It's crunch time for the Dinos men's soccer team. And not just because the grass is getting frosty.
There are many more tired sports metaphors you can throw out there for the last few games of the year (though none with the nuance of a weather reference). Gut check time. Home stretch. Regardless of what you call it, the Dinos need to take away some points from their next four games, all at home, if they want to make the playoffs. Currently, they sit two points back of the University of Victoria Vikes for the fourth and final playoff spot in Canada West, and they hold a game in hand. And the Vikes are coming to town Sunday.
Though last season's squad finished 11 points from a playoff spot, Dinos head coach Ken Price isn't surprised of how close they are this year.
"It was our goal and our belief that we could be competitive every weekend, every game," says Price. "If we did that, and got some victories we thought we might, we would be in this position."
Obviously the Vikes game looms large on the schedule, but they aren't the Dinos only opponent this weekend. The University of the Fraser Valley Cascades come to town Saturday, and the Dinos can't afford to overlook them. The Vikes start the weekend at the University of Lethbridge and could increase the spread between the two teams to five if the Dinos are caught napping against the Cascades. "We need to stay within striking distance so that that game against them on Sunday will mean that much more," Price says.
The Dinos extended home stand comes after they compiled a 4-4-2 record while playing seven of their first 10 games on the road, including back-to-back weekends in B.C. to open the season. They won two of their three home games so far, and lost the other by a 1-0 score.
"It's funny, when we were in Saskatchewan and we won 3-1 with a convincing performance, some guys thought that perhaps we played better on the road," says Price. "But I expressed to them that it doesn't matter where we are. . . . We can perform no matter where, it's just a question of doing the same things and believing in ourselves that we have the caliber of team that can create the opportunities . . . and put those chances away. If we do that, we will be victorious."
For a team that would have been demoted to club status had they not raised their own funds, the Dinos success is even more striking. In April, Dinos Athletics announced that they would no longer be funding the men's soccer and field hockey programs. Both teams managed to fundraise and secure support from alumni and will continue to compete at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level.
"We know that . . . the reasons for the funding cuts are multifaceted, some are to do with the legacy of our alumni and how it hasn't really been there," says Price. "Some has to do with the fact that we just haven't had a performance or season of performances to warrant [athletic director] Kevin [Boyles] to think twice."
The team has only once won a conference title, in 1980, and has never won a national championship.
"We are building alumni support and we are doing the fundraising things that we think are going to be positive for us moving forward," Price continues. "Instead of having to fight to make the program survive, we want to hopefully be in a position where we're being victorious and having a winning team will get us some funding back in the future. And then that way we can also put money towards scholarships and other things that might attract the caliber of players that might be the difference between making the playoffs and winning nationals."
For Price, who took on the head coaching job as a volunteer to help save the program money, it's been a challenging season for him and his family as he works to balance a full-time job and his coaching responsibilities. But he says he remains committed and focused on success for this season.
"I made the commitment, many, many months ago before the season started and I'm committed 100 per cent throughout the season," he says. "After the season, I will re-evaluate where we are in terms of my personal life and re-evaluate where we are from a club standpoint because, can I do this every year as a volunteer? Unlikely. There has to be some other aspects that are addressed. None of that is of relevance right now. . . . Right now we focus on the team and winning and hopefully being successful."