TORONTO (U Sports) – The tournament host and top-seeded Guelph Gryphons head into the 2016 CIS men's soccer championship in search of their first Sam Davidson Memorial Trophy in program history.
The eight-team tournament, hosted by the Gryphons for the first time since 1992 and the third time overall, concludes next Sunday at Alumni Stadium with the gold-medal final set for 2 p.m. All 11 games from the competition will be webcast live on SportsCanada.TV.
Rounding out the 2016 draw are the second-seeded Cape Breton Capers (AUS champions), No. 3 Alberta Golden Bears (Canada West champs), No. 4 UQAM Citadins (RSEQ champs), No. 5, UBC Thunderbirds (Canada West finalists), No. 6 York Lions (OUA finalists), No. 7 Toronto Varsity Blues (OUA bronze medallists) and No. 8 Acadia Axemen (AUS finalists).
Thursday's quarter-final matchups include Alberta vs. York at 11 a.m., Cape Breton vs. Toronto at 1:30 p.m., UQAM vs. UBC at 4 p.m., and Guelph vs. Acadia at 7 p.m.
UBC (13), York (5), Alberta (4), and Toronto (1) have also hoisted the Sam Davidson Trophy in the past.
The Gryphons received the top seed after capturing their first OUA title since 1990 on Sunday, dethroning the three-time defending conference champion York Lions via a 3-1 score. No. 6 York, who has won the last two national championships including last season on home turf, swept both regular season matches with Guelph, outscoring the Gryphons 6-3. The Lions will be looking to become the first school to win three consecutive U Sports titles since UBC had four in row from 1989 to 1992.
"To play in this championship at home, in front of family and friends is a privilege and promises to be a great atmosphere for our hometown fans," said Keith Mason who has been at the helm of the Guelph Gryphons since 2000. "I'm really proud of our group and what we have done so far. Winning the OUA title was our first goal this season, and now we are an even more motivated and determined group looking to try and bring home our school's first national title."
"We are preparing for this championship the way we do for every game, by focusing only on what we have to do to beat our next opponent," said Lions head coach Carmine Isacco about the Lions defending the national title. "The best eight teams are here this week and we have a challenging first round match-up, but by the time you get to nationals every opponent is tough. We need to play the way I know we are capable of and if we do that, hopefully we can be there again on Sunday."
No. 7 Toronto claimed the final OUA berth at the national championship thanks to a bronze medal victory over Ryerson on Sunday. At the OUA final four, the Varsity Blues, who finished second in the east division to their cross-town rivals at 12-2-2, fell to eventual silver medallist York 1-0 before eliminating the Rams with a 2-1 win in the third-place match.
"We are both honoured and excited to represent the OUA East at the upcoming national championship tournament," said Varsity Blues head coach Anthony Capotosto. "We look forward to this special experience to compete among the best teams in the country."
A year after losing the conference championship, No. 2 Cape Breton redeemed themselves this season, earning their first AUS banner since 2012 with a 3-1 win over No. 8 Acadia. The Capers had previously fallen to the Axmen 2-0 in their long regular season matchup on Oct. 23. Acadia, meanwhile, rode a 9-1-2 record to finish in top spot, and claim their first appearance at the national tournament since 1996.
"It has been a privilege to see so many new faces join our program and gel so well together in just two months," said Capers head coach Deano Morley. "I know we are playing great football at the moment and the players played with heart, passion and commitment to win our program's fourth Championship title. We are happy to be back at the elite national stage again and well prepared to compete for national Medals."
"Our team has been very focused all season on winning an AUS championship, however the disappointment in Sunday's loss to a very good Caper squad has been put aside and we hope to represent our conference well at this weekend's CIS Championship," Acadia head coach Findlay MacRae. "Our team responds well to challenges and playing the number one seed and host team is just that."
Another new champion was crowned this season as No.3 Alberta claimed their first Canada West title since 2011 over perennial powerhouse No.5 UBC – an exciting 2-1 match that was decided by penalty kicks. It was the first meeting between the closely-matched sides since playing to a scoreless draw on Sept. 16. UBC, however, knows a thing or two about winning at the national championship. The Thunderbirds hold the all-time record with 13 Davidson Trophy titles – eight more than any other program – in 18 previous appearances at the tournament, including back-to-back triumphs in 2012 and 2013. The T-Birds' all-time winning percentage at the competition is a ridiculous .883 (41-5-1).
"I am really proud of how far this group of players have come and the growing camaraderie and cohesion within the squad," said UBC head coach Mike Mosher. "With many new players in the squad, they have embraced the culture and identity of our program where the bar is set high and this group is looking to live up to those successful teams that preceded them.
We look forward to a very competitive tournament in Guelph as the field looks as strong as ever with pretty much all the top teams from each conference having earned their way into the tournament."
"We are looking forward to the game against the defending national champion York Lions," said Alberta head coach Len Vickery. "The Lions have been a perennial powerhouse in recent years and we are hoping that our recent playoff performances against quality Canada West opposition (UBCO, Trinity Western and UBC) have prepared us for this challenge."
In the RSEQ, No. 4 UQAM won its third consecutive championship, dispatching Montreal 2-0 in extra time in the semifinals before securing the conference's lone berth with a 2-1 win over UQTR. The Citadins will be looking to improve on back to back fourth-place finishes at the CIS championship after a challenging season on the pitch.
"Contrary to last year, we faced a lot of adversity this season – key players departures, injuries, suspensions," said Citadins head coach Christophe Dutarte. « Adversity cemented our group and made us more resilient. We are used to resist other teams' offensive pressure. The experience we gained from the previous two CIS Championships can also play in our favour."