VIU wants to seize opportunity at nationals

The VIU Mariners, the Canadian Colleges’ Athletic Association’s defending champions, go into the 2011 tournament this week as the No. 1 seeds, the favourites and the most experienced team there.

VIU Mariners player A.J. Kambere

VIU Mariners player A.J. Kambere

Experience counts, and Vancouver Island University’s men’s soccer team knows how to play at nationals.

The VIU Mariners, the Canadian Colleges’ Athletic Association’s defending champions, go into the 2011 tournament this week as the No. 1 seeds, the favourites and the most experienced team there.

Knowing how to play in big games helps, say the M’s. But knowing what it means to win might be even more important because it’s supreme motivation.

“We all know how much that means and how good that’ll feel after, because we have felt it,” said Stephen Ewashko, VIU midfielder.

There’s a different mood going to nationals this year, say the M’s. As they get ready to start play tomorrow (Nov. 9) in Quebec City, there’s not the same sense of the unknown that there was a year ago.

“We can look back on what we did last year and how we prepared for each game and it will help us,” said Ben Leggett, VIU defender.

Ewashko said the M’s feel like they know some of the players and teams to watch for. So VIU’s experience helps them prepare for games, he said, and it might help them stay calm going into games. But when the game gets underway, experience doesn’t matter as much.

“You’re just focused on the next play, when you get that ball, when the team gets that ball,” Ewashko said. “I don’t think it really comes down to experience in the end. It comes down to who’s the better team, maybe who gets the lucky breaks during the game and who can work the hardest.”

The M’s believe it’s their hard work on the pitch, not their experience, that will be their greatest advantage.

They like to preach “work rate” and its importance gets magnified at playoff time when the M’s and every other team in the tournament are willing to work their hardest to achieve their goals.

“That’s what it’s going to take, a full game of hard work. Each game is like that,” said Daniel Young-Mercer, VIU goalkeeper. “The experience is going to help but everyone’s going to have the energy.”

So the Mariners will try to squeeze out any other advantage they have. It’s a mental edge to be defending champs, they believe. Opposing teams might feel like they have to up their game to run with VIU, while the M’s think they can basically stick to their own game plan.

“The teams are there to beat us, we’re just there to be us,” Leggett said. “Therefore, we just play our game.”

The M’s have the confidence to be able to do that, while the opposition might not have that same confidence going up against VIU.

“That will add to the intimidation factor for the other teams that play against us,” Ewashko said. “They’re playing against the champions, so good luck, right?”

The M’s admitted to some butterflies last week as they were preparing to leave, but said the games really will be more fun than nerve-wracking. It’s exciting because they know, from experience, exactly what’s on the line.

“You don’t get these opportunities very often and we’ve been so lucky to maybe get another shot at it…” Ewashko said. “This might not happen again. This could be our last chance and we’ve got to do it again.”

GAME ON … The M’s start the tourney Wednesday (Nov. 9) against P.E.I.’s Holland Hurricanes. For more info, visit the tournament web site. To read about VIU’s provincial championship victory last month, please click here.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com