UBC's rookies already well-seasoned - The Province

T-Birds open their CIS title defence brimming with youthful experience Marc Weber The squad of 28 -- bloated by university standards -- was with this season in mind. "I looked at the roster the other day and I was shocked myself by all the 1s and 2s," said Mosher, whose top-ranked and defending national champion Thunderbirds open Canada West play this weekend top-heavy on youth, though not short on experience. UBC features eight freshmen and five sophomores in the 20-man group. "It doesn't feel like you're working with a bunch of rookies," Mosher said. "We carried a very big squad last year because of all the guys we were going to lose, and we used that as an opportunity to develop guys. "I think we'll be in the mix to get out of Canada West and compete for another national title." Five players who started last year's CIS championship final are gone, including both starting strikers. One of those rookies by definition -- Surrey's Colin Jones -- is pegged to debut up front as UBC hosts Saskatchewan (Sat, 2:15 p.m.) and Alberta (Sun, 2:15 p.m.) on their new turf field at Thunderbird Park. "[Half] the rookies were with the team last year, so we've been around it," said Jones, who possesses touch despite looking more like an American football player at 6-foot, 205-pounds. "It's going to be pretty easy to carry it on." Jones is one of four returning red-shirt players who also played men's premier soccer with Westside last season to remain game-sharp. He might have some young company on attack. One of Mosher's high school recruits, Vancouver's Marco Visintin, led the Thunderbirds with three goals in preseason play, as first- and second-year players accounted for 10 of 11 goals in five games. And that's the other part of Mosher's fantastic freshmen formula -- even the true rookies come well-seasoned. Visintin -- whose dad, Luciano, played under-20 for Canada -- was a Double-A MVP and provincial champion with Notre Dame, and is off to under-18 club nationals with the Vancouver Selects in October. Midfielder Devin Gunenc of North Vancouver, another likely starter, comes through the Whitecaps residency program. "The new guys are all great players and know their roles," said fourth-year defender Graham Smith. "They've all come from top youth programs and they know what's up. Everybody's tuned in at training." Smith, the MVP at nationals, is co-captain this year with midfielder Nick Poole, and, along with former Whitecaps goalie Srdjan Djekanovic, they form the core of the group. They know that their leadership roles are magnified with the roster imbalance. "I can't wait," Smith said of the added challenge. "It's about acting like that fourth-year guy. Taking what I do and realizing that it has value and passing it on." mweber@theprovince.com © The Vancouver Province 2008