VIU basketball gives nationals a shot

Vancouver Island University’s men’s and women’s basketball teams are both out east for their respective CCAA championship tournaments.

VIU Mariners teammates Evan Verdel

VIU Mariners teammates Evan Verdel

The VIU Mariners have stretched out basketball season all the way to mid-March. Now maybe they can stretch it out a little further, to the medal round.

Vancouver Island University’s men’s and women’s basketball teams are both out east for their respective Canadian Colleges’ Athletic Association championship tournaments.

The men are in Montreal; the women, in Truro, N.S.

“We’ve talked about it all year; it was our main goal to make it to nationals…” said Evan Verdel, VIU veteran. “The whole team’s pretty excited and it’s going to be a fun experience.”

The Mariners weren’t satisfied with coming second to the Langara Falcons at provincials, but quickly shifted focus.

“A key thing of ours was not to over-prepare,” said Verdel. “We’ve focused on still enjoying the game, having fun in practice but at the same time getting ready for the games ahead.”

It starts Thursday (March 14) as the No. 6-seeded Mariners take the court against the No. 3-seeded Red Deer Kings. It might be a bit of a clash of styles.

“We match up pretty well,” Verdel said. “We’re a defensive team and they look like they like to run and gun and be a little careless. So as long as we play good D I think defence will win the game.”

Brandon Jones, VIU guard, said the M’s are confident they can match up with any team at the tournament – the Falcons are the No. 1 seed and the Mariners played that team close all season long.

“It’s going to be good basketball, but I don’t think it’s going to be anything better than we’ve seen already in the year,” Jones said.

What might be different is the atmosphere. Some of the Mariners are veterans of the 2010-11 team that won bronze at nationals, but for others the faraway, high-stakes tourney will be a new experience.

“It will feel a little different not having anybody in the crowd cheering for us or anything like that,” Jones said. “But us staying together, since it’s all we have, cheering for each other, I feel like it will bring the bond closer together and that’s something that we need to win games, especially since it’s the playoffs.”

GAME ON … The provincial-champion Mariners women, also a No. 6 seed, tip off nationals Thursday against the Dawson College Blues.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com