Bridging the gap

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August 11, 2015 8:15 AM

Some players are tapped to be the next Lakeland Rustlers, some already are, and some were years before. Together they make each other better, all under the watchful eye of Lakeland Rustlers’ soccer coach Kevin Wagner, whose Lakeland Rustler United Soccer Program (LRUSP) has brought current and former Rustler soccer players together to help mentor the next wave of players in Lloydminster.

And hopefully, some of them will commit to being the future of the soccer programs at the college level.

For the past five years, the LRUSP has been a way for Wagner to bridge the gap between competitive soccer players at the U16 level and the college level. While there is programming for players under 16 years of age, the competitive program Wagner runs is specifically for players who want to make post-secondary soccer programs. Those younger players, some in Grade 11 and 12, are then joined by former Rustlers and collegiate players to make the competitive soccer team, which this past weekend played in the Sport 4 Life Senior Provincial Championships.

“It works well for what we are wanting to do,” said Wagner. “It works out really well now to have the programs. We are building the program so that it works well with the future Rustler players and then past Rustler players. It is a unique situation ... using alumni players to help the younger players.”

Along with the competitive team, Wagner also has a premier team made up of his Lakeland College team members. They will play in a tournament this weekend, possibly to go to nationals in the men’s league.But for Wagner, it isn’t about making nationals, as he sees it as another bridge that covers the preseason gap that is created before the start of the soccer season in September in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.

“Our ambition is not to make a run to go to nationals, it is to get games in for preseason,” said Wagner.

Many former LRUSP players have gone on to play with the college. Thirty-five players are considered alumni of the program, which includes current Rustlers Braydon Bretzer, Lewis Isle and Corben Torutman from the men’s team, as well as Rachel Fogh, Robyn Sword and Sarah Patterson from the women’s team.

Wagner said he isn’t looking to put teams together, he is looking to put a program together. Women and men will train together in order to develop a group of athletes that is prepared to make the jump to the college level. For him, it is about not being complacent with the training, and doing what he can to prepare soccer players for whatever post-secondary soccer career they want to have. They could field a premier team in Lloydminster, but the direction of the program is about improving ability, not playing in leagues.

“I’m not looking to get in any player just to have enough to hold a team,” said Wagner. “I would rather have less players that are looking to perform and get better. The (women) train with our guys but they don’t have a women’s team. It is all one program.”

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