Mariners make sure they’re playing at provincials

NANAIMO – The VIU Mariners and TRU WolfPack play a semifinal match Saturday (Oct. 26) at 3 p.m. at Merle Logan Field.

It would have been a shame if soccer provincials in Nanaimo didn’t have a hometown entry. So the Vancouver Island University Mariners men’s soccer team made sure they got in.

Dan Cato, M’s captain, said in the past, he’s spoken to players who have had to run the concession at provincials because their team didn’t qualify. The Mariners realized at mid-season that could happen to them if they didn’t pull up their socks, so to speak.

“Since then, we’ve had our focus. We set our goal – we needed to make provincials no matter what,” Cato said. “And it feels very good to make it and not be serving hotdogs.”

The Mariners were late-comers to their party – they qualified on Sunday, the last day of the season, coming up with a 4-0 win over the Douglas Royals on the mainland.

“It was a good test of character,” said Cato. “It was one of those fight-or-flight moments.”

Bill Merriman, VIU coach, said the win showed that his team is learning what it takes.

“They knew that that last game was for everything,” he said. “They kept their shape really well, they moved the ball very well, they talked. They just played as a team, they put it all together.”

Farhad Abdulgani, who scored a hat trick that game, said his team knew what was at stake.

“We showed a lot of character…” he said. “People were just fired up and they wanted to win.”

Now, each of the teams in the Pacific Western Athletic Association championships has an equal shot at advancing to nationals.

The Mariners, as the fourth seed, will have to try to get past the top-ranked Thompson Rivers University WolfPack.

TRU won both regular-season matches, 4-2 in Kamloops and then 2-1 in Nanaimo. But Merriman pointed to a moral victory from that 2-1 loss – his Mariners were down to 10 men in the second half and still outscored the ’Pack 1-0.

“Playing with that kind of heart, they could do well against TRU,” said the coach. “You never know. It’ll be a good game.”

Cato said the WolfPack play physical and can get under your skin, but they also have skilled scorers who will have to be closely marked.

“If we do that, it’s always the advantage to the defender because you just have to poke the ball away, he has to put it in the net,” Cato said.

The M’s feel they’ve gotten better since their matches with the ’Pack. They’ll try to play the kind of soccer that got them to provincials.

“Which is find that healthy balance between heart and determination but also composure and using your energy wisely,” Cato said.

Abdulgani said his team needs to keep its focus in a match it badly wants to win.

“Mentally we have to be stronger…” he said. “We just have to keep calm and believe in ourself.”

He said the M’s associate their home pitch with winning, so that will be a factor. The Mariners hope the local soccer community will be out in force.

“Other people’s belief in you gives you the confidence you need to go out and do what we have to do,” said Cato. “So as many fans as we can get out, and as loud and supportive as we can get them, the better for us.”

GAME ON … VIU and TRU play Saturday (Oct. 26) at 3 p.m. at Merle Logan Field. The women’s gold-medal match will be at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, followed by the men’s gold-medal final at 3 p.m.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com