Every basketball team talks about its championship aspirations at this time of year.
With the VIU Mariners women, that goal is an achievable one. They believe it and so do the rest of the college teams in Canada – the M’s go into the regular season ranked No. 2 by the Canadian Colleges’ Athletic Association.
“It’s obviously nice, but it also puts a target on our backs,” said Kayla Gromme, VIU point guard. “It’s more pressure on us especially since we have been ranked high last year, as well, and we ended up choking.”
The M’s had a strong 2010-11 season but settled for fourth at provincial championships.
In an effort to go one better, the Mariner women have worked harder than ever to prepare for a new season, said Gromme.
“People are more focused on the goal that we have for the end of the season as well, which makes us want to push through the regular season,” she said.
Coach Bill McWhinnie has slowed things down this year to let the group find its way early on and hopefully peak at playoffs.
“It’s going to take time for that chemistry and that bonding to take place…” he said. “We’re still a ways away from where we can be but what we’ve done is encouraging.”
Almost everyone is back this year, but without graduated shooting guard Katie Pearson, the offence will look a little different.
“Our strength is totally our inside play,” said Bill McWhinnie. “So our focus now is to play physical and get the ball inside.”
Gromme can shoot from outside, drive the lane or pass the ball to a group of veteran forwards led by Brittany Knievel, Sarah Fraser and Richelle Rafnkjelson.
“Hopefully we can push people around lots…” said Knievel. “We’re stronger, we’re another year older. [The inside game] has been great in the past and we just want to keep getting better. We want to dominate inside and out.”
Newcomers on the M’s include Jocelyn Jones, a U.S. community college all-star, and freshmen Viv Veerman and Jamie MacFarlane.
The Mariners have potential – they know it, the rankings show it. So it gives them something to prove.
“It’s really exciting to be ranked that high,” Knievel said. “But then again, we still have to keep coming to practice every day and working because no one’s just going to give us second place at nationals. We’ve got to make it there.”
GAME ON … The M’s take on the Langara Falcons on Friday (Nov. 11) at 6 p.m. at the Vancouver Island University gym, then host the Kwantlen Eagles on Saturday at 1 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and alumni and $2 for VIU students … For a preview of the VIU Mariners men, please click here.