The start of the TRU WolfPack men's soccer team's training camp isn't really a start at all - it's more of a continuation.
The WolfPack officially opened camp Friday night with fitness testing at Hillside Stadium, and won't waste any time opening the preseason, with a game scheduled for today, 3:30 p.m., against the Fraser Valley Cascades at Exhibition Park. TRU will open the Pacific Western Athletic Association regular season on Sept. 7 against the visiting Capilano Blues.
The start of training camp is usually an exciting time for an athlete, regardless of the sport. But the WolfPack has been working all summer toward this, with most of its players suiting up for the Pacific Coast League's Kamloops Heat.
That's why some were treating Friday's testing like any old practice.
"Being able to keep the guys together all summer was good, and hopefully we can just continue to build from there," said WolfPack co-coach John Antulov, who works alongside Sean Wallace. "It's good because most of the guys are ready to go."
The conference season isn't very long, with 14 games spread over two months. Because only four teams make the playoffs, there isn't a lot of room for error.
With that in mind, Antulov and Wallace had the players working all summer with the Heat, which finished fourth in the PCSL's Premier Division. The goal was to have the players prepared for the start of the season.
"We have a few new players coming in, but this is basically a continuation," said third-year defender Corey Wallis. "We're trying to build off . . . a really productive summer."
The Heat's season ended in July, and the team was back on the field to finish second in the competitive division at the Kamloops Invitational Soccer Tournament on August-long weekend.
After two weeks away and only three weeks before the regular season, the WolfPack has a busy schedule ahead.
It will practise three times next week, before an exhibition game with the UBC Thunderbirds in Vancouver on Saturday. More practices the following week will run into exhibition games in Prince George against the UNBC Timberwolves on Aug. 30 and 31.
Although there are around 30 players out with the WolfPack, the coaches know what they have - most of these players have been together for years.
"We're confident with the guys we have," Antulov said. "The familiarity, with all the players having been together for a few years, that means a lot. You can have all the talent in the world but if the guys don't work together and they don't get along, you won't go very far."
The WolfPack only lost four players off the team that took provincial bronze last season - Justin Smeaton graduated, Colton Walker and Peter Loncar haven't returned, and Austin Schneebeli is out long-term with a knee injury.
Adding to the strong crop of returning players are midfielder Justin Wallace and Braeden Burrows, who are back with TRU.
Wallace, the conference rookie of the year in 2010, left the WolfPack to play with the Simon Fraser Clan in 2011 and 2012. Sean's oldest son, Justin was the NCAA Division II conference newcomer of the year in 2011 and helped SFU into the NCAA Division II final in 2012.
Burrows, a 2011 conference all-star, missed 2012 with a knee injury, but can play either defence or midfield, both of which look to be strengths for TRU.
"It's going to be a very good year for us," Wallis said. "With Justin Wallace back, that's huge.
"We're taking the core group from this summer, and taking it into the (conference) season. That's really going to help."
This will be the WolfPack's last season in the Pacific Western conference, a college league based in B.C. TRU is moving into the CIS's Canada West conference in 2014, jumping to Canada's top league.
Wallis feels TRU might have something to prove to the rest of the CIS.
"This will be a good stepping-stone for us into the CIS," said the Enderby native. "We want to get our name out there - not a lot of the CIS teams know of the (Pacific Western) universities that play soccer.
"Winning a championship will give notice to the rest of the CIS schools that we can compete."