The VIU Mariners are the best in Canadian college basketball.
Vancouver Island University’s men’s b-ball team won the national championship on Saturday in Montreal, defeating the Holland Hurricanes 77-70 in the gold-medal game.
“It was just unreal and it’s hard to describe a feeling like that,” said Tyler Olsen, VIU veteran. “Knowing that you worked so long and so hard for something and you finally accomplish your goal and that nothing could ever take it away from you, that we’re national champions, it’s a surreal feeling.”
The Canadian Colleges’ Athletic Association championship final ended up being a matchup between the No. 5-seeded Hurricanes and the No. 6-seeded Mariners.
“We sort of just tried to approach the game the same way we always do,” said Matt Kuzminski, VIU coach. “I … made a comment along the lines of, ‘It’s another game of basketball – there just happens to be a lot more focus on this.'”
Early on, the M’s found an advantage inside, which not only helped open up a balanced attack for the Mariners, but it also forced the opponent into foul trouble.
VIU led 40-31 at halftime but Holland chipped away and even briefly took a lead late in the fourth quarter.
“Guys, we’ve been here before,” Kuzminski told his players. “We’re down one point, there’s two minutes, we’ve executed in these situations.”
Olsen said the team kept confident and focused at that critical point of the game.
“We all really believed that we could do it,” he said. “We all worked really hard for it and we weren’t going to let it get away from us.”
The M’s scored a basket, got a steal, scored another basket and got another steal to wrest back control of the game. Time expired and the Mariners were national champions.
“It’s crazy, honestly,” said Kuzminski. “Just seeing the guys and how happy they were, running on the court, and how much has gone into that, our early morning practices, all our training we’ve done, to get to a moment like this and have all that be rewarded, it’s a great feeling.”
Brandon Jones had a huge 34-point performance in the final and was selected tournament MVP. Olsen, playing his last game of college hoops, had 17 points and 12 rebounds and was a first-team all-star. Ryan Davidson was chosen a second-team all-star.
Even though nationals were three time zones away, the Mariners felt the support of the VIU Nation. Kuzminski said he had 60 congratulatory text messages, not to mention all the fans cheering along over social media.
“VIU men’s basketball must be trending, because everybody was talking about it,” he said.
It’s the first national title in 19 years for the Mariners program. A Canadian championship, obviously, doesn’t come along every year – it takes a special group, and the M’s had that, said Olsen.
“We’re the essence of a team,” he said. “We all bought into what we were doing, we all knew we could accomplish it and it all just came together perfectly.”