NANAIMO — A steady downpour did nothing to dampen the party, as Vancouver Island University proved they are the class of Canadian men's collegiate soccer.
The Mariners claimed the CCAA National Championship on home turf with a 1-0 win over PACWEST rival Douglas College on Saturday night at Merle Logan Field. More than 1,000 fans braved pouring rain and a tense second half to watch the home team capture a gold medal.
"Just pure happiness," Mariners coach Bill Merriman told NanaimoNewsNOW on the pitch after the game. "We've worked for this. I fought to try to get Nationals here...and we didn't disappoint our hometown."
VIU's Stefan Cukovic chipped in the game's only marker in the 15th minute. An offside call negated the only Douglas attempt to beat Mariners goalie David Turkstra on the night. Turkstra made several key saves throughout, including a brave effort to punch away a threatening cross in the final minutes.
The national title marked redemption for a Mariners side coming off a disappointing performace at the PACWEST provincial championships at the end of October. Despite finishing atop the regular season standings with only one loss, VIU did not earn a victory at the tournament. It was Douglas who captured the provincial title to earn a birth in the Nanaimo-hosted nationals.
On the national stage, the hosts allowed only one goal and outscored their opponents 8-1 over the course of this week's tournament.
The CCAA gold is the first in men's soccer for VIU since 2010 and only the third since 1983. Twice, in 2012 and 2014, the Mariners came away with silver medals.
Colin Knight was VIU's player of the game. Shun Takano was named tournament MVP, while Chris Merriman, Ryan McCurdy and Jordan DeGraff were chosen tournament all-stars.
"It's everything," Merriman said, when asked what it meant to win in front of the home fans. "They showed this week what they have in them. This is the big prize."
On Twitter: @domabassi
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