Fast food, championship title on menu for BYU men’s soccer

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    By JOE DANA

    Every time head coach Chris Watkins and his team travel to the national club soccer tournament in Statesboro, Ga., they do two things.

    First, they eat at Wendy’s.

    “It’s tradition,” said senior Art Vanwagenen.

    Second, they win the championship.

    Bacon and cheese, biggie fries and the trophy to go. That’s been the routine.

    For the Cougars, who have won three straight titles and four of the past five, the national crown has been almost that easy. Last year they smirked past opponents, outscoring them 23-2 in six games.

    “It was pretty obvious we would win it,” said sophomore forward Brandon LeRoy.

    But this year, LeRoy said, the title won’t be served to the Cougars on a tray. The Cougars are younger, less talented and carry the same amount of regular-season losses the previous two years’ teams did.

    “If we have a chance of winning, it will take a lot of hard work,” LeRoy said.

    The players spoke repeatedly of peaking at the right time, and it seems they’re doing just that. They’ve shut out their opponents in the last three games, including a 4-0 scrimmage win last week.

    “There’s a feeling that has started to come back to this team,” said senior defender Abe Millet. “It’s back. We’re definitely peaking.”

    Watkins said the Cougars are booed in Statesboro more than any other team, and despite a mediocre season, they will still be the subject of mumbles and whisperings among other teams.

    “We have a target on our backs. I’m sure of that,” Watkins said.

    And that doesn’t bother the players.

    “That’s what BYU soccer is all about,” LeRoy said, noting that BYU will play its best against the odds.

    The tournament, sponsored by the National Intramural Recreational Sports Association, is comprised of 16 teams and played in round-robin style. BYU plays three games Thursday, and will advance to Friday night play depending on how well it fairs in a system that awards different amounts of points for wins, shutouts, goals and ties.

    “It’s exciting to know that after everything, one team will be the champion and 15 will go home the losers,” Watkins said.

    Winning the tournament will mean the Cougars will compete in six games over a three-day period, which means Watkins will rely on the bench. Players Watkins needs to have step up are sophomore midfielder Casey Waldron, sophomore defender Spencer Viernes and freshman forward Brock Blake.

    “A lot of our back-up players will get all the time they could hope for this weekend,” Watkins said.

    LeRoy, who won the Most Valuable Player of the year award for the tournament last season, said he knows his responsibility is big.

    “My personal goal is to beat last year’s showing,” LeRoy said.

    The Cougars, who are seeded second in their division, could advance to a date with Weber State on Friday night. For freshman Blake, that would be ideal.

    “They beat us in Provo, and it would be sweet victory to pay them back in Statesboro,” Blake said.

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