The host Thompson Rivers WolfPack are the 2017 USPORTS men’s soccer bronze medalists.
In an all-Canada West battle, the WolfPack stopped league champion UBC Thunderbirds 3-2 in penalty kicks before 1,000 fans Sunday at Hillside Stadium.
The Cape Breton University Capers capped an unbeaten season by claiming the gold medal by shading the University of Montreal Carabins 3-2 in penalty kicks.
The WolfPack, who have Vernon products Finlay McPhie, Mike Bennett and Scott Cramer on their roster, opened the scoring in the 23rd minute. Three-time Canada West all-star Ryan Glanville took a head-man pass from Justin Donaldson and cut towards the centre of the field. The 33-year-old USPORT Academic All-Canadian went from right to left foot and chipped it under the diving UBC keeper Chad Bush.
TRU carried a 1-0 lead into the half. The Thunderbirds infused some new faces in the second half which gave them some life and they pressured the WolfPack back end. TRU didn’t bend though, and in the 60th minute, Glanville had another glorious chance as he evaded a defender and went in close on Bush but the ball bounced the opposite direction.
In the 63rd minute, UBC turned over the ball and Glanville turned to his left and spotted Canada West player of the year Mitchell Popadynetz. He got a piece of the ball bouncing past Bush into the net for a 2-0 cushion.
The Thunderbirds cut the margin to one in the 68th minute when Zach Verhoven was hauled down by WolfPack rookie Anatoli Leveille in the box. A penalty kick was awarded and Kyle Sohi beat TRU keeper Alan Connor low left side.
In the 86th minute, Ryan Arthur equalized on a UBC corner kick.
That set the stage for a dramatic penalty kick contest to decide the medal. TRU’s Popadynetz, Thomas Lantmeeters and James Fraser scored while keeper Connors stopped two UBC shooters and had the other one fire wide.
“This is one of the greatest days of my life,” said Glanville. “One of these things about how far we have come. The pressure on the entire team to make everyone proud in Kamloops and the University. It was such a nice relief to beat UBC on our home soil — a team which we have always had trouble with. Then to win it in PK’s, you couldn’t have asked for more. It was a fantastic way to end a career.”
It was Connor’s last career match as well.
“This is amazing. What a way to go out. To come back and play in the championship at home and win a medal. I was with the team twice before in the college days. The best we could do was fourth in Halifax and fifth at home. The fans have been fantastic. We beat three of the top five teams in the nation in the last six days. It’s been fantastic. It’s been so special to win it here. My wife is here. My son is here and to have them witness it is very special.”
When the WolfPack posed for their team photo, a few held an armband with the name “Sebby” on it. That armband was in honor of former teammate and assistant coach Sebastian Gardner (of Vernon) who lost a battle with cancer last year.
Holding the armband high was another player concluding his university career: Brandon Mendez, who reflected on that bond.
“When I came back, I wanted to dedicate my entire season to Seb. Winning this game was something he would have liked to be a part of it. He is a fighter. He would have loved every minute of it. That was a really big thing. A lot of new kids who didn’t know him embodied his character. It was amazing to see.”
This is Thompson Rivers second ever CIS/USPORTS bronze medal. The WolfPack men’s volleyball team captured bronze at Nationals in Laval, Quebec in 2008.