Above: Last year’s Mariners team line up on the field.
By contributor Farida El Sheshingy
October 29, 2015: Here I am, staring at this blank screen, hoping that we play our hearts out through provincials this weekend. I was diagnosed with a mild concussion earlier today as my team headed to Burnaby for this year’s provincial league playoffs. I can’t help but reminisce about how it felt last year with all the tension building up to our big game. We had a “wild card” that year, which meant that we only had to win the first game out of two provincial title games to go to the National Championship. This year, on the other hand, we have to win both. I write this with great love for my team and with great faith that they will come through and play the best games they have ever played.
Last season had us in the lead, and going into provincials seemed like just another day at the office. The last provincial VIU women’s victory was 21 years ago when I was just a little over two months old. One of our assistant coaches was on that winning team in 1993, and that motivated us to work towards making this a special year for her. We had our game face on as soon as we stepped off the ferry and headed to Squamish.
We had been mentally preparing ourselves since our first team bonding session: focus on the now, win one half at a time. Somehow, it never came to us that if we won the two first halves of Provincials it meant we would be headed to Nationals.
Our bus rides to and from the hotel, the grocery store, and the pre-game training session were never as quiet, as heavy, or as long as they were on game day. Everyone was doing their own thing that day, whether it was listening to music, taking a power nap, or chatting about random things. All I could feel was my stomach fluttering.
We arrived at the field, marching quietly to the changing room, and tried not to focus on the other game that was already in play. We didn’t want the score to affect our focus, so we all walked briskly in single file as quickly as we could. I sat down in the changing room, waited for my team to get ready, and just soaked it all in. I couldn’t imagine myself going to Provincials in my first year of university-level soccer, let alone think about winning that game and going to Nationals. It was all beyond me.
After everyone was ready, the coaches walked in to give a speech, led by the men’s soccer team head coach Bill Merriman. He started by saying that it has been an incredible journey thus far, with our attitude, winning mentality, and resilience, and that he has had complete faith in us since our first league game. He continued to praise us on how far we’ve come and how extraordinary our accomplishments has been for the program this year. Coming from someone who has taken his team to Nationals several times, with a Nationals gold ring on his finger and a couple of silver medals around his neck, it was a big win in our books.
“This is for all the running you’ve done in pre-season, all the disappointment you overcame after a tough loss, all the hard work and effort you and your coaches have put in this season,” he said. “You have made your families, your friends, your school, and your whole community proud.” He proceeded to take out a little bag filled with toonies.
“And finally, this is from my father,” he said with a heavy heart. “May his soul rest in peace. I always give my guys a toonie before they win their big game, but this year I’m putting all my faith in you ladies. You are going all the way.”
Tears were streaming down our faces as he passed by each one of us in our crooked circle of chairs. Suddenly the room fell quiet, and no one could find words to express our gratitude for Bill, for our coaches, or for each other. At that moment, a silent nod to whoever you locked eyes with sufficed.
We got up together in a tight circle, reassured that our coaches, family, and friends would be proud no matter what happened, and cheered the loudest cheer we’d had in a while. We were stepping out to represent VIU in the best way we possibly could, and we did. My God, did we ever.
We battled hard all the way through to the full-time whistle, under the night sky with showers of rain, and silenced all our fears. I felt as if I was in a movie, with my heart racing, and I was getting inexplicably warm in such cold conditions screaming my lungs out in support of my teammates giving it their all. We made it through as a team—two days of hard work for the first provincial gold in 21 years. The pain was over, yet had only begun, because what lay ahead was so much bigger than we had ever dreamed of or imagined. But we didn’t care. “What happened after the changing room?” people would ask. The truth is, it all went so fast. We dominated the first half, and then kept on winning, half after half. Before we knew it, we were booking our flights to Medicine Hat and all we could hear were the words: VIU, Welcome to Nationals.
Editor’s note: At the time of publication, the Mariners Women’s soccer team was defeated at this years provincials, winning silver.