Sports

Varsity teams release schedules for 2015-2016 seasons

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Hockey

Both the Bears and Pandas hockey teams open their seasons on the road, with the Bears opening against the Lethbridge Pronghorns and the Pandas against the Manitoba Bisons, the very same team they eliminated from the Canada West championship series last year. For the Bears, the 2015-2016 season marks their quest for a third straight CIS Championship, and it’s a quest they will have to start in hostile territory, as seven of their first eight regular season games on the road. The Bears don’t play their first game on home ice until Oct. 23, as they take on inter province rivals, the Mount Royal Cougars. The Bears will look for a measure of revenge when they take on Calgary in a home-and-home series Nov. 13 and 14, as Calgary handed them their only set of consecutive losses during the regular season last year.

The Pandas meanwhile, have to wait less than a week before their home opener, against Lethbridge on Oct. 9. Like the Bears, the Pandas are defending some hardware this season, as they look to retain their Canada West crown from last season. While the Pandas got off to a strong 7-3 start last year, they really hit their stride in late November, winning 11 of their last 13 games to finish the year atop Canada West with a 20-8 record. If last year’s record holds true, then the plethora of home games to start the year may not actually favour the Pandas, as they went a rather pedestrian 9-5 at home, compared to 11-3 on the road.

Basketball

The quest for a CIS basketball championship returns on Nov. 6, as the men’s and women’s basketball teams will both start off their seasons facing the UBC Thunderbirds in Vancouver. The following week, on Nov. 13, the University of Winnipeg Wesmen will come to Edmonton for the Pandas’ and Golden Bears’ respective home openers. The Golden Bears, which concluded their 2014-15 season with a Can West quarterfinal loss, will get a chance to exact revenge on last season’s playoff loss to the University of Victoria on Jan. 15, as the Vikes come to Edmonton for the only matchup of the season.

Meanwhile, the Pandas will have to wait until Feb. 12, the second last weekend of the season, to avenge their 2015 CIS Final 8 loss to the Saskatchewan Huskies. This year’s battle of Alberta rivalry will come in two parts, as the Bears and Pandas will travel to Calgary on Dec. 6 to face the Dinos, while the second game between the schools will take place back in Edmonton on the final game of the regular season on Feb. 20 (which will also presumably be Senior Day for both UAlberta teams).

However, if that isn’t enough intra-Alberta animosity for you, the Bears and Pandas will also duel the only other Albertan school to make the Canada West Pioneer division (sorry, Grant Macewan), the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns on Jan. 29 and 30 in Lethbridge. As always, all home games are in the Saville Community Sports Centre, and attendance is free of charge for those with a valid OneCard.

Volleyball

As the two-time defending Canada West and CIS champion Volley Bears look forward to the next season, there is a very large target on their backs. Their schedule, however, becomes much more difficult during the latter half of the season. Look for their matchups against longtime rivals Trinity Western and UBC as yardsticks for their performance. Not many Canada West teams will be able to truly challenge the Bears skill-for-skill, which leaves the coaching staff with the complex task of weaning out steady performances against less talented teams.

With two devastating come-from-behind losses to Trinity Western in the CIS and Canada West finals, the Pandas will look to finally defeat their rivals on Jan. 8 and 9. In addition, their matches against UBC the next weekend will be an excellent benchmark performance for the Pandas as they prepare for playoffs. Canada West, however, is an immensely competitive league when it comes to women’s volleyball, and the pandas will have to work hard for their wins, night in and night out. With many of their starters having gained valuable playoff experience last year, look for the Pandas to come out near the top of the Canada West pile.

Both teams open their seasons on Oct. 16th against the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack.

Soccer

Both the Bears and Pandas open their schedules on Sept. 11, with the Bears beginning on the road against the Lethbridge Pronghorns, and the Pandas start the season at home against the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack. The road wasn’t a friendly place for the Bears last year, as they only won one of their six games away from Foote Field, while going undefeated within the friendly confines. The Bears will have to meet the challenge of improving their home record head on, as they play seven road games this season, as opposed to five home games. Included in their seven road games is a stretch of 4 consecutive games away from home, before finishing the season with two home games.

Meanwhile, the Pandas hope to not repeat last year’s slow start, a start that saw them shut out for the first two games of the season. The Pandas finished atop their division last year with a 7-1-4 record, with their solitary loss coming against Calgary in the first game of the season. The Pandas also face a new playoff format for Canada West this season. As opposed to the eight team playoff structure featuring one quarterfinal match and a final four tournament. Now, 12 teams advance to the playoffs, with the top six out of those teams advancing to the Canada West Select Six championship tournament.

The Bears look to improve on their silver medal in Canada West, while the Pandas look to advance past the Canada West finals from which they were eliminated last year.

Rugby

The University of Alberta Pandas will look to add to their already impressive legacy when they open their season Sept. 20 against the Calgary Dinos. The Pandas are quite simply the most successful women’s rugby team in CIS history, with six national titles and 10 Canada West titles to their name. Despite the fact they will not host a conference home game this season, the Pandas will host the conference title tournament, which runs Oct. 23-25, at Ellerslie Rugby Club.

The Pandas will certainly have no shortage of motivation heading into the season opener, as Calgary dealt them their only regular season loss last year, 19-15, which also happened to be the Pandas’ only home game in 2014. The U of A team will look to make a return to the top of the heap in CIS rugby, as they lost all three of their national championship tournament matches.

Football

The Golden Bears football team enjoyed somewhat of a breakout season last fall, putting an end to a losing streak that spanned from Nov. 6, 2010 all the way to Sept. 20, 2014. With that newfound success comes a sense of optimism, and with it, a new level of expectations for the team. Last year, simply a win or two on home soil at Foote Field was enough to call the season a success. But this year is a completely different animal. Head coach Chris Morris has instilled an expectation that the Bears aren’t just looking for ways to win some games here and there, they’re looking to become a contender and challenge for a Canada West Championship.

The Bears will open their season on the road against the Regina Cougars on Sept. 4, the team they beat last season to finally put an end to their epic losing skid. Their home opener will come one week later when they host the Saskatchewan Huskies. The Bears came within inches of beating the Huskies in their home opener last year, but a failed two point conversion forced the Cinderella story to wait another week. Winning games against the Huskies and Cougars is important for the Bears’ playoff chances this season, as the Calgary Dinos and Manitoba Bisons look to remain as dominant powerhouses in Canada West.

The Bears will play two games against the dominant Dinos, one on the road on Sept. 17 and another at Foote Field to close out the season Oct. 31. – Cam Lewis

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