VIU Mariners players Olivia Mazurenko, Shun Takano and their teammates are heading to the PacWest provincial championships on the mainland this weekend (Oct. 25-26). (NEWS BULLETIN file photos)

Both VIU Mariners soccer teams going for gold at provincials

Women’s and men’s programs earn top seeds and byes into their respective gold-medal matches

The VIU Mariners soccer program goes into provincials with a chance at double gold.

Vancouver Island University’s men’s and women’s soccer teams both finished their regular seasons atop the PacWest standings and both have earned a bye into gold-medal match day Saturday, Oct. 26, at Burnaby Lake.

The Mariners women (8-1-3) will be looking to repeat as PacWest champions, but for the M’s men (7-3-2), reaching this point marks a major turnaround from last season. Not only have they re-established themselves among the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association’s top-ranked squads, they’ve already qualified for nationals with at least a wild-card berth.

“I don’t know if we figured we would do that well, but I knew we were going to be in most games,” said Larry Stefanek, coach of the VIU men. “It’s a pretty tight league – every game is such a battle.”

The Mariners will await the winner of the Capilano Blues and the Douglas Royals, who meet in Friday’s semifinal. Stefanek said he doesn’t know if the bye is “that big of an advantage, but it’s obviously a little bit.” Either way, he thinks his team will go into Saturdays’ final excited and ready to go.

Though the team has its trip to nationals sewn up, Stefanek said the Mariners want to go there as the PacWest’s top seed.

“It really helps you in the draw, by the looks of it, on paper,” he said. “It’s big. We know we’re in the nationals. It’s just a matter of whether we’re going as the PacWest champion.”

For the Mariners women, they don’t have any room for error, as the PacWest only has one berth at nationals this year.

“You play all season and finish top, yet it comes down to one game,” said Kevin Lindo, coach of the VIU women.

The Mariners had an undefeated season going until the last weekend of PacWest play. Lindo said the loss was a little bit disappointing, “however, I think we needed a little bit of adversity just to make sure we don’t get complacent and that we take every game like it’s going to be our last.”

The M’s bounced back, he said, ended the regular season with a “really excellent performance,” and will spend this week training different scenarios to be ready for whatever they encounter in this Saturday’s gold-medal match. VIU will face the winner of Capilano and Douglas and Lindo said his team should have a bit of an edge both from a recovery standpoint and a psychological advantage.

“We prepare a little bit differently for each opponent – I think both have caused us problems in different areas,” he said. “But we’ll be confident going into either one.”

In other PacWest soccer news, the league announced its all-stars and award winners and a host of Mariners were chosen.

Kanae Yamamoto is PacWest Women’s Player of the Year, Taylor Kinley is Rookie of the Year and Lindo is Coach of the Year. Cara Dunlop, Chloe Gummer, Saki Meshida and Yamamoto are all-stars.

Shun Takano is PacWest Men’s Player of the Year, Michael Heppelle is Rookie of the Year and Stefanek is Coach of the Year. Billy Bagiopoulos, Grayson Chalifoux, Diego Corlazzoli and Takano are all-stars.

GAME ON … The PacWest gold-medal matches are Saturday, Oct. 26, at Burnaby Lake turf fields. The men’s final is at noon and the women’s final is at 2:30 p.m.

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