The Vancouver Island University Mariners men’s basketball team ended their season last year on a remarkable high note when they clinched the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) National Championship. For Head Coach Matt Kuzminski, who was in his first year heading up the squad the big win came as somewhat of a pleasant surprise. “It all happened so fast” Kuzminski says, “I didn’t have expectations of winning a National Championship.”
The goals Kuzminski set out for The Mariners last year were more about following certain principles, and concentrating on core facets of their game on a day to day basis. Clearly this focus and hard work paid off for the new Coach and his squad as the Mariners went all the way for the first time in 19 seasons.
“It was great to see all our hard work we began in May pay off, to see the guys work so hard and then be successful” Kuzminski says.
When asked what made last years Mariners team so successful on the court Kuzminski simply replies “everyone bought into what we were trying to do, and obviously we were healthy at the right times.”
This season Coach Kuzminski will face a new set of challenges as some core members of last years Championship winning team have since graduated or moved on. Star players Adam Conley, Ryan Davidson and 5th year Senior Tyler Olsen will not be rejoining the Mariners this season. Olsen could arguably be the biggest loss to the M’s, he was dubbed an All Star at both the Provincials and the Nationals last year.
Clayton Billet and some other familiar faces will be returning for the Mariners this season however and Kuzminski hopes that his new squad will buy in to the same principles that made the team so successful last season. “”It’s going to be a challenge” Kuzminski says, “for the returners it wont be as much of an adjustment” but there will be plenty of new faces on the Mariners bench and fans will be watching to see how quickly they adjust to Kuzminski’s system.
When asked if he feels like there is pressure to follow up last years big win at the Nationals Coach Kuzminski replies “that was last year, it’s over with.” Kuzminski seems determined to start the year with a clean slate and reminds us that in University ball many teams are in a constant state of building and rebuilding. “Teams in our league have reloaded with new players” Kuzminski says, confident that much of the Mariners opposition is in the same boat.
For the Mariners one such new player to watch may be Seth Goodman. Kuzminski describes Goodman as “highly athletic” and “full of potential” but does point out that Goodman has been in and out of a structured basketball environment over the past few years. “For him the challenge will be can he get into that structure” says Kuzminski. Mariners fans will certainly be hoping that Goodman fits well into the coaches system and goes someway to fill the gap left by Conley, Davidson and Olsen.
With all the changes in the Mariners roster and the challenges that may represent for the Head Coach in just his second year behind the bench Kuzminski remains confident that the Mariners can achieve success this season. Whether that success will come at the same high level it did last year remains to be seen but Mariners fans should be in for an exciting ride.
“We’re going to build on the same principles as last year” Kuzminski says, “exciting pace, high pressure basketball and hopefully that translates to some success.”
Fans can stay up to date with the Mariners and check for upcoming home games on their website at www.mariners.viu.ca