VIU’s hopes of repeat blown away

The Vancouver Island University Mariners men's soccer team won bronze medals at nationals last week in Quebec City.

The VIU Mariners returned to Nanaimo this week with bronze medals, not the exact shade of neckwear they’d hoped for.

But Bill Merriman, coach of the men’s soccer team, said he’s very proud of this year’s group and its achievements. He doesn’t need to search for answers as to why the team didn’t repeat as national champs – the answer, as they say, is blowin’ in the wind.

The Mariners’ dreams of back-to-back gold faded on the first day of this year’s Canadian Colleges’ Athletic Association championships, on a windswept pitch in Quebec City. The M’s were up 1-0 against the Holland Hurricanes when the P.E.I. team booted a ball from 70 yards out toward the VIU goalkeeper.

“The wind caught it and it went up over his head and in,” said Merriman. “That was a little bit devastating.”

The Hurricanes got another break on the winning goal, as an M’s defender’s clearing attempt ricocheted off a player’s leg into the net. So by the time the final whistles sounded, the VIU players found they had lost 2-1 without allowing hardly a shot on goal.

“They definitely didn’t deserve to lose it but they didn’t finish their chances,” said the coach. “They stayed focused and bounced back for the other two games and they basically did what they had to do to try and get back in the tournament. But unfortunately they needed help from another team and that didn’t happen.”

The Mariners needed the ’Canes to lose by a goal, and also needed to win their next game by three goals. It might have happened, but Holland squeezed out a win, so VIU’s 3-0 win Friday propelled them to the bronze-medal game, not the gold-medal final.

There, they defeated F-X Garneau 3-1 on Saturday.

“We really wanted to make sure that we did get that bronze and we wanted to work very hard as a group because we wanted to prove that we deserved to be there and we wanted to represent the PacWest well,” Merriman said.

The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology Ooks won gold, beating Holland in the final, 2-1. The M’s know that they could easily have been in that game.

“Without a doubt I can say that,” said Merriman. “Even talking to the coach from NAIT and other coaches and even the coach of the Holland team that beat us, I think everybody thought we were good enough to get to the final.”

SOCCER TALK … Merriman was named the CCAA’s Coach of the Year at nationals and Jared Stephens was announced as a CCAA All-Canadian. Stephens and Stephen Ewashko were selected as tournament all-stars.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com