VIU Mariners player Emily Clarke takes a shot during practice Monday at the Vancouver Island University gym.

VIU Mariners player Emily Clarke takes a shot during practice Monday at the Vancouver Island University gym.

Season preview: VIU women showing toughness already

The VIU Mariners have had the sort of pre-season that will toughen them up for what’s ahead.

The VIU Mariners have had the sort of pre-season that will toughen them up for what’s ahead.

Vancouver Island University’s women’s basketball team has dealt with injuries, illness and other challenges but through it all, the M’s are ready for the PacWest season to start.

“We’ve had a lot of adversity and it’s only been two months now. That’s definitely brought us more together,” said Emily Clarke, VIU guard/forward.

Franjo Crnkovic, assistant coach, said “the girls have been really good” and both veterans and newcomers have shown leadership.

“They’ve been working hard and dodging some bullets and ups and downs and stuff, but they’re a pretty tight crew and they seem motivated,” he said.

Celina Guadagni, VIU guard, said the team has really bonded and players communicate well.

“We all want to have fun and we’re all great friends, which is awesome, and we want to win. We’re going to come out fighting, strong,” she said.

The Mariners are defending provincial champions, and Crnkovic noted the the majority of the team’s core has been to nationals the last two years and knows what it takes. The Mariners have lofty expectations, the competitive desire to fulfill those goals and the skill to make it happen.

“It’s not just that we’re close-knit, but we also have the talent behind that,” Clarke said.

Fifth-year forward Sienna Pollard returns as a leader at both ends of the court, and she will be joined up front by post player Victoria Brown, who will take on an increased role this season. Guadagni and Clarke will be starters along with a new addition, point guard Avery Snider, who is injured but will be an impact player. Another newcomer, Stephanie O’Sullivan, will be a contributor up front and Crnkovic said the Mariners want to use Pollard, Brown and O’Sullivan on the court at the same time to create matchup problems for opponents.

The assistant coach said the team has competed well against high-calibre opposition in the pre-season and looks forward to seeing how it matches up in the PacWest. Tipping off the season with an Island rivalry matchup against the Camosun Chargers on Saturday (Oct. 29) is a good way to start.

“The girls are pumped – for every game they better be pumped – but it’s going to be exciting,” Crnkovic said.

Clarke said fans can expect a fast, fun game, and said her team will dive on the court for the ball and do whatever it takes.

“We’re competing right to the end. Even if we’re blowing teams out or if we’re down, we’re going to compete the whole time,” she said.

GAME ON … Tipoff Saturday is at 6 p.m. at the VIU gym. Admission is $6, $4 for seniors and alumni, $2 for youths and free for VIU students.

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