Sports

Now the real work begins with Canada West

UNBC Northern Timberwolves fifth-year forward Dennis Stark explores his options under the hoop with members of the men’s alumni squad surrounding him on Saturday evening at the Northern Sport Centre. Stark’s 17-point effort helped the current Timberwolves win the alumni game 106-57.  - Alistair McINNIS/Free Press
UNBC Northern Timberwolves fifth-year forward Dennis Stark explores his options under the hoop with members of the men’s alumni squad surrounding him on Saturday evening at the Northern Sport Centre. Stark’s 17-point effort helped the current Timberwolves win the alumni game 106-57.
— image credit: Alistair McINNIS/Free Press

The Canada West responses, as expected, were reactions of excitement and enthusiasm.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Getting its athletics department to a point where it could be considered on par with members of the Canada West Universities Athletic Association (CWUAA) is a massive undertaking for UNBC.

Coaches and players are ready to begin building for the challenge. Pending Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) approval, the Northern Timberwolves will begin competing in Canada West basketball and soccer next fall.

Bringing in new talent is pivotal, and a process current players know is necessary.

“Crucial. If we had this team in Canada West, we’d just get slaughtered so they’re going to have to recruit,” said Kellen Strobl, a third-year midfielder on the UNBC men’s soccer team.

Discussions within the athletic department on moving to Canada West date back nearly a decade. It’s been a lengthy process for long-time UNBC staffers.

UNBC women’s basketball head coach Loralyn Murdoch has followed the basketball program through since the 1999-00 season, its first full campaign in the B.C. Colleges Athletic Association (BCCAA), now known as PACWEST (Pacific Western Athletic Association). She’s filled her current role leading the team for all but two of those seasons, guiding the team to its only provincial title, on its home court in 2008.

“It was only a matter of time. We put in our application and there was really no question that our application was good,” Murdoch said. “There was no reason for us not to be allowed access into Canada West, so it was just a matter of time till we did the right things by talking to the different institutions and their presidents and their athletic directors, letting them know that we’re serious about what we want to do going CIS, and eventually they voted in our favour.

“It’s a different calibre of athletes, it’s a different calibre of competition. We just have to get out there and do what we can. It’s not foreign to anybody what we’re up against. It’s just a matter of getting the job done and getting our recruiting in and developing our players and we’ll be ready.”

After a season as an assistant, UNBC housing and residence life manager Zane Robison acted as the men’s basketball head coach from 2001 to 2008, before taking on his current position. Robison also played on the squad during their transition into the BCCAA, suiting up from 1996 to 2000.

“This program has proven itself and I’m glad the CIS decided to allow us to join their league,” he said. “I think it’s great for Prince George, it’s great for the university.”

To fulfill a CIS requirement, UNBC needs to hire two full-time soccer coaches and a sports information director. At the moment the two coaches, Sonny Pawar (men) and Mato Mikic (women) work as volunteers. Neither are making a decision on their plans next season yet, and it’s undetermined where the Canada West move will leave each of them.

Although he pointed out that the timing could’ve been better, Pawar is excited about helping the squad move into Canada West. As for next season, he wouldn’t say whether or not he’d apply for the full-time job. He noted that he’ll sit down and explore options after the 2011 campaign, which is about halfway through.

“We’’ll sit down and discuss the options with the athletic director (Jason Kerswill) and see the route that they want to take.”

Of the four teams moving into Canada West, the men’s basketball program may be in the strongest position. The Timberwolves have appeared in nationals in each of the last three years, including a Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) title in 2010, and once again field a roster with a lot of experience.

Like Pawar, UNBC men’s basketball head coach Todd Jordan isn’t losing sight of this season.

“We’ve obviously got a bit more size this year and some athletic guys and then some guys that I think are capable of playing at that next level,” he said. “Going into the CIS next year, it’ll be about these guys coming in and just doing it against a higher level of competition, and then bringing in a couple of other guys that’ll help us out as well.”

 

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