Vancouver Island University Mariners player Sienna Pollard drives past a Camosun Chargers opponent during a game this season at the VIU gym.

Vancouver Island University Mariners player Sienna Pollard drives past a Camosun Chargers opponent during a game this season at the VIU gym.

Mariners poised to make a push in PacWest

Vancouver Island University’s women’s basketball team (4-2) has risen to the challenges of a difficult first semester.

It’s sometimes said that defending a championship is harder than winning one, and the VIU Mariners are finding that out.

Vancouver Island University’s women’s basketball team (4-2) has risen to the challenges of a difficult first semester and is right in the mix among the Pacific Western Athletic Association contenders.

“It has been a good start,” said Franjo Crnkovic, the team’s assistant coach who has filled in as head coach all fall. “It’s been a battle and the nice thing is, it’s probably the most resilient group I’ve ever seen or had a chance to work with, while I was playing or coaching.”

The Mariners, defending provincial champions, made a few changes to the roster this past off-season, but due to a series of injuries, the lineup wasn’t just tweaked, it was shaken up at times.

“We always say we all need to know every position on the court, and it kind of put that pressure on everyone to kind of step up,” Crnkovic said.

A turning point came early in just the second week of the season on home court, when VIU lost a close game against the Douglas Royals one night and then got blown out the next day against the conference-leading Capilano Blues. The Mariners responded right away and won their remaining three games in the semester, all by 20-plus points.

“The girls are confident, but I think that confidence is more we know we can play that way. It’s not surprising,” the coach said. “They’ve worked so hard, they’ve put so much time in, it’s just something that should happen if they keep on doing it.”

Even though the squad hasn’t had a game in almost a month, players were continuing to practise up until the end of last week.

“The nice thing that we’ve been able to do this first half of the season is to really work on things off the court, whether that’s team bonding, mental training, holding each other accountable for things, and conditioning, which is a lot of things that I think will allow us to continue to improve and reach our goals that we have at the end of the season,” Crnkovic said.

Sienna Pollard has been the Mariners’ leader in all statistical categories. She is fifth in the PacWest in points per game (13.8), third in rebounding (8.0) and sixth in assists (2.8). Emily Clarke is fifth in the conference in rebounding (7.3) and Victoria Brown is eighth (6.5).

GAME ON … The Mariners host a four-team tournament at the VIU gym from Dec. 28-30. The M’s women take on the Langara Falcons on Dec. 28 at 3 p.m., face the Camosun Chargers Dec. 29 at 1 p.m., then end off against the nationally ranked Southern Alberta Institue of Technology Trojans on Dec. 30 at noon.

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