Cranbrook soccer players a boon to Calgary’s SAIT Trojans

Local soccer players help SAIT light up the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.

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CALGARY — Soooooo . . . a group of young guys from Cranbrook, B.C., splitting the rent at a domicile in Dalhousie. Which leads to the perfectly logical question — who keeps the place clean?

“Ah . . . the moms when they visit on weekends,” quips Jake Walmsley.

Yes, it may be the maid’s year off . . . but SAIT Trojans men’s soccer coach Grant Stevens is really cleaning up this year on his Cranbrook connection. No less than four members of the 2012-13 Trojans hail from the small East Kootenay city — brothers Mike and Jeff Hamm, both playing their second season as utilitymen in SAIT togs; fullback/midfielder Riley Rennich, another Trojans returnee who toiled as an Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) rookie in the fall of 2011; and Walmsley, who has been a very pleasant addition as a centre-midfielder.

“A good group of kids. And with them being close friends, those strong social ties are transported onto the field as well,” says Stevens, the Trojans’ seventh-year head coach. “Of course, with Mike and Jeff being brothers, it does help a lot. They seem to stand up for each other on the field. They drive each other, step up and give some positive encouragement.”

The Trojans (4-0-0), who sit atop the ACAC’s South Division, have one assignment this weekend — a road game at Olds, Alta., against ACAC newcomers Olds College Broncos (1-3-0) on Saturday, Sept. 22.

The Trojans’ Cranbrook crew have all known one another since their elementary school days, with all four graduating from Mount Baker Secondary School and playing club for the Cranbrook Rovers (formerly Ramblers).

“Riley was going to go to SAIT first, and take mechanical engineering technology. Jeff and I wanted to play soccer, and we decided to come along and study business administration here,” says Mike Hamm, 18. “We all made the team, and it was all good . . . now Jake’s living with me, along with (six-foot-five Trojans men’s basketball rookie) Scott Watmough, and a couple of other friends. There’s five Cranbrook kids in this house right now.

“And Jeff and his roommate Dave Nesbitt (a soccer player from Cranbrook, naturally), they’re just a couple of blocks away.”

Stevens is counting his blessings for that southeastern B.C. pipeline, as his Cranbrook quartet has made a big difference to the SAIT product on the pitch.

“Jake is a real asset to the team in the midfield. He’s quiet and unassuming, but he’s tenacious as a bulldog once he gets onto the field. Regardless of how big the opponent is, he’s extremely tough,” says the Trojans’ seventh-year bench boss. “Riley has plenty of energy, and he’s grown a lot just in the past year. As a rookie, he wanted to police everybody all the time, but this year he’s much more thoughtful about his game.

“And the Hamm brothers . . . they’re both strong and fearless. Their tackling is exceptional, defensively. Their peripheral vision of the field is good. And what I like most is that they come to every game prepared to win — they want to be in the first XI.”

Walmsley, in particular, has authored his own have-cleats-will-travel story since he was a teenager, playing for Cagliari Calcio’s youth and reserve team on the Italian island of Sardinia and a handful of men’s clubs in Victoria, B.C., including Gorge FC, Bays United, and FC Victoria. “I went over to Italy as an exchange student, but within two or three weeks, I tried out for Cagliari. I was there for a few months, playing for their youth and reserve team, before I had to come back,” says Walmsley, 22. “Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve tried out for a team.”

After losing the ACAC’s championship final to the Mount Royal University Cougars in 2009 on penalty kicks, the Trojans have their eyes firmly on the provincial gold medal this fall. And while the college footy prize is the ultimate goal, that Cranbrook camaraderie is pretty special, too.

“To be honest, the only reason I even looked at Calgary, playing and studying at SAIT, is because of the other Cranbrook guys,” remarks Wamsley, a first-year journalism arts student. “Jeff and I hadn’t played together in the past two or three years, and we really wanted to be teammates again.

“Cranbrook kids. I guess we kind of stick together — in soccer, anyway.”

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