A nagging injury kept Carson Gill on the sidelines for much of the last two Pacific Coast Soccer League seasons.
As the healthy captain of the Okanagan Challenge in 2011, the 21-year-old defender hopes to make up for lost time.
“It’s the first time in a while I’ve been at 100 per cent,” said Gill, who struggled with a groin tear the last two years. “I’m excited and looking forward to be back playing again, whatever my responsibilities are. I know a lot of the local guys and some of the guys I played with at Simon Fraser, so it should be a good situation. We should be competitive again this year.”
Gill and his teammates will open the new PCSL campaign on Saturday afternoon in Kamloops against the Excel. The teams will play for the Sieben Cup, an annual game for bragging rights between the two cities.
Getting his first exposure to the PCSL will be the Challenge’s rookie head coach, Kelly Wolverton.
An assistant the last four seasons at The University of the South men’s soccer program in Sewanee, Tenn., Wolverton came recommended to the local club by former Challenge coaches Alan Koch and Clint Schneider.
The 29-year-old Wolverton takes over the reins of a team that won the PCSL title in 2009 and reached the league final in 2010.
“I think the benchmark has certainly been set here the last two years,” Wolverton said. “We’ll only have four practice sessions before the season starts, so right now I’m holding back on any nervousness, excitement or expectations until we really get going. When we know what we need to be doing and what areas we need to work on, then we’ll have a better idea. But we definitely want to set the bar high for this season.”
Wolverton will be coaching a relatively young squad this summer with Carson Gill providing both leadership and direction on the pitch.
“He’s chomping at the bit,” Wolverton said of Gill, who red-shirted last season at SFU. “I look for him to be my field marshal. Carson has been real helpful to me so far and he’s ready to play.”
Among other players to watch will be 18-year-old attacking forward Justin Wallace from Kamloops, SFU forward John Hodnett, and local talents Taylor Turkington and Dustin Luck. Baker University (Kansas) keeper Michael Sheridan and outside midfielder Nick Agilar are both due to join the Challenge in late May.
Former Challenge regulars Sang Huang, Roman Doutkevitch and Mike Killip could be available for spot duty for away games on the coast.
One player Wolverton would love to see back on the pitch is Josh Leins, but concussions have forced the former team captain and Kelowna product to end his playing career.
Leins will instead serve as the team’s manager.
“It’s frustrating not to be able to play, but I grew up watching and worshipping this team and I’ll do anything I can to help them out,” said Leins, who has suffered seven concussions and hasn’t played a game since last July. “I’ll do more behind-the-scenes things, organizing, setting up practices and exhibition games, and making phone calls.
“When I was coming up with the team, there were guys there opening doors for me and helping me out,” added Leins, who played five seasons with the Challenge and two at UVic. “I was lucky enough to make some contacts in the field, so maybe I can helps some of our guys out, too.”
As for the on-field product in 2011, Carson Gill said the team and fans may need to exercise a little patience until all the pieces are in place.
“Just for the first couple of weeks it might be a little hit-and-miss, until we get everybody on the same page and get everybody here,” Gill said. “We’re in a bit of a youth movement right now, but we’ve got a lot of talent and skill. I’d say by the end of May everything should be in place. We should be able to make a run at this again.”
The first home action for the Challenge is 7 p.m., Saturday, May 28 at the Apple Bowl against the Vancouver Thunderbirds.