Sports fans are familiar with the term ‘back-to-back championships.’ But never like this – the Mid Isle Mariners soccer club will try for back-to-back championships on the same day.
The Nanaimo-Ladysmith club has two teams taking part in the Vancouver Island Soccer League’s championship weekend in Victoria.
The Mid Isle Div. 3 men will play Gorge United for the George Pearkes Challenge Cup on Saturday (April 1) at noon, and the Mid Isle U21 men will play Juan de Fuca for the George Smith Cup immediately afterward, at 2:30 p.m.
Bill Merriman has been coaching soccer for a lot of years, but he’s never coached two cup games back to back.
“Because our program is so close – as you can see, we all train together – it’s going to be like just one continuous game for me…” Merriman said. “It’ll be like playing four quarters instead of two halves.”
Each game, though, will bring its unique storylines. The Div. 3 Mariners have already accomplished the primary goal they set out for themselves at the start of the year – earn promotion to the VISL’s Div. 2. They left no doubt about deserving to move up a tier as they completed an undefeated regular season, going 14-0-4.
Facing Gorge in Saturday’s final will be a test, as the teams played close contests during the season. Merriman said he’s expecting a good game.
“We just need to stay focused and really move the ball quick, because I think that has been one of our strengths this year … continuously moving and making teams chase us around,” the coach said.
As for the U21 final, it’s a chance at redemption for some of the vets who went undefeated in the regular season before being upset in the cup semifinals. The Mariners were 13-2-1 this season and Darien Atkinson, a midfielder with the U21s, said things are clicking well right now. He said his team will bring a winning mentality to the final.
The U21 Mariners will try to put the pressure on Juan de Fuca right from the start of the game “and keep our attack up and keep playing on the ground, fast footy like we can, and we shouldn’t have a problem,” Atkinson said.
Merriman said Juan de Fuca is a defensive team that can counter-attack quickly, so his Mariners will need to play smart soccer.
“You want to attack, but you don’t want to be vulnerable at the back,” the coach said. “So I think we’re going to have to really be clever in that game in how we approach it.”
It’s going to be a lot of soccer on Saturday, but the coach said he’s excited about it, players are too, and the club success is good for the Mid Isle Mariners program.
“We are kind of developing now…” said Shun Takano, a Div. 3 player. “In the VISL we’re getting good results and this is connected to the VIU Mariners program, as well, so we are doing so good.”
GAME ON … The VISL championship matches will be played at Victoria’s Royal Athletic Park. Also involved in the VISL’s championship weekend are the Nanaimo United Div. 1 men, who play Cowichan FC for the Jackson Cup on Sunday (April 2) at 2:30 p.m. For a preview of that game, please click here.