It turns out they didn’t have to clone Jake Stanford.
But it might have been under consideration.
Stanford is head coach for not one, but two Holy Cross teams entered in Toyota national senior soccer championships that begin today in metro St. John’s.
The Holy Cross Kirby Group Crusaders are Newfoundland and Labrador’s representatives in the men’s Challenge Trophy national tournament, while Holy Cross Avalon Ford, the provincial women’s champions, are one of two St. John’s-based teams in the Jubilee Trophy Canadian championship.
“The schedule should be OK,” said Stanford. “There is one day that is a little bit tangly for me because there’s a (women’s) game at Topsail and the next (men’s) one is King George V (in St. John’s), and they are basically back to back. But we’ll make it work.”
All three provincial representatives see action today, the opening day of play in the two events.
First up is Feildians, the other team in the Jubilee Trophy competition. The Double Blues, runners-up to Holy Cross in the top local women’s league this past season, take on Scarborough, Ont., at 1 p .m. at King George V Park in St. John’s, the main venue for both events.
That will be followed by a 3:30 p.m. matchup between the Holy Cross women and Alberta’s Edmonton Northwest United. That game is also at KGV, as is a 6 p.m. men’s matchup between Holy Cross and Edmonton Scottish SC.
The male Crusaders are coming off a fourth-place finish at the 2018 nationals in Saskatoon, where they lost the bronze-medal game in penalty shots. And the Holy Cross women are only two years removed from the best-ever showing by a Newfoundland team at the national Jubilee Cup, when they claimed a bronze medal at the 2017 tourney in Surrey, B.C.
“Both teams are veteran teams when it comes to playing at nationals and that’s a positive,” said Stanford. “And to be honest with you, that means they know enough not to look past these first games against Alberta.”
In each competition, the teams are divided into two pools. The top two finishers in each pool advance to medal games, with the first-place finishers playing for gold. The teams finishing second after preliminary play will meet in bronze-medal games.
“In these kinds of tournaments, you can’t afford losses at any time, early or late,” noted Stanford. “So obviously, our focus has been on Alberta for both squads.
“You don’t really prepare your teams for second and third games at nationals. You can touch on things, but we’ve been on the pitch for a while and we’ve been training every single day for seven days and throughout it all, we’ve been focusing on Alberta.”
With both his teams, Stanford has the core group of players who participated in recent nationals, and pretty much all have been in place locally since the conclusion of the provincial league seasons.
“It’s not like we’re bringing in bodies from four or five different university teams for the week, so that’s a bonus,” said Stanford.
Both Holy Cross sides are well-populated by players who are suiting up for the Memorial Sea-Hawks in Atlantic University Sport (AUS) collegiate competition.
“That certainly can help you in a short tournament like this because it means they’ve been playing at a high level over a month a so,” said Stanford, who also happens to be coach of the Sea-Hawk men’s side.
Considering we’re in the midst of the 2019 AUS schedule, that might have been a problem for an already-busy Stanford, except for the fact the Atlantic conference does not schedule any games on the weekend of the Canadian championships.
“After (Wednesday), the AUS takes a break,” said Stanford. “Actually, the AUS is traditionally the only (university) conference in Canada that breaks for nationals.
“The others all keep playing, so we are luck in relation to that.”
The Sea-Hawks aren’t only not playing this coming weekend, they also didn’t play last weekend, the result of some strategic planning.
“You’re allowed to request one week for a break (in the AUS schedule) each season,” said Stanford. “You’re not always guaranteed to get it, but we did get it this year and that works out for us in preparing (for the nationals).”
Stanford says both his teams are healthy. What’s more, the Holy Cross women have been bolstered by the addition of Alyssa Armstrong, who has been living in Ottawa. Armstrong, a Newfoundlander who had been an AUS all-star with the Cape Breton Capers, had been part of the Crusaders’ bronze-medal team in 2017. She didn’t play with any club team in Ottawa this past summer, allowing her to sign a card making her eligible to play with Holy Cross.
These are the first nationals in St. John’s since 2016, and while his Holy Cross teams have done well in play elsewhere, Stanford sees the ledger sheet as showing mostly advantages to being at home.
“There two ways of looking at it,” he said
. “When you’re away, you’re together all the time and that helps. So you don’t have that dynamic at home, but you do have the benefit of players sleeping in their own beds, being in their normal comfort zone and eating the regular meals they would have for themselves instead of going out to restaurants.
“And obviously, we’re hoping for good fan support at home. That always helps to motivate us.”
And while mid-October weather in these parts can be iffy, the outlook for most of the rest of the week calls for good conditions.
“Yeah, the forecast is good too,” said Stanford. “Maybe it turns out the sun is shining the right way all the way around.”