Larry Stefanek had a great season last year in his second term as head coach of the Vancouver Island University Mariners men’s soccer team.
The Mariners made it to the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association soccer final but fell short against Durham Lords, losing 3-2 in the national title game.
Coming so close to a national crown has motivated Stefanek to key in on this goal this season. He is well-prepared as he has just completed his Canada Soccer A Licence certification, which is currently the top-level certification in the Performance Stream of Canada’s Soccer Coach Education Program for senior players currently playing in a college, university, professional club or academy environment.
Stefanek was one of 30 coaches who participated in the two-year certification program but will have to wait to put those skills into play.
The Mariners soccer season and CCAA championships have all been cancelled.
“No games are being allowed at this time due to COVID-19,” said Stefanek. “It is disappointing but there are more important things than playing. That’s the reality now.”
Stefanek said the Mariners are keen to start playing again with the goal of achieving a national championship.
“We built our program,” said Stefanek. “We lost some players but we brought in some new good players. We wanted to build on that once we get back there and finish the business off. It’s going to have to wait another year now.”
Some of the Mariners players are in their senior year at VIU and disappointed that soccer has been cancelled. But Stefanek said all is not lost.
“I have few guys who are in this position but there is a silver lining,” Stefanek explained. “It won’t count as a year of their eligibility because the national championships are cancelled.”
The Mariners did start training in the first week of September but because many of their players now play in the Vancouver Island Soccer League, they had to stop.
“Since they’re all in a cohort with their club team, and our VIU team is another separate cohort, there can’t be two cohorts at the same time, which makes sense,” said Stefanek.
Despite not playing, Stefanek said the players are still receiving their scholarship.
“It’s a credit to VIU for doing that,” said Stefanek. “It gives a bit of stability and give our players an opportunity to come back even though they’re doing their courses online for the most part. It’s important they take care of them financially in terms of scholarships.”
Stefanek is also coaching the Ballenas Whalers high school soccer team. For now, the Whalers are allowed to conduct skills and drills but the B.C. High School Sports Association has yet to make a decision whether inter-school games would be allowed.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Stefanek. “We’re hoping we will eventually be able to play against other schools but right now there’s no games at all. It’s all up in the air right now. It’s tough for the kids.”