Tommies’ soccer co-captain Ryan MacKinnon entered this season as the only fourth-year returning player.
But, even with 16 fresh faces, five returning players and three transfers on the team, centre back Mackinnon said the team’s intensity surpasses past seasons.
“It’s been my favourite year by far already.”
MacKinnon played on youth teams through Fredericton District Soccer Association (FDSA) and school leagues to advance his physical training for his main sport, hockey.
It wasn’t until his final year at Leo Hayes High School that he decided to fully commit to soccer and continue his post-secondary education close by.
During his Grade 12 year, the U18 division was removed and MacKinnon lost out on playing a final year with his friends. After, he joined the Picaroons Reds soccer team and took part in the University Prep Program through the University of New Brunswick.
He received offers to play from Mount Allison University, St. Thomas University and after training with UNB, he received an offer from their coaches.
Although STU was his primary choice, when MacKinnon learned of UNB’s success at nationals and six of their players attending the U SPORTS games – his decision changed.
“It was a pretty big opportunity,” he said.
MacKinnon played with the Reds his first year before transferring to STU. One of his reasons for transferring was to try out the smaller class sizes.
He said UNB exhibited how professional and well-trained teams can be.
“It really set the standard high for myself and that’s what I try to bring to STU.”
MacKinnon said the transition felt natural because he already had connections and friendships formed on the Tommies men’s team.
“I already had my bearings coming in, so it was really nice to feel welcomed.”
The year’s assistant coaches and head coach were all past STU soccer players. MacKinnon said their own experience makes for great support.
“Them being here actually helps a lot because I can go to them for advice on what to do in certain situations,” he said. “It’s nice to get a little bit of advice from past captains.”
In his first year playing with the Tommies, MacKinnon said a fond memory was travelling to Prince Edward Island for nationals where they played against teams at “a whole different level.” Still, he said there was a lack of intensity which was reflected while they were there.
“This year I feel like we actually have a team that can compete,” MacKinnon said. “We actually have people who grew up playing only soccer in actual academies and they take it very seriously, they’re unreal to play with.”
Although missing out on the team’s 2019-20 season due to the pandemic, MacKinnon said it was valuable time he needed since his love for soccer had started to fade.
“Having a year off and being able to figure out who I am and who I want to be helped me get mentally ready for this year,” he said. “Being a leader on the team, I have to be mentally strong and can’t be getting down [on myself] or can’t be getting down on other teammates.”
MacKinnon said his teammates thoroughly know the game and are smart players. He said they are like a family “that you know have your back no matter what.”
While his future steps with soccer are uncertain, MacKinnon said he will continue playing with the Picaroons team and coach younger teams as he did this past summer with U8. He wants to work for family services and get his personal training certificate, with the end goal of opening his own gym.
Next year, he will be returning to STU for his final year and will be playing with the Tommies one last time.
“The team we have is going to be the team at STU pretty much the next three years at least,” MacKinnon said. “STU is looking very good for the next couple of years and it’s just awesome to finally be a part of a team like this.”