The greatest epics sometimes have the most heartbreaking endings. For SFU men’s soccer, the 2016 season was a fairytale. SFU was the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) champion, coming off a record of 14 wins. The Clan also had a total of five student athletes featured on the 2016 All-West Region Team.
Though the Clan easily secured a spot in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) playoffs, the odds of winning on penalty kicks are never exact. In their first playoff game against Cal Poly Pomona, the two teams remained scoreless until the end of regular time. Unfortunately for the Clan, their triumphant season came to an end on penalty kicks, despite goalkeeper Brandon Watson making two saves. Cal Poly Pomona was the Division II finalist during the 2015 season.
“We were disappointed that we didn’t achieve our ultimate goal,” reflected head coach Clint Schneider. “We had a really great season; we’re starting to rack up some individual [awards]. We’re able to receive recognition for that and also as a group, to have the guys say that without the other players on the team, they wouldn’t be able to achieve those kinds of things. It was a very special year. I’ve had the chance to reflect on it and I’m sure [the] players have as well. To do what we’ve done was pretty cool.”
Schneider, who was previously involved with the team as the associate head coach, has now been at the helm of the Clan for two seasons. Schneider has built the team into one of the most threatening line-ups in the NCAA Division II.
“I just tried to express for myself, and probably what the players were feeling too. We were all pretty heartbroken about it. It was a difficult way to end the season. It was difficult for our seniors to have that for their last game. I tried to express how much it meant to me that they put in the effort during the year, how much I cared, how much I appreciated everything and thank them. Regardless of that result, it was still very special.”
Though the Clan was prematurely out of the race for the NCAA Division II title, Schneider and his players are already looking forward to building on this season and coming back with an even better line-up. Simon Fraser will be playing without senior defenders Anthony Van de Vendel and Andre Pietramala, goalkeeper Watson, midfielder Ryan Dhillon, and defender Robert Hyams. “All those guys were very impactful. Every one of those players will be difficult to replace. They were part of creating a positive culture in our change room,” said Schneider.
“We were disappointed that we didn’t achieve our ultimate goal”
The Clan can count on magicians Mamadi Camara, Riley Pang, and Magnus Kristensen on the pitch to show what the beautiful game is about. Adam Jones, who was named GNAC Player of the Year, will be returning once again.
Could the narrative be different for the upcoming season? SFU men’s soccer has completed one of the most remarkable transitions into the NCAA, along with other successful programs in SFU’s athletics department.
“It can’t just be for men’s soccer to meet those goals. The great thing is that there are other programs in our athletics department that are on their way up and are close to achieving that. The women’s volleyball team have a good ranking. Women’s basketball can have an opportunity. Cross country and track and field are always around that conversation.”
However, the men’s soccer team has experienced some challenges in addition to their successes: namely, not being able to host games at home.
“The more of our teams achieving things, the bigger the argument we have as the only Canadian institution to be treated equally as the US institutions. Until that’s done, I think it’s a shame and it’s totally against what the NCAA stands for [such as] equity. I don’t think it’s fair for athletes.”
While the issue of hosting NCAA playoffs games in Canada has been a recurrent battle for Simon Fraser — often being isolated as the only Canadian institution — the Clan’s men’s soccer team can remember that they will never walk alone at Terry Fox Field.