As unpopular as the TRU WolfPack women's soccer team appears to be around the Pacific Western Athletic Association, it hopes to be even more so by the end of October.
TRU will begin its final season in the Pacific Western conference on Saturday, 1 p.m., against the Capilano Blues at Hillside Stadium. The WolfPack is set to move into the CIS, Canada's top university league, in 2014.
In winning the past two conference titles, the WolfPack hasn't made many friends around the province. But it goes a little further than the "big target" on the WolfPack's back, head coach Tom McManus said.
"One of our girls (Rebecca Williams) transferred in from (Vancouver Island University), and I said, 'What does VIU think of us?' " said McManus, the conference coach of the year in 2011 and 2012. "She said, 'They don't think you should be there (the CIS).'
"Then a girl who played in Kelowna during the summer (Vanessa Zilkie), I asked, 'What does UBC-Okanagan think?' She says, 'Oh, they want to take us down big-time.'
"There you go - we have to work hard to make sure that doesn't happen."
For veterans Alanna Bekkering and Bronwyn Crawford, both midfielders out of South Kamloops, it's nothing new.
"We kind of laugh about it," Crawford said. "Teams like UBC-O, they've always hated us so much. We don't sit there and trash talk. . . . I think they don't like us because - well, we've beat them and they don't like that. But we've always been an aggressive team and they think we're dirty."
"I think (Crawford) and I are (UBC-O's) No. 1 rivals," Bekkering added. "Both teams are rivals . . . it's pretty funny, it's been like that since we've been 10 years old (with) Kelowna."
The WolfPack isn't planning to take this year lightly, as it plays a 14-game regular season before the conference playoff tournament, scheduled for Oct. 26-27 in Nanaimo. If TRU wins provincials, the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association championship is scheduled for Nov. 6-9 in Surrey.
From the onset, TRU, which went 10-2-2 last season, looks even stronger than it did in 2012.
While TRU did lose Blair MacKay, an All-Canadian, and the always solid sisters, Abbey and Chloe McAuley, the WolfPack added Williams and Nadine Netelenbos, a transfer from New Mexico Highlands University, to shore up the midfield.
Not that it needed much help, with Crawford, Bekkering, Kelsey Martin and Marlie Rittinger already in the mix at midfield.
"We have Alanna, an All-Canadian, on our wing - she's a strength for this team," Crawford said. "And Marlie, she's one of the best players I've ever played with. I enjoy playing in the middle with her so much."
Emily Edmundson, the backstop behind the last two provincial titles, is back at 'keeper for the WolfPack, with Vanessa Zilkie, Madison Wells, Olivia Rasmussen and rookie Jodi Hutton holding down the back line. Up front, Courtney Daly, Jaydene Radu and Katie Sparrow will help out on an attack that essentially runs through Bekkering, the reigning provincial player of the year.
To sum it up, TRU doesn't look half bad.
"If we do what we can do, then we'll be OK," McManus said. "That's what it's going to come down to. These girls know what it takes to get (to nationals)."
Of course, the WolfPack isn't stupid, either, and hasn't started booking hotel rooms in Surrey for November. Many great teams on paper have struggled when it comes down to actually playing the game. Some of them are so confident that it hurts them.
"That's the one thing I always say: 'Be confident, but don't be cocky,' " Bekkering said. "Go game-by-game, because you never know what's going to happen."
FREE KICKS: TRU also is scheduled to play VIU on Sunday, noon, at Hillside Stadium. . . . Of the 28 players on the WolfPack roster (including red-shirts), 14 are from Kamloops, with Rittinger, from Ashcroft, a product of the Kamloops Youth Soccer Association. . . . M Kindra Maricle is out for the season with a knee injury. . . . TRU is carrying three goalkeepers this season - Edmundson, Jamie Wheeler and Shalayna Isakson. . . . Danilo Caron is back as 'keepers coach for the WolfPack, with former player Natasha Little, who is on a CCAA female mentorship program, serving as associate coach. . . . Over the past 13 seasons, the WolfPack has won four provincial gold medals, five silver medals and two bronze. TRU also has won four CCAA silver medals, and has finished fourth in the nation in each of the past two seasons.