ABBOTSFORD, BC – In stoppage time on a frigid Edmonton afternoon, with their Cinderella season on the line, the UFV Cascades found a glass slipper that fit. Goalkeeper Jackson Cowx stopped Carlos Patino’s penalty kick in the dying moments of the Canada West quarterfinal, sealing UFV’s 2-1 victory and punching their ticket to the semifinal.
Nobody expected UFV to be playing on Canada West Final Four weekend. Still, as they make the trip to Calgary to face a strong Victoria Vikes side, they hold momentum and a chance to qualify for the U SPORTS National Tournament for the first time in program history.
“It’s always been a goal of mine [to qualify for nationals] since I joined the program, and when I took over, I had all these lofty dreams, and then reality kicks in, and it sometimes feels like you’re fighting an uphill battle,” said Head Coach Tom Lowndes, who has led the team since 2016. “It would be huge, and we’re going to do everything we can to make it happen.”
The 2021 campaign did not start easy for the Cascades in a shortened Canada West season, only picking up two points through their opening five matches. But it was an early October match in Abbotsford that changed everything, as the Cascades played the three-time defending champion UBC Thunderbirds off the pitch, en route to a 5-1 victory.
For Lowndes and his young group of student-athletes, the win galvanized them, bringing the group together at the right time and pushing them into the playoff conversation through the season’s latter half. Then, for the first time, a chant of “Tom Lowndes Green Army” bounced off the walls of the Cascades locker room.
“It’s the first time I’ve beat UBC in my seven years here, and to do it fantastically was great,” said the Welsh gaffer. “That has been the springboard for us to kick on and believe in ourselves and know that we can compete with anybody.”
Although UBC was in the midst of a down year, the win pushed the Cascades to play that way for the rest of the year, going undefeated through the season’s final six games and qualifying for the playoffs after a slow start.
Using the UBC win as a launch pad, the Cascades forged on through their season to an eventual do-or-die final weekend against the UBCO Heat. “We broke it down, and it was going to be two Cup finals at UBCO,” Lowndes told 49 Sports. “We just had to win the first one and go from there. I said to the guys, ‘If we get in the playoffs, we can do some damage.’”
The Cascades won the two matches against UBCO, rounding into form at the perfect time, and once again chants of “Tom Lowndes Green Army” again bellowed from the Cascades’ locker room; this time in Kelowna. A week later, the chants found their way to Edmonton.
“They’re a really good group, there are no egos, and they want to work hard for each other every day, said Lowndes. “When you have a group like that, you have a chance to have some success, along with the qualities they have as players.”
Not only have the Cascades bought into their coaching staff’s vision, but they have grown together as a team without a home. Despite being the ‘home’ team five times, the Abbotsford-based program has played nearly every game on the road, playing their home matches at three different Fraser Valley facilities.
With camaraderie on and off the pitch, UFV is riding their good form and hard work into a challenging semifinal bout with Victoria on Nov. 6. “We’re not going to change a ton, we know Victoria, we know what they’re about, and we know what we need to do to be successful against them,” said Lowndes, looking ahead to Saturday.
Undefeated in eight matches, a program record, the Cascades have strung together a season like no other in U SPORTS soccer, standing on the precipice of qualifying for their first-ever U SPORTS National Championship.
While the Vikes took down the Cascades in the first match of the season and drew 0-0 in the second, the two programs are entirely different in the playoffs, as they both get set to play in frigid, adverse conditions at Calgary’s Mount Royal University.
It will be cold in Calgary, but there is no doubt that if the Cascades come away with a win, more chants of “Tom Lowndes Green Army” will ricochet off locker room walls, this time in Calgary. “We’re confident, we’re on a bit of a role, and there’s an added incentive of making a little bit of history.”
The UFV Cascades and Victoria Vikes play the Canada West semifinal at 10:00 am Pacific Time on Saturday, Nov. 6. As the highest remaining seed, Calgary’s Mount Royal University hosts the conference’s Final Four weekend.
Cover Photo: UBCO Athletics