It’s kind of like getting a pop quiz the first week back in school.
The VIU Mariners men’s and women’s soccer teams jump right into the regular season on the second day of the semester Wednesday (Sept. 3) with road games against the Quest Kermodes.
“The whole team is meshing really well, which is very exciting…” said Shelby Walker, goalkeeper on VIU’s women’s team. “I feel like we’re really prepared to go into it and play Quest hard.”
Coach Anup Kang has liked the way his team has practised and played in the pre-season.
“The girls are really focused; our core group is leading the way,” he said. “They’ve done a lot of hard work in the off-season so now they’re starting to see the rewards from it when we go on the field.”
There are seven new players, and all “have really good touch on their feet” and good skill, said Walker.
Notably, Bronte Fitzsimmons, a former Golden Boot winner, is back after a couple of seasons in the U.S.
Kang said the Mariners women can be right there with the top teams in the Pacific Western Athletic Association, but the key will be health, a factor that troubled the team a year ago.
Walker said she thinks with the depth this year, that won’t be as much of an issue.
“There isn’t a starting 11,” she said. “Everybody on our team has their own skill that they can bring to the team. So we’re not worried – if there’s an injury, we’ve got someone else.”
Kang agreed the VIU women will be a versatile group, and said that will also allow his side to attack the opposition in different ways.
After missing out on provincials in Nanaimo a year ago, the team hopes to return to playoff contention.
“We’re looking forward to it,” the coach said. “We’ve been waiting for this since the end of last year.”
The Mariners men will also have a new-look lineup. Farhad Abdulgani had been slated to take over the captaincy this year, but was forced to leave Nanaimo due to family reasons.
The M’s still have a roster stacked with skill. Newcomer Victor Blasco will be one of the league’s top players lining up on the wide left side and Jordan de Graaf returns to the team after a year away and will be a leader in the midfield.
Bill Merriman, coach of the M’s men’s soccer team, said he’s happy with the way the squad has looked through the pre-season.
“I think you’ll see a lot more keeping possession and moving the ball,” he said. “Our talent, as far as technical ability, is quite high this year.”
The next step will be to ensure that the guys play with the requisite work rate.
“[We’re] very, very talented, skilled,” he said. “In the past, VIU’s always been very gritty and hard-nosed, winning balls, and that’s something we’re going to have to work on.”
GAME ON … The VIU Mariners play the Langara Falcons on Saturday (Sept 6), with the women’s match at 1 p.m. and the men to follow at 3 p.m. at Merle Logan Field. The next day, VIU hosts the Capilano Blues with game times at noon and 2 p.m.