John Antulov is confident much of his WolfPack team will remain intact for the 2022 campaign, which will culminate in TRU playing host to the U Sports Men’s Soccer Championship.
The 2020 Canada West season, wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic, has become one long runway for a club trying to reach new heights over the next two years.
“We’re looking at 2021 as a season where we really need to achieve,” said Antulov, whose team won conference bronze in 2017 and 2018, but finished off the podium last year. “We need to get over that little hump, where we want to change the colour of our medals.
“We want to make playoffs, we want to get to that Final Four and achieve something a little bit more.”
Antulov said trying to form a cohort-based exhibition schedule for this pandemic-ravaged season has been a headache, but match play could begin by the end of September.
A large group of rookies was introduced last year, sickness and injury heavily impacted the lineup and team cohesion never quite materialized.
Still, the Pack enjoyed a late-season surge and snuck into the 2019 Canada West playoffs before falling 2-1 to hometown Mount Royal of Calgary in a semifinal matchup.
Antulov and his charges will use 2020 to bond and find out who is deserving of taking to the pitch when points are up for grabs in 2021.
“The season is cancelled, which I don’t think anyone is happy about, but we discussed with John what we want to do,” said fourth-year standout defender Jan Pirretas Glasmacher, the first WolfPack player to be drafted into the Canadian Premier League. “Use it for our advantage, try to develop further and use it to get that edge over other universities.
“We don’t know what they’re going to do, but we’re going to continue working hard.”
Glasmacher is an example of a player who, during non-COVID times, would not be eligible to compete for the host Pack at the 2022 nationals.
He is technically in his fourth year in 2020, but U Sports athletes without national championships this season will not exhaust a year of eligibility.
Fourth-year defender Josh Banton, another key cog, will also have the option to hang around for the push for a national title on home soil.
There have been virus-related drawbacks.
Three former NCAA Division 2 athletes — Darupad Sharma, Trey Lamotte and Jost Hausendorf — planned to toil for TRU in 2020, but are not expected to be in Kamloops for the makeshift season.
Sharma, a 5-foot-7 forward from Toronto, is recovering from a knee injury and is planning to rehab at home.
Hausendorf, a 6-foot-5 striker from Ammersbek, Germany, and Lamotte, a 6-foot-2 striker/midfielder from Arima, Trinidad and Tobago, are aiming to reach the Tournament Capital in January, according to Antulov.
The trio played together at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
James Fraser, a potent striker from Penticton, is TRU’s only fifth-year player.
“A big chunk of this squad will be here for 2022, which will really help us out,” said Antulov, who led the WolfPack to national bronze in 2017, the last time TRU played host to the U Sports Men’s Soccer Championship.
“This is a perfect opportunity to really use this as a development year, to bring our young guys in, to understand what our culture is, so when we get into 2021, we hit the ground running.”
WHITECAPS ACADEMY KAMLOOPS
Antulov, whose professional soccer career included a stint with the Vancouver 86ers, runs Vancouver Whitecaps Academy Kamloops.
The soccer school, which has age groups that span from under-nine to under-18, is advertised as a step on the pathway to the B.C. Soccer Premier League, pro soccer, university scholarships and national team opportunities.
“In the last four years, we’ve had four players who have trained and gone to the Whitecaps' residency program,” said Antulov, who also uses the camps to scout for his WolfPack program and get the word out on talent to other university coaches.
“It’s one area I thought, for higher-level training, we didn’t necessarily have here. I want to have that opportunity to train the kids and, hopefully, give them an opportunity like I had many years ago.”
There are three phases — fall, winter and spring.
For more information, go online to whitecapsfcyouth.com/kamloops-academy.