A Ponoka forward is helping to bolster an Alberta university soccer squad as it embarks on another season.
Lewis McDowell is one of a big influx of high school standouts, academy stars and college transfers joining the MacEwan Griffins men’s soccer club that is entering its fourth season at the U Sports level.
Head coach Adam Loga is aiming high for his club, hoping to defy a pre-season ranking that the Griffins will occupy the basement in the 13-team CanadaWest conference.
Loga is hoping McDowell, wearing #18, will be among those who provide some help this season and into the future.
“He just brings a work rate and energy, which is something we looked at when recruiting,” said Loga.
“To find him from Ponoka was a diamond in the rough, for sure, and one that we’re pleased to have found. I think he’ll be a pretty integral part of our nucleus going forward as he progresses in his second, third and fourth year.”
McDowell wasn’t a well-known product among Loga or other college and university teams, but managed to get a shot at the Griffins ID camp after a reference from Ponoka coach Lonny Behm.
“I talked to a few ACAC schools. My coach said he knew Loga, so he inquired about coming to their ID camp,” McDowell said, who played for the U18 Ponoka Storm last season and this spring with the U21 Red Deer Renegades.
“I managed to get into their ID camp and I guess from there everything worked out pretty good.”
McDowell played in both road games on opening weekend — hitting the pitch for 53 minutes in a 2-1 loss to the Calgary Dinos on Aug. 26 and 28 in the Griffins 3-2 victory over the Mount Royal Cougars on Aug. 27.
The victory gives the Griffins half the number of wins the club had last season, when it finished 2-13, only a now dormant club was worse.
McDowell knows there will be a transition period to playing at this level, though he believes he will get there sooner rather than later.
“It’s definitely a step up. It’s something I’m definitely going to have to get used to, fitness-wise … every player in this league is a quality player,” he stated.
“You’re coming from a league that’s so much different than that. It’s a completely different calibre and you’ve got to get used to it. It will take its time, but eventually I’m hoping to get in there and play a full 90 minutes.”
He is pleased to have made the squad and knows what role he can play as well as what the coaches expect from him.
“Just work rate and bringing energy. You see guys on the field and technically they’re gifted players,” added McDowell.
“I wouldn’t maybe consider myself as technically gifted as them, but bringing a work ethic and some energy and some physicality, it draws players away. That’s my job. I’m more of a physical work player, a grinder.”
One other aspect that McDowell, who is enrolled in the Commerce degree program, has to face that many of his teammates don’t is making the jump from Ponoka to the big city.
“It’s different. You take your time to adjust. You don’t know everybody, which makes it a lot harder to come in and be a part of the team,” he explained.
“So far, my experience is good. Everyone’s welcoming. Now, it’s like a big family and I’m enjoying my time.”
The next step for McDowell is to get onto the field at home and hopefully get a few Ponoka friends, family and fans to come support him and the rest of the club.
The Griffins will play a home opening set this weekend, welcoming the Saskatchewan Huskies on Sept. 2 and the Lethbridge Pronghorns Sept. 3. Both games go at noon at Jasper Place Bowl.