Blaze Roberts featured in the NDN

October 21st, 2012

VIU's Blaze heating up for playoffs

Mariners' rookie midfielder has five goals in the last four games; plays UBCO and TRU this weekend
 
Josh Aldrich
Daily News

 

There may not be a more aptly named player in Pacific Western Athletic Association men's soccer than Vancouver Island University Mariners' midfielder Blaze Roberts.

Quite simply, no one else is hotter.

And, yes, Blaze is his real name. In the last two weeks has scored five goals to join Stephen Ewashko at the top of the Mariners' scoring list with six goals each.

Making his current run all that more impressive is that he is doing it as one of the youngest players in the conference at just 18-years-old. With just two games to go before provincials, his added scoring touch will be critical for the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association No. 6 ranked Mariners.

They wrap up their regular season this weekend with a road trip to play the University of B.C. Okanagan Heat in Kelowna today and then Thompson Rivers University Wolfpack on Sunday with second place in the PacWest already wrapped up.

It is the time of year when the Mariners need to be at their best and, despite their only loss of the year this past Sunday against the Douglas Royals, VIU is getting pretty close to that level.

For Roberts it has been a long season to get to this point, a journey that started with coming to Nanaimo early to play for the Mid Isle Highlanders U-21 team. Now he is finally starting to feel like he belongs in this league.

"It feels great, especially as a rookie, (playing well) you get way more respect from all of the other boys," said the Campbell River native.

"You try your hardest during training it always pays off during the game."

There's no question he belongs now, despite being as much as five or six years younger than many of his teammates.

Two weeks ago was Roberts' big coming out party when he scored two goals in a 2-1 win over the Langara Falcons and then another two goals the next day in a 5-0 whitewashing of the Quest Kermodes. Then this past Sunday he carried much of the play in the second half against the Douglas Royals, even scoring the 2-2 equalizer, before VIU ultimately fell 3-2 in their first regular season defeat in two seasons.

Head coach Bill Merriman, is not surprised by the recent offensive spurt from Roberts, in fact he believes the freshman will be capable of putting up even bigger numbers in his sophomore season.

"He's realized it's another level and he's starting to take it serious," said Merriman. "It's not just another level from youth soccer, university soccer is probably the highest level around here. It's pretty intense and I think it's taken him a while to figure that out."

Merriman is expecting Roberts to continue his high level of play in the post-season, as VIU eyes a return to the CCAA championships where they won bronze last season and gold the year before.

"I don't think it will be much of an issue because he is such a competitor, he's still not ready for 90-minute games, but when he is on the field he will definitely be an impact," said Merriman. "He likes that competitiveness. I think the playoffs will be even better than his league play."

He spent his summer playing for the Merriman-run U-21 Highlanders and that served a big role in his integration into the Mariners' system. It is a path a number of the rookies have taken this year with VIU while many of the veterans continue to play for the Highlanders club out of Victoria once the PacWest campaign is done.

"It is the best of the players from the Mid Isle, all of those players played on really good teams," said Roberts. "It prepares you better because you play against way bigger guys than what I was playing with in Metro. It teaches you a lot more and you have to be quicker on the ball."

It was another jump altogether to the college level and he admittedly started out slower than he hoped. But now he has found his game, giving the Mariners another threat to go along with Ewashko and Drissa Bouare.

Heading into the final week of the season, the Mariners are hoping for a couple of turnouts. With an ailing back line, they need to emerge healthy and without any more injuries or yellow and red card violations. Also, there is a strong possibility they will be playing TRU in the first round of provincials - at Quest University from Oct. 26-28 - and Sunday's game is a chance for them to send a message.

"We have to go in and want to win both games and do our best," said Merriman.