Women's Basketball NDN feature

December 12th, 2012

Mariners look to brighter days in second semester

It was a turbulent first half of the season for VIU, but they should be better for it

Josh Aldrich
Daily News


Vancouver Island University Mariners women's basketball head coach Bill McWhinnie has never had a first half season like this one.

He has been in charge of the Pacific Western Athletic Association program since the 2008-09 season has never had the injuries and adversity that has decimated his lineup like this season.

Yet they sit at 4-4 and tied for third in the league with the Quest Kermodes.

It is an improbable situation, when all is considered. But, between players returning to the lineup and experience gained by bench players, they are in prime position to make a big run after Christmas.

"We've been through a lot, but the girls continue to battle and war away and continue to practice hard and play through adversity, so where we're sitting now it's OK and things can only get better," said McWhinnie.

The hits to the lineup started before their first game against the Camosun Chargers when starting forward Erin Vecik was ruled ineligible for the semester because of technicality regarding course load and credits.

Then, star guard Jocelyn Jones injured her hamstring. She tried to play through it, but the injury eventually sidelined her for three games and most of another, the last two losses.

That was followed up by star recruit Chardonnae Mortimer leaving school due to personal reasons and returning home to Seattle. At the time, Mortimer was the M's leading rebounder (8.4 per game) - third in the PacWest - and second on the team in scoring (9.4 points a game).

But they managed to salvage the situation by winning their final two games of the first half, beating the Columbia Bible College Bearcats 61-41 and the Kwantlen Eagles 61-52. That final week jumped them from a fight to stay out of the bottom into the conversation for a run at the top over the final 13 games if things fall right.

"In my experience here, it doesn't matter if you place first, second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth, it's whoever plays well at provincials is going to win a championship," said McWhinnie. The injury to Jones was particularly tough for the Mariners to overcome. The low pint was a 47-38 loss to the Capilano University Blues on Nov. 17. Jones is still the team's top playmaker with 5.40 assists a game, tops in the PacWest. In her four healthiest games she has averaged 9.75 points per game, which would put her second on the team behind all-star forward Shayna Worthington, who has done much of the heavy lifting in her absence.

Heather McCarthy has also played well with 8.38 points a game and 5.13 rebounds, despite playing point guard Jones' absence, a position she has never played before.

Despite playing the last two weeks, Jones still is not 100 per cent healthy, but is hoping to come back from her home in Seattle rested and ready after Christmas.

"It was really hard. From the beginning I was injured, but I just kept playing on it," she said. "It wasn't getting any better, so had to sit out, although I didn't want to."

Vekic was one of McWhinnie's big recruits this summer as she transferred over from the Kwantlen Eagles this summer.

She should be a big boost to their lineup, especially in the wake of Mortimer leaving the program.

"She's very intelligent and shoots the three-ball very well which will spread out the defence and allow more room for our post players inside to play," said McWhinnie. Despite all of their issues, the Mariners still played strong defence and have allowed the second fewest points (392) in the PacWest.

Their offence is their biggest issue moving forward as just CBC (346) and the Langara Falcons (421) scored fewer than their 422 points.

They were bolstered by the play off three back up players in particular - Jenna Carver (4.63 points, 4.5 rebounds), Jamie McFarlane (6.0 points, 2.13 rebounds, 1.88 assists) and Jamie Oliver (1.86 points, 3.0 rebounds). It has been a big opportunity for the trio to earn a larger role with the team over the second half of the season.

"I feel like I have a lot more confidence on the court and I'm not afraid to mess up because you learn from those mistakes," said Carver a third-year forward out of Wellington Secondary School in Nanaimo. "Bill's been really helpful that way . .

. that if you do make a mistake you're not going to get subbed out right away and that you know that."

The Mariners are off for Christmas, but will return to action for a two-day tournament in Victoria at Camosun College on Jan. 29-30.

They have been through a lot over the last month and a half, but the lessons they learned should make them that much better over the second half of the season.

"It feels so much better to go into the winter break on a win than a loss," said Carver. "To the other teams it made a statement - we're coming back, watch out for next semester. We're coming strong and we're working hard."