SPARTANS TAKE ON CANADA WEST CHAMPION ALBERTA IN SEMIFINAL

SPARTANS TAKE ON CANADA WEST CHAMPION ALBERTA IN SEMIFINAL

LANGLEY, B.C. – The Alberta Golden Bears might want to beef up security for their trip to Vancouver this weekend, because everyone at the 2017 Canada West men's soccer Final Four is coming for them.

It's been that way all season for the defending Canada West and U SPORTS champs, who haven't been able to let their guard down for a second since winning the titles last fall.

With Alberta joining a trio of British Columbia schools at Final Four, the Golden Bears will be on enemy turf the moment they cross the Rockies in advance of this weekend's action.

Semifinals take place Friday at UBC's Thunderbird Stadium, where Alberta meets the Trinity Western Spartans at 5 p.m. PDT, followed at 7:30 p.m. by the host T-Birds taking on the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack. Saturday's schedule sees the bronze medal match take place at Ken Woods Field at 5 p.m. PDT, with the gold medal game getting underway at 8 p.m. PDT at Thunderbird Stadium.

All games can be seen live on Canada West TV.

Thompson Rivers, which is hosting the 2017 U SPORTS Men's Soccer Championship at Hillside Stadium in Kamloops Nov. 9-12, is already assured a spot at nationals, while the remaining top highest-finishing sides at Canada West Final Four will also qualify.

The Golden Bears, who topped UBC 2-1 on penalty-kicks in last season's thrilling Canada West gold medal match at Foote Field in Edmonton, are looking to win the program's 12th conference title and repeat as Canada West champs for the first time since doing so in 1998 and 1999.

Having their names circled on the calendar of every opponent has only sharpened the resolve of the veteran Bears, who returned a large part of their 2016 roster this season. Alberta finished atop the Prairie Division standings with a 9-1-4 record, while scoring the most (36) and allowing the fewest (9) goals in Canada West.

The Canada West post-season got underway last weekend with a quarter-final round that only served to increase anticipation for the always-exciting Final Four.

SEMIFINAL 1: TWU vs. ALB

Friday, Nov. 3 at 5 p.m. PDT

Thunderbird Stadium

There's no shortage of intrigue in this rematch of a tremendous 2016 Canada West semifinal that saw Alberta score in double-overtime on a header by Ajay Khabra to squeak past TWU 1-0. The Golden Bears may have lost just once in their 14 regular season matches, but that lone blemish came at the hands of the TWU Spartans, who defeated Alberta 2-0 in Edmonton on Sept. 23. The Spartans had an 8-4-4 regular season record, finishing second to UBC in the Pacific Division standings.

These are the top two offensive teams in the conference, with Alberta scoring more than 2.5 goals per contest and the Spartans averaging just under 2, while the Golden Bears' 243 shots second only to the 256 by TWU. Alberta's attack features explosive forward Ajeej Sarkaria, Canada West's co-leader in goals (8), points (17), and shots (49). In quarter-final matches last Saturday, Alberta recorded a 3-0 home victory over UNBC, while TWU exploded for five first-half goals, including four in a span of a dozen minutes, on the way to a 6-2 defeat of Calgary at Chase Office Field in Langley.

SEMIFINAL 2: TRU vs. UBC

Friday, Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. PDT

Thunderbird Stadium

The upstart WolfPack are making their Canada West Final Four debut after winning a quarter-final for the first time in program history last Friday when they scored four unanswered goals to stun the Saskatchewan Huskies 5-1 in Saskatoon. By contrast, UBC, which defeated Mount Royal 2-1 at Thunderbird Stadium in a quarter-final on Friday, is accustomed to playing soccer in November, with more Canada West men's soccer titles (16) than any other school.

The T-Birds were the only team to hit double-digit wins in Canada West this season, boasting a 10-4-1 record to place atop the Prairie Division, where TRU finished third after going 6-3-6. Including the regular and post-season, UBC is 7-1 on its home pitch in 2017, though the WolfPack are proving to be road warriors, losing only twice away from Kamloops. The teams met twice during the season, playing to a 2-2 draw at Hillside Stadium on Sept. 3 before UBC won the rematch 3-1, on Oct. 13 in Vancouver. Players to watch include UBC's freshman phenom Victory Shumbusho, who scored seven times in just 10 regular season appearances, and WolfPack forward Mitchell Popadynetz, a dynamic threat with 10 assists (first in Canada West) and 17 points (tied for conference lead).

MEDAL ROUND

Bronze medal game - 5 p.m. PDT at Ken Woods Field

Gold medal game - 8 p.m. PDT at Thunderbird Stadium

TRINITY WESTERN UNIVERSITY SPARTANS

2017 CW regular season record: 8-4-4, 2nd in Pacific Division

2017 record vs. Final Four teams: 1-0-0 vs. Alberta, 1-1-0 vs. UBC, 0-0-2 vs. TRU

Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2007 / 3

Last U SPORTS championship / total U SPORTS championships: Highest finish - 2nd in 2008

2017 CW regular season ranks:

Offence: 31 goals, 2nd

Defence: 16 goals against, 4th

2017 CW regular season leaders:

Goals: 6 – Leighton Johnson, Forward

Assists: 6 – Leighton Johnson, Forward

Points: 12 – Leighton Johnson, Forward

Wins: 8 – Sebastian Colyn, Goalkeeper

Shutouts: 5 – Sebastian Colyn, Goalkeeper

Key performer:

Joel Waterman

Midfielder

4th-year

Aldergrove, B.C.

Since returning from an injury midway through the season, Joel Waterman has been the Spartans best player and has become one of the most dangerous offensive players in Canada West. The fourth-year midfielder scored five goals in eight games during the regular season before putting together a three-point night, including a goal and two assists, in TWU's 6-2 Canada West Quarter-Final win over Calgary. Waterman has been named his team's game MVP In in seven of TWU's last eight outings, including their postseason victory over the Dinos. The Spartans are now 6-2-1 since Waterman returned to the lineup, which includes a 2-0 win over semifinal foe Alberta that saw the TWU midfielder tally a brilliant goal to spark the Spartans to the victory.

UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA GOLDEN BEARS

2017 CW regular season record: 9-1-4, 1st Prairie Division

2017 record vs. Final Four teams: 1-0-0 vs. UBC, 0-1-0 vs. TWU, 0-0-0 vs. TRU

Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2016 / 11

Last U SPORTS championship / total U SPORTS championships: 2016 / 5

2017 CW regular season ranks:

Offence: 36 goals, 1st

Defence: 9 goals against, 1st

2017 CW regular season leaders:

Goals: 8 – Ajeej Sarkaria, striker

Assists: 9 – Ajeej Sarkaria, striker

Points: 17 – Ajeej Sarkaria, striker

Wins: 8 – Connor James, keeper

Shutouts: 7 – Connor James, keeper

Key performer:

Connor James

Keeper

4th-year

Edmonton, Alta.

While sophomore Ajeej Sarkaria will be a featured player in this year's Final Four, one of the biggest reasons the Bears could repeat as conference and national champions is keeper Connor James. James led the conference in goals against, goals against average, and shutouts in 2017, establishing himself as one of the elite stoppers in Canada West. James, the Bears team captain, also set the conference record for career shutouts earlier in the season, and another strong weekend could give Alberta their first back-to-back set of CW titles since 1998/1999.

UBC THUNDERBIRDS

2017 CW regular season record: 10-4-1, 1st Pacific Division

2017 record vs. Final Four teams: 1-1-0 vs. TWU, 1-0-1 vs. TRU, 0-1-0 vs. ALB

Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2015 / 16

Last U SPORTS championship / total U SPORTS championships: 2013 / 13

2017 CW regular season ranks:

Offence: 30 goals, 3rd

Defence: 11 goals against, 3rd

2017 CW regular season leaders:

Goals: 7 – Victory Shumbusho, forward

Assists: 5 – Patrick Izett, midfielder

Points: 8 – Patrick Izett, midfielder

Wins: 9 – Chad Bush, goalkeeper

Shutouts: 6 – Chad Bush, goalkeeper

Key performer:

Victory Shumbusho

Forward

1st-year

Chilliwack, B.C.

Joining the Thunderbirds from the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program, Shumbusho had one of the most impressive rookie performances in recent memory. He led UBC in goals with seven, tied for the third most in the Canada West. Shumbusho finished the regular season with two game winning goals and finished tied for second in team scoring.

THOMPSON RIVERS UNIVERSITY WOLFPACK

2017 CW regular season record: 6-3-6, 3rd Pacific Division

2017 record vs. Final Four teams: 0-0-0 vs. Alberta, 0-1-1 vs. UBC, 0-2-2 vs. TWU

Last CW championship total CW championships: /

Last U SPORTS championship total U SPORTS championships: /

2017 CW regular season ranks:

Offence: 27 goals, 4th

Defence: 21 goals against, 10th

2017 CW regular season leaders:

Goals: 7 – Mitchell Popadynetz, midfielder

Assists: 10 – Mitchell Popadynetz, midfielder

Points: 17 – Mitchell Popadynetz, midfielder

Wins: 3 – Lubmomir Magdolen, keeper

Shutouts: 3 – Lubmomir Magdolen, keeper

Key performer:

Mitch Popadynetz

Midfielder

4th-year

Nelson, B.C.

Popadynetz had a breakout 2017 regular season. After playing in the the PDL this summer, the native of Nelson, BC took the Canada West by storm, leading the the league in assists (10), and was tied for first in overall points (17).

-CW-

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