In one way, it’s the good situation for a new coach, in another way, it’s a tough act to follow.
The Vancouver Island University Mariners men’s soccer team, after a season in which they won the national championship on their home field, have announced their next head coach.
Larry Stefanek takes over a program that Bill Merriman helmed for almost a decade.
“Pretty big shoes to try to fill…” Stefanek said. “There’s going to be expectations, but for me, it’s going to be a new era obviously, so we have to build a new culture. Build off of his successes and the program’s successes, but it is going to be a new culture and with it is going to come new players. It’s going to take some time, but we’ll give it a go and see how we do.”
Merriman announced before last season that 2017 would be his last year on the VIU sideline. He and Stefanek are friends, so the new VIU coach was aware of the job opening and envisioned taking on the role.
“I’ve always thought about coaching at the post-secondary level. It’s sort of been a goal of mine for a few years, actually. The opportunity came up and it’s pretty exciting to have this chance,” Stefanek said.
The Mariners were a veteran team last year and so much of the core has graduated. The new coach sees “a number of key players coming back,” though, and also thinks some players within the program are ready to take on expanded responsibilities on the pitch.
A former defender in his playing days, Stefanek knows the importance of that part of the game, but he favours an “attacking-oriented” style of soccer. He said teams that can be unpredictable and use different forms and strategies are best-equipped for success and said that’s one of the reasons why Merriman’s teams won.
“They could play in a variety of ways and score goals in different ways,” he said. “Not just be all-out attacking, but be able to play through the middle of the field and play through the thirds and play possession soccer and keep the ball, but also to be able to play a little more direct.”
Stefanek is associate head coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Upper Island Academy and technical director for the Upper Island Storm and Oceanside Youth Soccer.
Stephanie White, VIU’s director of high-performance sports, recreation and physical literacy, said in a press release that Stefanek shares the values of VIU athletics and has strong connections in the soccer community on the Island and across B.C.
“I believe Larry’s commitment to developing student-athletes on the pitch and off the pitch, along with his technical knowledge, will continue to foster a culture of excellence within our men’s soccer program,” she said.