TWU soccer: From humble beginnings, Spartans men, women hold dual No. 1 spots in CIS rankings

TWU soccer: From humble beginnings, Spartans men, women hold dual No. 1 spots in CIS rankings

By Howard Tsumura
The Vancouver Province

-- Back in the mid-1980s, Langley's Trinity Western Spartans envisioned a day when they would be one of the top soccer programs in the country.

The only problem was, when it rained, their field flooded so badly that you actually paddle a canoe through the 18-yard box.

"And on game days, there would be ducks in the puddles," remembers Neil Turner, a current TWU women's assistant coach who has both played and coached with the Spartans men's program.

As the story goes, Trinity Western was paid a sum to be a dumping point for a mountain of clay that was being removed as part of construction on adjacent Highway No. 1. For some reason, the field was built on that clay and it offered virtually no drainage capabilities.

The Spartans have been playing on a state-of-the-art pitch since entering top-tiered Canadian Interuniversity Sport for the 2001-02 soccer season, and on Tuesday when the school discovered its men's and women's teams were ranked No. 1 simultaneously for the first time in school history, the comic follies of the past seemed especially meaningful for longtime athletic director Murray Hall.

"The old soccer field was in the middle of the school where there are now buildings," remembers Hall, who has been the school's AD for 21 years. "And it would be under so much water that literally, for a free kick, they have to find a spot of grass to set the ball on to kick it. Horrendous."

Yet it's a point of perspective that truly shows how the fourth-smallest school in the entire 52-member CIS has, over nine years of membership, grown into a power that last season sent both of its teams to their respective CIS national championship finals.

The defending CIS champion women's team has won two national titles and takes a perfect 4-0-0 record into road tilts Saturday at Regina (1-5-0) and Sunday at Manitoba (5-1-0). The men (4-0-2), who have two second-place finishes at nationals, play host to arch-rival UBC (4-2-0) on Friday (7:15 p.m.).

"We were such a neophyte program in the old days, no one knew a thing about us," says first-year men's head coach Pat Rohla, the first TWU women's coach (1996-98) and a longtime women's assistant who credits former men's head coach Al Alderson as an architect of the program. "But as far back as I can remember, we had a vision that we didn't want to just be a good team in the BCCAA, we wanted to be the best team in the CIS. And beyond that we wanted to be one of the best teams in North America. From way back we have shot for the stars, and even after we beat (former No. 3-ranked) Victoria on Sunday, I said we can be pleased but not satisfied, because once you're satisfied you might as well just cash it in."

Graham Roxburgh, the latter TWU's women's head coach over its entire CIS tenure, is passionate in his belief that creating the best atmosphere possible for the student-athlete is what has allowed his program to often times out-recruit schools 10 times its size.

"The word is 'intentional'," says Roxburgh. "We are intentionally recruiting the right people and the right players while taking an approach to build a person beyond whether they are a successful athlete or not."

Adds Rohla, whose team will host this year's CIS championship tournament: "Early on, it was the David and Goliath thing. You like being the underdog and you want to go after the big dogs, so you put your chin out and you lock arms with your teammates. Now, we are trying desperately to make sure our guys understand the genealogy of this program. So in our culture meetings, we have former players report back to us on what it was like to be a Spartan back in the day."

In large part, it's remembering the old field, the floods and ducks and appreciating as part of a CIS season that also sees TWU's men's and women's basketball and volleyball teams move their games off campus into the shiny, new 2,200-seat Langley Events Centre.

Where Langley's Trinity Western University sits in terms of student size among the 52 member schools that comprise Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS):
1. Bishops 1,850
2. Mt. Allison 2,250
3. St. Thomas 2,477
4. Trinity Western 2,664
5. Acadia 3,000

How TWU stacks up against B.C.'s five other CIS schools:
1. UBC 40,000*
2. Simon Fraser 25,009**
3. Victoria 18,906*
4. Fraser Valley 10,000*
5. Thompson Rivers 9,683***
4. Trinity Western 2,664*
*CIS soccer member
**NAIA soccer member
***BCCAA soccer member
(Source: CIS)

Last Updated: 2009-10-06
Author: Howard Tsumura