LAC LA BICHE - The Alberta College Athletics Conference (ACAC) regular soccer season is kicking off this month. For the Portage College Voyageurs men’s and women’s teams, there is much to look forward to, especially after a previously short season due to COVID-19 in 2021 and a cancelled season in 2020, said Kika Mukuninwa, the team’s head coach.
“We lost the whole year and this past season we had a condensed season where we typically play 12 games but we only played six. On our way back to a full 12-game season, everybody’s excited, everybody's energized and they want to get back to playing as much soccer as possible over these next couple of months.”
Considering the short and unusual seasons that saw both the men's and women team’s come in last place, the energy, motivation and redemption for the Voyageurs is high, said Mukuninwa.
“Last year, both teams finished bottom of the table and now we're looking to move up and improve,” he says. The coach will have support from assistant coach and team manager Glenda Bouvier.
During last season's winter indoor five-on-five futsal soccer season, the men's team was just shy of winning a provincial bronze medal during the championships. They finished 4-5 against the Lethbridge College Kodiaks at the tournament hosted by King’s University in Edmonton, last March.
“The success that we found in futsal is even more motivation to continue that trend and to really kick on, and do better this year as well.”
The Voyagers’ soccer teams will be hosting the season-opening games on Sept. 9 on the artificial turf field at the Bold Center grounds against the Concordia University Thunder. The teams will be competing in the north division until the end of October when playoffs begin shortly after, said Mukuninwa.
The top two teams in each of the north and south divisions will go to playoffs after the 12-game regular season, he explained.
Included in the north ACAC division alongside the Voyageurs and the Thunder are the Keyano Huskies, the NAIT Ooks, the Northwestern Polytechnic (NWP) Wolves, the Lakeland Rustlers and Kings University’s Eagles.
“The hope is definitely to make the playoffs, become the winners of the provincial playoffs then go to nationals,” which includes one team from each provincial district competing for the ultimate title in the late fall.
“That's always the ultimate goal, and to also see how far we can play and keep the season going.”
The ACAC hosted exhibition matches for the collegiate teams in August, an opportunity that got the Voyageurs rolling before the official start this month.
“We had a three-game exhibition season,” playing an away game in Edmonton, and against local area teams from Cold Lake at home, he explained. While it was good pre-season practice for the mixture of veteran and rookie athletes, the focus is on working as a team and doing their best moving forward, he said.
“This year, we had the most returning players that we've ever had. We have around six or seven returning players on both teams,” an opportunity, he says, includes some of the best soccer athletes the college has ever had since both coaches were hired by Portage in 2019.
“Over the last few years we’ve been with the team, we’ve seen a lot of changes from the quality of the students, athletes, and also to the facilities that we play at. We started off at Aurora Middle School [in Lac La Biche] and now we're training and playing at the artificial turf at the Bold Center.”
Looking for support from the local community to participate and cheer the Lakeland region’s college athletes, many opportunities will be available this fall to watch the action—beginning on Friday, said Mukuninwa
“The women play at 4 p.m. and the men play at 6 p.m. on Sept. 9. We’ll have at least another six home games, so it would be nice to get as much local support out there to support the Voyageurs.”