Dan Cato was not going to let his soccer career at Vancouver Island University end with food poisoning.
The Mariners' captain, dragged himself out of bed for their must-win season finale against the Douglas Royals on Sunday, and helped key a 4-0 win that clinched the final playoff spot in the Pacific Western Athletic Association championships at Merle Logan Field this weekend.
VIU plays Thompson Rivers University on Saturday in their first game.
It is efforts like that which landed Cato on the PacWest first all-star team. He was joined by mid-fielder Farhad Abdulgani while rookie striker Keegan Lang was selected to the second all-star team.
"Danny's been huge for our success, when he's in the line up our team always seems to do well, we do a little better with his leadership," said VIU head coach Bill Merriman.
Cato was so sick, he was in the hospital on Wednesday and Thursday. He missed Saturday's 1-0 loss to the Kwantlen Eagles, setting up the win-or-go-home game against Douglas.
He had no idea how long he'd be able to play on Sunday, but he got in for 65 minutes and played a major role in the Mariners' defensive effort.
"It's been emotional for sure, I've been injured throughout the year and haven't been able to be as involved in every game as I would like to," said Cato. "I've had to sit on the sidelines and put my faith in all of the players to get the job done and they definitely haven't let me down, they've come through."
Abdulgani led the Mariners in scoring with five goals in 10 games, but saved his best for last, scoring three times against the Royals. He has made a huge impact in his first season with the M's, bringing some muchneeded experience to a very young crew.
"He's the kind of guy that when he came here, the first thing he said was that he wanted to win trophies, and that's the exactly the type of player he is. When he steps on the field, he wants to win," said Merriman.
The import mid-fielder was honoured by the all-star selection, but did his best to deflect the credit to his teammates.
"I wouldn't get this recognition without my teammates," said Abdulgani, who transferred in from the Simon Fraser University.
"In the Douglas game, everybody was talking about me, but if people were watching the game, they would see a huge team effort and that's what they should focus on."
Lang broke on to the PacWest scene after staring for the Dover Bay Dolphins, and looked right at home. He finished with four goals in his rookie campaign, but one of his biggest assets is his versatility, having the ability to play multiple positions.
"It's so big for him to get that all-star award, it's well deserved," said Merriman. "He's played a lot of minutes for us, scored a couple of goals for us and I think he's just going to keep going up form there."
There was still some adjusting to the PacWest level for the Nanaimo native, most notably, he was suddenly playing against men, not teenaged boys.
"It was definitely a new level for me and I'm just looking to improve on it next year," said Lang.
That physicality is something they will have to contend with against TRU on Saturday at 3 p.m. The WolfPack finished first overall in the PacWest and beat VIU both times they played - 4-2 in Week 1 and 2-1 in Week 4. TRU is a veteran program with a lot of skill and plays an aggressive, physical style.
It is a tough match up to open the provincial tournament, but if the Mariners win, they clinch a spot in the Canadian College Athletic Association championships, as there is a wild card spot for B.C. this season.
If they win, they will play the winner of Douglas and the Langara Falcons in the final on Sunday at 3 p.m. If they lose, they will miss nationals for the first time in three years, and will play in the bronze medal game on Sunday at 10 a.m. But for VIU, the biggest challenge was just making provincials, now they feel a lot of the pressure is off.
"They spent themselves last week, as far as learning what it takes, now it's a matter of just getting it done here in front of the home crowd and getting it done," said Merriman.
The women's provincial championship is being hosted simultaneously by VIU at Merle Logan, with No. 1 TRU taking on No. 4 Langara and the No. 2 Quest Kermodes playing the No. 3 UBC-Okanagan Heat in the semifinals at noon on Saturday. The bronze medal game will also go at 10 a.m. on Sunday with the gold medal game at 12:30 p.m.
© Copyright 2013