The Vancouver Island University Mariners were very good last year; in fact, they were the best.
They know they’re going to be very good again this year and they’ll strive to remain the best.
The university’s men’s soccer team, defending champions of the Canadian Colleges’ Athletic Association, is hard at work this fall in advance of a new season.
A lot of the key players are back, and this time they’re armed with the knowledge of what it takes to be national champions.
“We try to treat it as a whole new year – we have some new players,” said Bill Merriman. “But we do talk to them about what helped us get to where we got.”
The coach said the leaders from last season – Chris Arnett, Jared Stephens and Matt Mehrassa – are again taking charge in 2011, with many other returning veterans on board.
“The core is very strong,” Merriman said. “With the guys from last year, it’s made it that much easier to build around that group.”
Notable subtractions this year are Chris Merriman, Kyle Bate and goalkeeper Robbie Cochrane, the MVP of nationals.
Local Nanaimo product Scott Brown and last year’s backup, Daniel Mercer, comprise the new goalkeeping tandem.
“[They] are doing a good job,” said the coach. “It’s obviously very hard to fill Robbie’s shoes and there’s a lot of pressure on those two guys because Robbie was the best keeper in Canada.”
As far as newcomers go, the Mariners’ most high-profile recruit this year is Kevan Brown out of the Victoria Highlanders U20 program. A.J. Kambere and Andres Algarin are some other additions.
Assistant coach James Merriman said he likes how quickly the new players are adjusting.
“Our team is starting to get closer and kind of believe in each other and work hard for each other,” he said.
The Mariners are glad to see that, since they know that was one of the reasons they accomplished what they did in 2010.
“The team camaraderie and how tight of a team we are, that was one of our keys last year,” said Bill Merriman. “If you get the new guys to understand that, that workrate and how we cover for each other and work for each other, it’s huge.”
SOCCER TALK … The M’s lost their final pre-season game to Simon Fraser University on Thursday by a 2-0 score in Burnaby. Brad Crewe and Stephens created scoring chances for the VIU team … The Mariners men’s and women’s soccer teams play their first B.C. Colleges’ Athletic Association regular-season games on the road against the Capilano Blues this Saturday (Sept. 10). The first home games are against the Douglas Royals on Sept. 17. The women play at 1 p.m. at Mariner Field, followed by the men at 3 p.m. The Kwantlen Eagles visit Mariner Field Sept. 18 for games at noon and 2 p.m.