If the TRU WolfPack is going to win the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association women's soccer championship, it's going to have to do it on little rest and tired legs.
The WolfPack was to arrive this morning in Charlottetown, where it will be one of eight teams competing at the CCAA championship. TRU will open against the Quebec wild-card Ahuntsic Indiennes on Wednesday morning.
The WolfPack is the tournament's No. 3 seed, so should be favoured over the sixth-ranked Indiennes. But national geography and some not-so-favourable scheduling have TRU facing a tough challenge in the opening round.
TRU's game is scheduled to start at 10 a.m., Atlantic time. That means that the WolfPack, the lone B.C. entry in the championship, will be kicking off at 6 o'clock Pacific time.
As if that isn't enough, the WolfPack won't have had much time to adjust to the time change and a long cross-country trip. TRU left Kamloops on Monday at 7 a.m., and was to arrive in Charlottetown today at around 3:30 a.m., Atlantic time.
That's a long trip, and a quick turnaround.
"(Today's) going to be a long day and the girls are going to be exhausted," said WolfPack head coach Tom McManus after his team's final practice, on Saturday. "It's not going to be a picnic, and we know that going in.
"Everybody's excited though, and ready to go."
TRU's opening game originally was scheduled to be played Wednesday at 3 p.m. Organizers changed it, despite McManus's protests, after the host Holland Hurricanes elected to play the late game, scheduled to start at 5 p.m.
Even then, McManus saw no logic in putting the B.C. champion in the early game. He also got no reason from the schedule-makers.
"I've got to be honest - I'm not happy about it," McManus said. "I think it's wrong that the furthest-away province has to play first. It's ridiculous."
The CCAA championship will be an eight-team bracket tournament. If TRU manages to win its opener, it will face either the Alberta-champion NAIT Ooks or the Atlantic-champion MSVU Mystics in a semifinal. The championship final is scheduled for Sunday.
As much as McManus isn't pleased with the schedule, he's looking forward to taking on the Indiennes, who beat TRU in the bronze-medal match at last year's CCAA championship in Quebec City.
"After we played them last year . . . it was in my mind that I would love to play them again," McManus said. "They're a good team. They move the ball quickly, similar to what we do, and play a possession-style soccer. I think it will be a good matchup."
Soccer has taken McManus all over the world and, before today, all but one corner of Canada. McManus said he had been to every province and territory in the Dominion except for one - Prince Edward Island.
He's there now, but he certainly isn't there to take pictures, and neither are his players.
Last season, he admits, the WolfPack women went to nationals with little in the way of expectations. There will no such problems at this year's CCAA championship, McManus says.
"The girls were just happy to be (in Quebec City) - most of them hadn't been there before . . . and that took away the focus," he said. "I've been talking with them all week and the focus is playing in this national championship and the (Indiennes)."
The WolfPack may also be in better shape with top defender Blair MacKay healthy this season. The fifth-year South Kam grad missed last year's national tournament because of a broken nose.
There will be no change in style for TRU, even though the stakes are much higher now.
"I'm expecting us to play the way we've played all season," McManus said. "This is how I've wanted us to play since I took over (before the 2009 season).
"I expect the girls to be always moving - if the ball's not with you, to be moving anyway."
FREE KICKS: The WolfPack will be taking 21 players, two coaches (McManus and Andy Gelowitz), athletic therapist Kevin Brechin and sports information officer Larry Read. . . . Although there was some worry that the weather would be ugly in Charlottetown, the long-term forecast on www.theweathernetwork.com has the temperatures getting as high as 12 C, and no lower than -1 C, with some rain to come down Wednesday. . . . When asked, McManus said the worst weather in which to play soccer was "snow. Snow and wind." . . . The defending-champion FX Garneau Elans are ranked No. 1. They will play the eighth-ranked Hurricanes on Wednesday. The other quarterfinal will have the Ontario-champion Humber Hawks, who are ranked fourth, playing the No. 5 Concordia Thunder, a wild-card team from Alberta.