Chris Arnett targets glory - A NDN feature

September 6th, 2015

by  Ross Armour - Nanaimo Daily News
Sep 9, 2015 at 2:00 PM

This time last year, Chris Arnett’s VIU soccer season was declared over before it had essentially started.

Fast forward 12 months and the midfield maestro is back, raring to go, to try and play his part to help deliver another national championship for the program.

The Mariners kick off the PacWest regular season against the Quest Kermodes today at Merle Logan Field and with it comes an extra responsibility for Arnett, after being handed the captain’s armband by head coach Bill Merrriman.

“The whole team is really excited,” said Arnett at practice Tuesday ahead of the home opener.

“We have a strong, deep team and looking as competitive as ever. We’re just looking to make our mark and go out with a winning season this year.”

Last September, Arnett’s mood was far from buoyant after he suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury during a pre-season game in Ladysmith, which would rule him out for the rest of the year.

He admits those were tough times, but a heavy physiotherapy program along with a period of hard graft got him back on the road to recovery soon enough and it’s clear the central midfielder is delighted to be back out on the field this time round.

“Last season, it wasn’t meant to be,” he said, “but this time it is.”

It’s evident Arnett, who is now in his fifth and final year with the Mariners, plans to take that glass half-full mentality into the new season along with the rest of the players and staff.

He said they’ve already targeted winning another national championship this year, after a heartbreaking 6-5 loss on penalty kicks against tournament hosts the Sheridan Bruins of Ontario in the gold medal game last fall.

“You have to start the season with that belief and set that goal,” said Arnett on the prospect of going all the way once again.

“But this is a team with pretty well almost every returning player bar one or two and we’ve also added on a very strong recruiting class. So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t shoot as high as we can go and aim to win the championship.”

Arnett says he’s been particularly impressed with those new players on the attacking side of things, including fellow midfielder Niko Cristante as well as defender Tyler Leonard and target man striker Taylor Arbour – both of whom stand at six-feet-five inches tall.

But the Mariners will have to mount their challenge this time without last year’s PacWest player of the year Victor Blasco, who has since moved on to the Vancouver Whitecaps 2 club.

Merriman also described the Spanish winger as the most technically gifted player he’s every worked with.

Yet despite the loss of Blasco, Arnett is still feeling as optimistic as ever.

“The difference with this squad this year is there isn’t the same one impact player,” he said. “We have a far deeper team so can have faith in anybody being replaced on and off the park and making the same strong impact.”

Today’s game starts at 4 p.m.

On the women’s side at VIU, mood in the camp is also bright after another successful pre-season program which included a tour of California.

Anup Kang’s team are the reigning conference champions and head into the new season in hot goal scoring form after scoring 11 goals in pre-season.

But with that came a couple casualties to key players Carli Rey and Bronte Fitzsimmons, who picked up ankle and knee injuries respectively.

Kang is hopeful their absences will only be short-term.

“We have a lot of offensive weapons this year and a lot of team speed,” said the head coach. “That creates problems for defenders and I think we’re going to be well-rounded and score goals.”

Kang believes the Mariners have a strong chance of defending their title but is under no illusions as to how difficult that task will be.

“This is such a tough league,” he said. “You need a bit of luck and to stay injury-free, but we’ll be in the running.”

The women’s team also faces the Kermodes at 1:30 p.m. at Merle Logan.