VIU Mariners forward Jenna Carver takes a jump shot during practice Monday at the Vancouver Island University gym.

VIU Mariners forward Jenna Carver takes a jump shot during practice Monday at the Vancouver Island University gym.

College basketball championships coming up

The VIU Mariners have known for a long time how basketball season will end – with national championships in their home gym.

The VIU Mariners have known for a long time how basketball season will end – with national championships in their home gym. But they don’t yet know exactly how it will end.

All that will be decided this week as Vancouver Island University hosts the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association women’s basketball championships.

The VIU Mariners and seven other teams from across the country make up the brackets and the action starts Thursday (March 19).

“There’s some very good teams that are coming and the basketball games will be outstanding…” said Bill McWhinnie, M’s coach. “I think the level of basketball is something that this town hasn’t seen for women’s basketball in a very long time.”

The Collège Montmorency Nomades come to the Island as the No. 1 seed and two-time defending champions. Teams from the Quebec conference have won nine straight CCAA titles. The field is so strong that the PacWest champs, the undefeated Quest Kermodes, are seeded sixth.

“One versus eight, it doesn’t matter,” McWhinnie said. “It’s the team that plays the best this weekend that’s going to win it, which is really exciting.”

VIU, the No. 7 seed, should be in the thick of things. In battling back to earn bronze at provincials earlier this month, the Mariners felt as though they proved they deserve a place at nationals.

“We didn’t get the medal we wanted, but we did play very well leaving that tournament,” the coach said. “So I think the girls are positive going forward as to what we can achieve at nationals.”

The team is mentally tough, said guard Amanda Tapia. The M’s are nervous, she said, but that’s OK.

“You’re kind of nervous if it means something to you…” she said. “It’s going to be a really exciting week, especially for us on our home court. We’re really pumped to have nationals here … It’s really motivating.”

Having a whole year to prepare and plan for this moment gives the Mariners perspective. Nationals in Nanaimo is more than just a basketball tournament, it’s something to enjoy and remember, the coach said.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all of us to be able to host a national championships in our hometown,” McWhinnie said. “The biggest thing is that they have fun and enjoy it this weekend and if they do that, they’ll play loose and they’ll play free and hopefully we do well.”

The Mariners know what rewards will come from winning a couple of games. VIU hasn’t hosted basketball nationals before, but it’s hosted volleyball nationals twice in the last 10 years and both those tournaments ended with the M’s in the gold-medal match, with the women winning it all in 2012.

“We’re definitely hoping for some home-court advantage here and that the team will do well. I think they’ve got a good chance of doing well,” said Bruce Hunter, VIU athletic director.

They’ve known all along what was coming, and now it comes to this, the end, and the VIU Mariners get to decide on the court how it all will end.

“Not many people can say that they got to play national-level basketball on their home court, in their hometown,” said Jenna Carver, M’s forward. “So I’m just going to try and enjoy every single second of it.”

GAME ON … The Mariners play the Holland Hurricanes on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the VIU gym. Tickets, $10 for adults or $6 for seniors and students, will be available at the door. For a preview of the game, please click here. For more schedule information, please click here.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com