In the grand scheme of things, Kelowna soccer player Carson Gill wasn’t going to be playing university soccer this year.
Now in his fifth year in the NCAA Gill’s eligibility to play in the NCAA was supposed to be finished by now.
But that was before injury sidelined the 22-year-old Gill for more than a year as the Rutland Senior graduate sat out all of last season with a groin injury that would ultimately require surgery.
A medical red-shirt granted by the NCAA has allowed Gill to play this year and a return to health has Gill back on the soccer pitch and back to 100 per cent as one of the captains on the SFU men’s soccer team, currently the top ranked team in NCAA Div II men’s soccer.
“It’s been nice to be back and healthy this year,” said Gill. “It’s been a good team so far. We’re strong. Our depth is what is carrying us through. There is competition within every spot on the team and it’s been a lot of fun.”
The SFU men sit at 12-0 so far this season. According to SFU, the team’s number one ranking makes it the first Canadian team to hold a national number one ranking in the NCAA in any sport.
And along with Gill there is a serious Kelowna connection helping to make that happen.
Former Okanagan Challenge coach Alan Koch is in his fourth season as head coach for the SFU men’s soccer team.
He says reaching number one in the nation has been a work in progress.
“I think we’ve been building to get to this stage,” said Koch. “One of the big things is we have an immense amount of depth in all positions. With recruiting we want players with a winning mentality and that is showing in every close game. These guys will do what it takes to get the victory.”
And a lot of that starts with Gill, the fifth year captain from Kelowna, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in biology this year and who overcame a tough groin injury to come back this year to close out his university career on a winning note.
“Carson’s discipline in recovering from that injury was phenomenal,” said Koch. “It was indicative of his persona. He’s a champion, he’s a leader and he’s a fantastic young man.”
Because SFU remains a transitional school as it makes its way into the NCAA, the men’s soccer team will not be able to attend the national championship tournament. Instead the team has focussed its sights on winning everything else, from the league to games in Hawaii and eventually to what is called the provisional tournament.
“We don’t get to go to nationals so we’re playing for the rankings, we’re trying to win our conference and finding things to play for along the way,” said Gill, who spent his first year of college with Koch at Baker University in Kansas before transferring to SFU.
Gill isn’t the only Kelowna player on the SFU squad. This year Joel Malouf is red-shirted and practicing with the SFU team with the hopes of joining the club full time next year.
“Joel has been a forward though youth soccer but we’re busy converting him to a central defender,” said Koch. “He’s busy learning the tricks of the trade and hopefully we can have him in our lineup full time next season.”
As for Gill, he will wrap up his university career this season before he moves on to what he hopes is medical school in the coming years.