BURNABY — Adam Jones spent this past season showing every school in the NCAA’s Div. 2 West Region, why he was its top men’s soccer talent.
Yet over an off-season in which the rising senior midfielder is preparing to assume the captaincy of the Simon Fraser Clan, it’s been his level of pro-active concern for his team’s culture which has the program’s head coach convinced that a unique transformation has indeed occurred among its ranks.
On Friday, the SFU men’s soccer program was named the 2017 recipient of the school’s President’s Trophy as its academic Team of the Year, posting the highest cumulative grade-point-average among the Clan’s varsity teams at 3.13.
Yes, it came by a nose in what was a four-horse race with three women’s teams: soccer (3.12), basketball (3.11) and volleyball (3.10).
Yet it wasn’t by accident that Simon Fraser’s most successful program over the course of its NCAA era, one which has already played in a national final and is coming off a 14-1-3 campaign, was in a position to stand at the head of its class.
Ask Clan head coach Clint Schneider about just such things, like the new grassroots metric which has come to define a great player in his program, and he’ll point to moments like asking Jones a few months back about his definition of a good captain.
“Adam talked about how the hardest part of all for him has been trying to find that balance,” Schneider explained of finding an equilibrium between the athletic, academic and social aspects of student life.
“It’s tough, but Adam has worked so hard to find it, and one of the best parts is seeing how guys grow and adapt.”
To lend perspective to just how deeply embedded the athletic-academic duality has become in the program, the guy wanting to find that ‘balance’ already has enough laurels to rest on, having led the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in points (9-8-26) and later being named both GNAC and West Region Player of the Year, as well as a first team All-American.
“To us it is re-affirming because of the types of guys we’ve tried to recruit here,” begins Schneider, who has built on the traditions of longtime former head coach Alan Koch.
“When you consider the challenges they all have with being on the road, school and then the social part of it, it’s a most remarkable group of guys.”
And they were led this past year by senior keeper Brandon Watson and defender Robert Hyams, both three-time GNAC All-Academic team members.
Watson produced a mind-boggling 4.15 GPA in kinesiology, provided academic peer review to the younger Clan players, and in general, set the overall bar for team excellence.
Yet the reason men’s soccer has been able to author its own definition of team culture is because no one within its ranks has been exempt from self-examination, including Watson, who also had to work to find the perfect balance between giving time to his studies and his team.
“We had chats with him about it,” said Schneider, “and then in his senior year, he embraced everything. He used that constructive criticism to improve. It’s not all about getting, like, a 4.3 GPA. He was the perfect example of what we want because he gave his time, his energy and his presence to our younger guys. So did Robert, and Ryan (Dhillon), too.”
And of course, that is how the cycle continues.
“It’s not about (men’s soccer) winning this award every year,” begins Schneider. “But it is about setting a bar for all of our student-athletes and coaches. That, to me, is just as important.”
Simon Fraser plays it first official preseason game on Aug. 16 against its crosstown rivals, the UBC Thunderbirds.
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