Thompson Rivers WolfPack player Joseph Rose

Thompson Rivers WolfPack player Joseph Rose

VIU soccer knows it’s the team to beat

There’s nothing to suggest that the Vancouver Island University Mariners shouldn’t be heavy favourites heading into the Pacific Western Athletic Association championships.

There’s nothing to suggest that the Vancouver Island University Mariners shouldn’t be heavy favourites heading into provincials.

The men’s soccer M’s (8-0-3) are defending champs and they just wrapped up an undefeated season. (Their only loss was reversed on an ineligible-player sanction against the Douglas Royals.)

So the Mariners be an intimidating opponent for whichever team comes out of the quarter-finals at the Pacific Western Athletic Association championships this weekend (Oct. 28-30) in Kelowna.

That intimidation factor might work in the Mariners’ favour, said coach Bill Merriman.

“On the other [hand], I’ve been the underdog with a team before and it’s a big motivation,” he said.

So VIU will be looking to squash opposing teams’ hopes right away with early goals.

“Every game we’ve played we’ve had a lot fo scoring opportunities early and we need to put those away and bury teams early,” Merriman said. “Especially at provincials, everybody’s hyped, everybody’s ready to go and if you don’t score on your opportunities it could come back and bite you.”

The VIU men recall their playoff run a year ago included overtimes and shootouts, so they know nothing comes easy.

“Every game that we play, anyone can win and there’s going to be tight games that we’re going to have at provincials and hopefully nationals,” said Jared Stephens, one of the team captains. “So we know we’ve got to stay humble and we’ve got to work. The moment we relax and think we’re going to take it, we’ll probably get kicked in the ass.”

The M’s don’t intend to let that happen. More than any other team at provincials, VIU knows how to win. It takes work rate, said Stephens, greater speed of play, teamwork, desire and physicality.

“We’re confident that we’re going to keep our work rate and we’re going to put that effort out there,” he said. “That’s the key to our team and as long as we stay with that and work as a team, we’ll do fine.”

M’s women will bring toughness

Technically, the post-season gets underway Friday (Oct. 28).

But the VIU Mariners women’s soccer players have a head start – they’ve been in playoff mode the last half of the season.

“We’ve been playing almost do-or-die soccer,” said Anup Kang, the team’s coach. “Three weeks ago we were sitting last in our pool and needed to get some results and the girls really stepped it up.”

It’s a different feel than last season, said the coach, when his team clinched first well in advance of playoffs and perhaps found itself coasting at the wrong time of year.

“We’ll be a lot tougher mentally this year,” said Kang.

The Mariners (5-5-1) ended the regular season strongly this past weekend with a 1-1 tie against a Thompson Rivers University squad that is undefeated over its last 10 games. It shows the parity in the league, said the coach. Any one of the six teams in the playoffs could prevail.

The M’s women will start the PacWest championship tournament with a game against the Kwantlen Eagles.

“We’ll be ready,” Kang said. “We’re playing some good soccer and we’re going to give it our best shot and with a bit of luck, we’ll come back with something around our necks.”

SOCCER TALK … The Mariners men got great news this week leading up to provincials as PacWest announced its year-end award winners. Stephens was named Player of the Year, Kevan Brown was chosen Rookie of the Year and Merriman gets Coach of the Year. Stephens and Dan Cato were selected as first-team all-stars and Chris Arnett, Brown and Ben Leggett are second-team all-stars … The M’s women also got recognition from PacWest this week as Emily Nicholson and Brittany Shillingford were chosen second-team all-stars.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com

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