For the first time, the SFU Red Leafs men’s and women’s soccer teams have both qualified for their NCAA Div. II national championship tournaments.
Coach Clint Schneider’s SFU men (11-4-2) are the No. 7 seeds for Super Region 4 and kick off proceedings in their 40-team tournament Thursday by facing the No. 10 Point Loma Nazarene Sea Wolves (12-4-2) of San Diego at Cal State Los Angeles.
The winner of that match takes on the bracket host and No. 2 Cal State LA Golden Eagles (16-1-2) on Saturday.
Meanwhile, interim coach Carlo Basso’s SFU women (8-5-5) are No. 6 seeds for the West Regional and, as it happens, will face No. 3 Cal State LA (9-2-8) in Thursday’s opener at Seattle Pacific. The winner meets the bracket host and No. 2 Seattle Pacific Falcons (12-3-5) Saturday as the 56-team competition continues.
SFU moved its athletic program to NCAA Div. II in 2010, with the soccer teams shifting over from the small-college NAIA. This is the sixth trip to the national tournament for the SFU men since then. They lost in the semifinals in both 2012 and 2013.
This is the first trip to the NCAA nationals for the women. They were in the news for reasons off the pitch in the off-season.
Basso, who had been an assistant to bench boss Annie Hamel, was named as interim head coach in August. Hamel, who been at the SFU helm since 2014, was no longer listed as head coach on the team website at that time.
SFU wouldn’t discuss Hamel’s status, with director of media relations and public affairs Braden McMillan explaining via email that “due to privacy considerations, I can’t comment on employment matters.”
A May email from McMillan stated that SFU had hired North Vancouver lawyer Sarah Chamberlain, who specializes in workplace conflicts, to look into issues with the women’s soccer program before adding that “the university takes complaints of bullying and harassment very seriously.”
Hamel was never mentioned directly in the email. She wasn’t mentioned either when then athletic director Theresa Hanson explained in a March email that “we are aware of concerns raised by members of the SFU women’s soccer team,” that the athletic department was conducting an investigation, and that the “team will be under the direction of other members of athletics staff while we work to understand more.”
SFU and Hanson agreed to part ways in August and a replacement has yet to be named.
Basso’s team, who have 10 freshmen listed on their 26-player roster, started the season 2-2-2 and had a 1-3-2 stretch midway through the season.
They got a goal in the 81st minute from sophomore forward Raegan MacKenzie on Saturday and beat the Western Washington Vikings 2-1 in Ellensburg, Wash., to claim Greater Northwest Athletic title. It was SFU’s first win over Western Washington since Sept, 17, 2005.
“I’m so proud of the group,” Basso told media after the game.
“And then to finish off the game the way we did, I thought we handled and coped the last 10 minutes so tremendously well. So I’m proud of the group and just really can’t say enough kind words about Western (Washington) and what they’ve done, in creating their tradition. And especially our group, we’re a program that wants to be elite. We’re a program that wants to grow. And today we made a huge statement by winning our first conference title.”
Schneider’s team won its GNAC title Saturday with a 5-1 rout of the Northwest Nazarene Nighthawks at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex.
On Tuesday, SFU senior forward Devin O’Hea was named GNAC player of they year. He is the ninth player from SFU to win the honour overall.
Senior defender Niko Papakryriakopoulos was picked defensive player of the year and freshman forward Michael Hennessy was named freshman of the year.
“I’m very happy for my guys who have been recognized by my peers in the conference,” Schneider said. “Every one of them is deserving.”
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