Anything can happen on the soccer pitch, and the VIU Mariners are in position to make things happen at provincials.
Vancouver Island University’s men’s and women’s soccer sides head to Burnaby this week for the Pacific Western Athletic Association championships. Both Mariners teams go in as the No. 2 seeds, with the VIU men slated to take on the Douglas Royals and the VIU women up against the Langara Falcons.
The PacWest has two berths to both men’s and women’s nationals, meaning the Mariners teams just need to make it to their provincial finals to advance.
“It’s a way different way of preparing for a tournament like this,” said Bill Merriman, coach of the M’s men. “It’s a championship tournament and really, you’re putting all your focus on that first game. You should anyways … but with this extra pressure on it, it makes it a real focus. It’s like winning a championship when you win that first game.”
He likes the matchup of facing the Royals. VIU won the season series, two games to one, and the last two meetings were both one-goal games.
“One thing for sure: it’s going to be a great game game,” Merriman said. “Since I’ve been coaching, we always seem to meet them somewhere in the playoffs, whether it be nationals or provincials and it’s always a good game and usually a very close game.”
The coach said he wants his team to stay on the attack against the Royals, mentioning that the Mariners can play too conservatively sometimes. They’re better, he said, when they move the ball around quickly and get everyone involved.
Another storyline will be how the M’s adapt to playing without their star midfielder, Victor Blasco, who suffered a season-ending injury last weekend. Merriman said his team has the depth and talent to handle the adversity, but noted that players won’t be afforded the extra space on the pitch they would get when Blasco was demanding opponents’ attention.
Merriman said his team is ready and looking forward to this next stage of soccer.
“This year we were a little up and down, but the players knew the level that we could play,” he said.
VIU women will play with heart
The Mariners women might be more heavily favoured to advance to the final. VIU had a tie and then two wins against the Falcons in that season series, and what’s more, the most recent meeting was a 6-0 road win for VIU. But the Mariners won’t get too ahead of themselves.
“Langara’s a very good team, well-coached,” said Anup Kang, coach of the M’s women. “We need to stay in the moment and play in the moment, because when it comes to provincials, anything can happen.”
The coach said playoffs will bring a different level of intensity, but he pointed out that his players will be prepared for that because they’ve been there before.
Kaylee Dodds, VIU veteran, said the soccer changes in some ways when provincials begin, as the games are more competitive, the intensity rises and 50-50 balls are harder to win. At the same time, she wants her team to keep doing the things it’s been doing.
“We’re just going to go forward and push as hard as we can…” said Dodds. “Working as a team, playing for each other and playing with our hearts and just putting it out on the field and see where we get.”
GAME ON … VIU’s women play Langara at 12:30 p.m. and VIU’s men play Douglas at 3 p.m. on Friday (Oct. 29) at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex.