The University of Alberta Pandas soccer team will sport a crop of new faces when they hit the pitch for the first time this season, as they host the Calgary Dinos and Lethbridge Pronghorns in the season opening weekend, Saturday and Sunday at Foote Field.
The Pandas will host Calgary at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, before hosting Lethbridge at the same time the next day. Both games are free of charge to the public, and will also be streamed live on the revamped Canada West TV.
While the Pandas only graduated one student-athlete from last year’s playoff team (Captain Fallon Dickie), there will be a large number of new athletes joining the team this season. Head coach Liz Jepsen has brought in one of the strongest recruiting classes in program history, lengthening an already deep and loaded lineup.
Highlighting the recruiting class are first-year Pandas Megan Duro, Brooke and Cara Lang, and Lauren Murphy, all of whom participated for Team Alberta in the 2017 Canada Summer Games this past August. Both Lang sisters are poised to see significant playing time in the Pandas backfield this season, while both Duro (Midfield) and Murphy (Defence) have seen the pitch a considerable amount this pre-season.
The influx of youth and talent will join an already experienced team, including 2016 Canada West all-stars Jamie Pasemko and Sydney Dianes, as well as returning starters Anna and Kate Dunn, Karissa McNutt and Aly Parth. Pasemko will be counted upon to be the leader both on and off the field for the Pandas, and is coming off a career-best season for the Pandas.
Offensively, the Alberta will once again rely on Daines, who led the Pandas with seven goals and 12 points last season. The dual-sport athlete was also tremendous in the stretch run for Alberta, scoring five of her seven goals in the final four matches of the season.
Despite the optimism surrounding this year’s team, the road to the Pandas first conference title since 2013 won’t get off to an easy start. The Pandas host a Dino team who narrowly edged them in the Canada West pre-season coaches poll, and are coming off an impressive 9-1-4 season. The Pandas, who finished 8-4-2 in 2016, are also favoured among coaches to make a run at the conference title, being ranked fourth. Both Calgary and Alberta were eliminated in the first round last season.
Lethbridge, meanwhile, is coming off a hard-fought 3-9-2 record a year ago, and are projected to finish with a similar win-loss record this season.