Four-time defending Challenge Cup champs always training for a chance at a national crown
The Holy Cross Crusaders' Zach Wade and the Strikers FC's Ryan Sheppard vie for a ball during their Challenge Cup provincial senior men's soccer league opener. Wade and the Crusaders will play their third game of the season tonight when they take on Mount Pearl at the Gushue Complex — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Holy Cross Kirby Group faces its first real test of the early Molson Challenge Cup senior men's soccer league season tonight (6:30) when the defending champions take on Mount Pearl/That Pro Look/Molson at Smallwood Park in the Gushue Complex.
Holy Cross is 2-0, but the wins were 7-1 over the inexperienced Strikers FC and 4-0 over the young Techniplex Canada Games team.
Mount Pearl's victories are also came against Strikers (1-0) and the Games side (2-0), to go along with a 3-1 loss to the St. Lawrence Labatt Laurentians.
Holy Cross veteran midfielder Zach Wade says his team doesn't take any of its opposition for granted.
"With any Challenge Cup team, when you put the jersey on you want to represent your team well," he said. "There's lots of tradition with Holy Cross. Every time you go on the pitch you are not really playing for yourself. You are playing for the guys and the coach and you take it seriously.
"It's a competitive league and we take a lot of pride in only losing two games last season. But we didn't find any game easy last year."
The Holy Cross captain said the players sit down before the start of each year and talk about the upcoming season.
"We have goals. We don't look too far ahead, but we obviously want to get back there (local championship and nationals).
"People are gunning for us and that comes with being relatively successful the last few years and that's OK," said Wade. "We play every team as best we can."
Wade feels that one reason for the team's four-year reign over the league is that the players have stayed together.
There have been a few key additions in recent years such as former Memorial Sea-Hawks top scorer Steve Delong and Pat Reddick from Nova Scotia, who played at an all-star level, but the team's nucleus has stayed the same for the most part.
"We've also been well coached over the years (with Jake Stanford) and now with our new coach (Mike Kirby)," noted Wade. "The team has experience but we're still young and we've had good coaching."
Wade said Kirby has "implanted some different philosophies.
"He's a smart guy, but our work ethic has remained the same. It's been instilled in us over the years."
The team's ultimate goal is to make it to the championship game at the nationals.
"We know what it takes. We've been close. There's a fine line in terms of where you finish at the nationals and if you win a medal.
"The margin of error is so small. It often comes down to a lucky bounce or catching a break to be honest with you."
Asked if he felt the Newfoundland winner isn't prepared for national competition because the local league isn't that strong, Wade said, "If we keep the mindset that every game is important for the entire year, you are not stepping up too much when you get to the next level."
He admitted there is a slight adjustment for mainland competition.
"The speed at the national level is a little quicker, but you soon settle in to the pace.
"But in terms of physicality, our league is probably one of the toughest in the country," he said.
In another game Wednesday, the Feildians Ernst & Young take on Strikers FC at the Topsail field. Game time is 8 p.m.