The 2019 Western Canada Summer Games in Swift Current, Sask., are little more than a month away and the real preparation is starting to begin.

For the soccer teams, that means a southern trip to really get themselves into game shape.

The full compliment of girls and boys squads are in Ventura, California for a training camp that features a mixture of skills sessions and exhibition games against teams from the Los Angeles area. Both teams hit the ground running on June 30 after arriving the day before.

Gina Michel is the head coach for the girls outfit and said everything has been going according to plan to date.

“Our sessions have dealt with formations, positioning, defensive and offensive tactics so far,” she said on Wednesday. “We’ll begin moving into set plays near the end.”

Gina Michel, left, head coach of the Western Canada Summer Games girls soccer team, talks with her players during a break in the action in Ventura, California on Wednesday. The girls and boys teams are in California for a training camp, which wraps up on Monday.
photo courtesy of Don Stewart

The goalkeepers have been getting their own set of sessions separately from the team, she added.

“They’ve been training personally with guest coaches and once that’s done, we see if we’re able to incorporate what they’ve done into our team sessions,” she said.

Isaac Ayiku, the boys head coach, said everything so far has been more than he and the team could have asked for.

“Everyone here has been phenomenal,” he said on Wednesday. “The coaches here have helped set things up for us, they’ve been helping with our sessions and it’s been great. We couldn’t have asked for more and the weather has been co-operating, so that’s a big plus.”

For most of the boys, this is a new sort of experience, said Ayiku, but they’ve managed to adapt quickly and are coming along nicely.

“A lot of them haven’t played a lot of 11-a-side soccer on a full pitch,” he said. “Yellowknife does have a bit of that but now they’re actually playing it and everything changes. Strength and fitness are the biggest things because they’ve been playing indoors for eight months so everything doubles. It’s 11 moving parts in formation and it all has to be as perfect as possible.”

One of the changes Ayiku pointed out included the passing, which is longer because of the outdoor aspect.

“Indoors, you’re only passing 10 or 20 yards because it’s a smaller surface,” he said. “Outdoors, you have to be able to send it 30 or 40 yards so that’s where strength and fitness come in. You have to be able to do that all game long.”

It would appear the boys are doing alright in their exhibition games as evidenced by their result versus the Ventura Country Fusion on Tuesday in which they took them down, 7-1.

Ayiku said the Fusion dressed their B team for the contest and it was probably the last time they would see the B team.

“Their coach was on the phone quickly and I’m sure we’ll see their A team the next time we play them,” he said. “They don’t want to get humiliated again.”

The group draws for the Games are out and both teams will be playing the exact same teams: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon and Manitoba. Both teams will also be in action on the opening game and both teams will be playing Alberta.

Michel said there will be different strategies for each opponent.

“We know we’ll have to amp it up against Alberta,” she said. “We’ll play a defensive game and take our chances offensively when they come.”

The girls squad features plenty of players who were at the 2017 Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg and several of them surely haven’t forgotten the game against Yukon, where they were seemingly jobbed of a good result by some calls which didn’t go their way.

Michel said the past can’t be fixed but the coming game against Yukon is one the girls are pinpointing.

“That Canada Summer Games meeting is motivation, for sure,” she said. “The girls will be looking for a bit of revenge in that one.”

For the boys, Ayiku said the goal is improvement and showing they won’t be pushovers.

“We’ve been travelling to these sorts of events for a long time now and coming close just isn’t good enough anymore,” he said. “We need to get ourselves a good result to show how far we’ve come and to gauge how we’re doing with our development.”

James McCarthy

After being a nomad around North America following my semi-debauched post-secondary days, I put down my roots in Yellowknife in 2006. I’ve been keeping this sports seat warm with NNSL for the better...