The VIU Mariners, reigning four-time national volleyball champions, will be defending their title, and will do so in their home gym.
Vancouver Island University plays host to the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association championships Wednesday through Saturday, March 8-11.
The Mariners were assured a berth in nationals before the 2022-23 season even began, and finished first in league play in the PacWest conference before being upset by the rival Camosun Chargers in the gold-medal match at provincials at the end of February.
“We knew that the pressure was going to mount as the season got going. The last two weeks of league and provincials, we’ve definitely started to feel the pressure to the point where we’re at now,” said Shane Hyde, the team’s coach.
The Mariners have been talking about nationals all year, but what they haven’t been talking about is a “drive for five,” said the coach.
“We haven’t used that saying whatsoever on our team,” he said. “This year is completely this year.”
The four straight championships have strengthened a tradition of success and informed a pathway to follow, but every year is different, said team captain Kayla Passmore.
“This true Mariners blueprint that we’ve used for years and years has had to be moulded a bit because of all the new personalities on the team,” she said. “It’s been an interesting journey.”
Passmore said the group hasn’t yet played to its potential. Jane Lytvynenko, the PacWest player of the year, said the team was able to do “valuable analysis” after its runner-up finish at provincials and will go into nationals unified and determined.
VIU has a challenging pathway to navigate through the tournament brackets, starting with the Humber Hawks, an opponent whose only regular-season losses were by default.
“If we are working hard and we know what we want and we know where we are going, I think we will be competing at a very high level,” Lytvynenko said. “In the end it’s a game of skill and who wants it more.”
Hyde said the Mariners didn’t do themselves any favours with their seeding, but he believes the M’s are one of the best teams in the tournament and can win the matches that are in front of them.
“If you don’t play to your potential at this time of the season against this level of competition, you have no chance, so we’ve got to get ourselves at least to our potential,” he said. “And then at that point, you’ve got to dip into the heart bucket a little bit – you’ve got to find a way of going for every ball, muscling through some slight injuries, because you know that the top teams around the country are going to be doing the same thing.”
The x-factor will be the sports fans in the VIU gym this week. The Mariners are anticipating a show of support that will build and build the more they win.
“We’re going to talk about it, we’re going to enjoy it and hopefully the outcome is the way we want it,” Hyde said.
Passmore has won four national championships in her Mariners career and has never had a friend or family member in the stands for any of those tournaments, so she understands how special it will be to be the home team this time.
“VIU has some of the best fans in the whole country and when they come to our home games, they rile us up,” she said. “And just all the hype and buzz [leading up], the posts and the people, everything. It’s so exciting.”
Lytvynenko said when the Mariners play in other gyms, they make a conscious effort to try to tune out the crowd completely.
“Now I feel like the best way will be to let that energy [in] because we’ll have a lot of people cheering, lots of people we know, our families, they will be watching,” she said. “I get the chills as I’m talking about it because it’s super exciting to have everyone actually be here physically supporting us and sharing that energy.”
GAME ON … VIU plays Humber on Wednesday, March 8, at 6 p.m. The national championship match will be Saturday, March 11, also at 6 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, teens and VIU alumni, and free for VIU students and children 12 and under. Tournament passes are $35 for adults and $30 for seniors, teens and VIU alumni. For information, visit www.eventbrite.com.
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