Many VIU Mariners players carried with tradition by dying their hair blue for nationals. Some of the best ‘dos on the team are being sported by Govinda Innes, left, David Turkstra, Aly Adeeb and Joel Harry. (GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin)

It’s game day at college soccer nationals

VIU Mariners play Indiens d'Ahuntsic on Wednesday, Nov. 8 at 5:30 p.m.

Nationals have arrived in Nanaimo.

The Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association championships get underway Wednesday, Nov. 8 at Merle Logan Field.

The Vancouver Island University Mariners play tonight’s feature game against the Indiens d’Ahuntsic at 5:30 p.m.

“We’ve been, obviously, preparing for this since before the season started,” said VIU’s Jamie Taylor, a fifth-year veteran. “We’re excited. A little bit of nerves, but that’s a good thing.”

The Mariners, after finishing first in the Pacific Northwest Athletic Association regular season, didn’t medal at provincials two weeks ago in Squamish, but armed with a host berth, they get to continue playoffs.

“It humbled us, I think that’s the most important thing,” Taylor said. “We need to put it behind us going into nationals and take a lesson from that. We’re not, maybe, as good as we think we are. We still have to come and prepare for each game the way we always do.”

Preparation is more difficult at nationals, when there are new, unfamiliar opponents every step of the way. Bill Merriman, VIU coach, said he thinks Ahuntsic is one of the younger teams in the tournament, but a group that’s technically sound and fast.

“We’ve tried to play the same system and the same kind of [soccer] – possession, hold the ball, keep it and play some entertaining soccer,” he said. “That’s what we’re still trying to do and we’ll keep working on that and try to keep composure playing at home.”

Taylor said the team is looking forward to the hometown crowd. Family members, youths whom the Mariners coach, and other fans will be gathered for tonight’s crucial opening match. There’s pressure.

“For sure there is,” said Taylor. “But we’re just hoping to regardless of that, come out and have fun and still enjoy the [soccer].”

GAME ON … Wednesday’s VIU match starts at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for a day pass, $5 for students ages 13-18 and free for children. Tickets to championship Saturday are $15 for a day pass or $10 for students. A tournament pass costs $30.

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