Vancouver Island University’s men’s and women’s basketball teams practised and played hard all season to earn top seeds in the playoffs, and now they’ll try to parlay that advantage into championship gold.
The VIU Mariners teams are off to New Westminster for PacWest provincials starting Thursday, Feb. 28. Both M’s teams have byes into Friday’s semifinals; the VIU men (16-2) play Langara or Camosun and the VIU women (17-1) take on Douglas or Langara.
“I think we’re in a good spot,” said Matt Kuzminski, coach of the M’s men. “I like the way our team’s playing but I think it’s going to be a war … I think both the games we play are going to be really tough.”
The men are led by guard Harry Fayle, announced today as the PacWest Player of the Year, top scorer Landon Radliff, PacWest Defensive Player of the Year Tyus Barfoot, and graduating veteran post Jerod Dorby. Fayle and Barfoot were chosen first-team all-stars and Dorby is a second-team all-star.
Kuzminski said whichever side of the brackets the Mariners had ended up on, they would be facing a challenging semifinal opponent. He said versus Langara or Camosun, VIU has a good idea of how those teams will want to play and how his team can find an edge.
“Against both those teams, we have to get out and get running and really attack the basket and put pressure on the rim,” the coach said. “I think we’re such a good three-point shooting team that it’s important for us to remember to attack, attack, attack before we settle for too many threes.”
Should the Mariners make it through the semis, they could find themselves up against the No. 2-seeded Douglas Royals. That potential final would be a marquee matchup especially because playing Douglas in that team’s home gym would create symmetry with last year’s PacWest final that saw the Royals defeat the Mariners in the VIU gym.
“It’s more just about who we’re going to play Friday night and getting through that…” Kuzminski said. “We’re locked in on the first game and trying to take care of that step.”
VIU women want to control the pace at provincials
The Mariners women are also putting all their focus on the semifinals right now. Tony Bryce, coach of the M’s women, said the possible opponents present significantly different challenges, with Douglas a physical squad and Langara a team that will “junk it up” to try to be competitive.
“It’s hard to prepare for both and that’s why our focus has been on preparing us, really,” Bryce said. “If we do that, we should be ready for whoever we may face through the weekend.”
For the Mariners to be able to control the flow, the way they want, it will start with responsibility in their own end of the court, the coach said.
“It’s making sure that we’re engaged and mentally locked into the defensive side of the ball, and if that happens, then that tends to naturally let us flow offensively and we get to get up and down the floor and play with pace and use our depth to wear people down,” he said.
Bryce was chosen PacWest Coach of the Year at the close of his team’s near-perfect regular season. Guards Amber Lease and Avery Snider were selected as first-team all-stars and Shayce Johnston is a second team all-star. Other key contributors are graduating vets Emma Platner, Emily Clarke and Victoria Brown.
“I really like this group,” Bryce said. “They’ve worked hard and you’ve got to trust the process this week and trust the work you’ve put in.”