Simon Fraser earns historic No. 1
Squad becomes first non-American team to crack top 25
Simon Fraser has already made history as the first non-American institution to have its application accepted to go through the multi-year transition process of becoming an active member of the NCAA. Now, the school's soccer team is also making waves on the national scene.
In the past, the Canadian school located in Burnaby, British Columbia, competed in both the NAIA and Canadian Interuniversity Sport system, but is the first school to embrace the opportunity of the NCAA Division II's 2008 decision to allow Canadian institutions into the organization.
Currently in the provisional stage of the transition, the program was the first-ever non-American to win an NCAA conference championship as it claimed the regular season title in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in 2010, and this year, the squad is the first-ever to earn an NCAA national ranking.
In Sept. 20, SFU broke into the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Division II Top 25, and since that record-making achievement, the team made history this week and vaulted to No. 1 in the rankings. They currently boast a 13-0-0 record that included a three-game road trip in Hawaii and their first home game since Oct. 1.
"It is a historic milestone to be ranked No. 1 in the NCAA," head coach Alan Koch said on Thursday. "It is an achievement that the players should be incredibly proud of. It puts a huge target on our back now and the players need to be ready for some tough challenges ahead. To hang on to this ranking, I anticipate we will need to win every match on our schedule. Nothing changes though, and as usual we take it one match at a time."
While the men's soccer program has a history of success, it also helps that Koch, a former player and team captain for SFU, became familiar with the NCAA Division II level of play while he served as an assistant coach at Midwestern State in Texas -- a frequent national contender.
"A big part of why I took the job at SFU was because there was a plan to make the move to the NCAA," Koch said. "We had a plan to get ourselves where we are now, and having had that Division II experience has made the transition a lot easier for our team."
Koch led SFU to a final four finish in the 2009 NAIA Tournament before the school began transition process to the NCAA.
"NCAA Division II men's soccer is very, very good," Koch said. "It's an elite level of play. Our program at SFU was competing at a very high level in the NAIA, but now that we've made the transition we know we're going to have to get better and better every year because the level of competition and the athleticism in Division II is incredibly good."
"Knowing we were in the transition stage, we had to start learning about the American game and everything about it," sophomore forward Carlo Basso said. "It is a lot more competitive. Now that we're in it, it is good to follow other schools and be familiar with it."
Earlier this season, SFU knocked off then-No. 9 Grand Canyon 1-0 and the squad defeated regionally-ranked Seattle Pacific 4-3 in GNAC action on Oct. 1 as well regionally-ranked Hawaii-Pacific 5-1 on Oct. 8.
"Now that we are getting a name for ourselves, we're starting to get a little bit of a target on our backs, so we have to make sure we're ready to go every match," Basso said.
SFU is averaging 3.73 goals per game in its first 12 contests, and while the school is not listed in the NCAA statistics, it would lead all Division II programs in scoring average. Basso leads the offensive charge with eight goals and 17 points on the season. Defensively, the squad's 0.64 goals against average would rank in the NCAA Division II top 20.
"Depth is one of keys to success," Koch said. "Individual players have truly stepped up and shown the right winning mentality to help us win some big games against ranked teams."
In addition to the on the field success, student-athletes and coaches have enjoyed the vast travel -- hopping around the Western U.S., stopping everywhere from Idaho to Hawaii.
"It has definitely been an experience traveling so much, but it has been a quality experience," Basso said. "We play all over the States. You just have to make sure you can maintain your focus around these trips and come home with wins."
"(U.S. opponents) have been super respectful and accommodating of us being a foreign institution," Koch said. "Our national anthem is played, and I think we are fully embraced as an active member of our conference and the NCAA."
Simon Fraser is also using its move to the NCAA as a recruiting tool. Right now, only one member of the squad is from the U.S. -- starting goalkeeper Sheldon Steenhuis from Morgan Hill, Calif., who has collected four shutouts on the season.
"I think it is super-exciting because everybody in college sports is aware of the NCAA," Koch said. "It is something we used to recruit a few of our athletes here. Hopefully, more Americans will be interested in playing here, too. Our only American player is fantastic."
While Simon Fraser will not be allowed to participate in postseason conference and NCAA championships until the school becomes a fully-active member of the NCAA, the program certainly looks to be on the right track to earn those accomplishments in the near future.
"It is a fun, novel experience for us to be part of this process," Koch said. "Part of our motivation as a group is that we're motivating our players to be part of history. Last year, we were the first non-American school to win an NCAA conference championship and our goal is to be the first Canadian school to win an NCAA Championship one day."