VIU Mariners goalkeeper Robbie Cochrane makes a save at practice Thursday night at Merle Logan Field. Vancouver Island University’s men’s soccer team begins play at the Canadian Colleges’ Athletic Association Championships on Wednesday (Nov. 7) in Coquitlam.

VIU Mariners goalkeeper Robbie Cochrane makes a save at practice Thursday night at Merle Logan Field. Vancouver Island University’s men’s soccer team begins play at the Canadian Colleges’ Athletic Association Championships on Wednesday (Nov. 7) in Coquitlam.

VIU soccer team returns to national stage

Nanaimo's university soccer squad has just as much of a chance as any team at the CCAA championships next week in Coquitlam.

The Mariners know nationals.

Vancouver Island University’s men’s soccer team knows what it’s like to win a Canadian Colleges’ Athletic Association championship. Players also know what it’s like to come achingly close to the gold-medal game.

They won it all in 2010; they contented themselves with bronze in 2011. This whole 2012 season has been about getting back to the big stage.

“Last year there was some unfinished business,” said Bill Merriman, coach of the VIU men. “And win or lose this year, we’re back, and we can get another crack at it.”

The M’s had to work for it – there were roster subtractions and additions, and the Pacific Western Athletic Association regular season was as challenging as ever.

“You don’t know what kind of team you’re going to show up with at the start of the season, but we have no disappointments at all,” said Dan Cato, VIU defender. “Getting back is a dream come true, really. Having a third shot, three years in a row is something to be proud of.”

The M’s were so focused on nationals, that after they achieved that goal last weekend in the provincial semifinals, it was hard, in some ways, to quickly refocus and try to win a PacWest title. They didn’t manage it, earning provincial silver, but it doesn’t matter now. They have just as much of a chance as any team at the CCAA championships, which start Wednesday (Nov. 7) in Coquitlam.

“It sort of sets us up as the underdog, which is not always a bad position to be in,” Cato said. “Pressure’s a difficult thing to deal with and at this point – other than the pressure we put on ourselves, obviously, because we know we can do better – there’s not as much.”

The M’s will be as relaxed and confident as it’s possible to be at this time of year, because so many of them have been to this stage before. They’re passing along whatever wisdom they can to their younger teammates.

“We’re trying to share with them that experience, share with them that knowledge about just how different it is – the atmosphere, the feeling…” said Matt Mehrassa, team captain. “Because it takes a lot more than just a 90-minute battle, it’s the whole four or five days.”

Every game is huge. The first one pits VIU against Prince Edward Island’s Holland College, the opponent that eliminated the M’s a year ago. After that comes either the PacWest champions, the Douglas Royals, or the reigning CCAA champs, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology Ooks. But hey, the Mariners know nationals, and they knew it was never going to be easy.

“It’s a do-or-die attitude for everyone,” Cato said. “The speed of the game goes up big time, as well as everyone seems to get more out of themselves than they ever have before.

“Being at a national championship and knowing what’s on the line brings out the best not just in our players, but in every other team out there.”

sports@nanaimobulletin.com

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