Sports championship / total U Sports championships: 2013 / 13

2016 CW regular season ranks:
Offence: 26 goals, 3rd
Defence: 10 goals against, 1st

2016 CW regular season leaders:
Goals: 6 – Titouan Chopin, forward
Assists: 6 – Zach Verhoven, forward
Points: 9 – Zach Verhoven, forward
Wins: 5 – Jason Roberts, goalkeeper
Shutouts: 6 – Jason Roberts, goalkeeper

Key performer:
Chad Bush
Goalkeeper
Second
Ottawa, Ont.

Bush has returned to the starting lineup after missing a majority of the 2016 regular season due to injury. Jason Roberts provided excellent goalkeeping in his absence. Bush will need to be at his best at the Canada West Final Four as two of the squads in the event – Alberta and Calgary – scored more than 40 goals during conference play. Bush, the conference's Top Eight Academic All-Canadian representative, surrendered just four goals in seven appearances, going 4-0-2 with two shutouts in that span.

UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY DINOS

2016 CW regular season record: 9-4-3, 2nd in Prairie Division
2016 record vs. Final Four teams: Alberta – L 1-0, T 3-3

Last CW championship / total CW championships: 1980 / 1
Last U Sports championship / total U Sports championships: 0
 
2016 CW regular season ranks:
Offence: 45 goals, 1st
Defence: 18, 4th
 
2016 CW regular season leaders:
Goals: 15 – Dominic Russo, Forward
Assists: 11 – Dominick Zator, Defence
Points: 24 – Dominic Russo, Forward
Wins: 9 – Hunter Brett, GK
Shutouts: 5 – Hunter Brett, GK
 
Key performer:
Dominic Russo
Forward
5th-year
Hometown Calgary, AB

Dominic Russo is a key fixture in the Dinos offence and has been throughout his five year career. The forward ranked second in the conference in goals (15) and points (24) this season and has a knack for finding the back of the net in a variety of situations.

About Canada West Championships
Canada West is the premier athletic conference in the country and is home to champion student-athletes that excel on the field, in the classroom and in their communities. Canada West and its 17 member institutions commit to a student-athlete experience where competitive excellence, scholarship and sportsmanship contribute equally towards moulding outstanding graduates and community leaders.

Canada West – Training leaders, building champions.

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