Vancouver Island University's (VIU's) Mariners Athletics Department is having a record-breaking year on the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association's (CCAA's) national competition circuit.
"I don't think any other CCAA school in the country has achieved the level of team sport success we have this year at the national stage," says Stephanie White, VIU Mariner's Athletic Director.
VIU sent five teams to nationals this year and came home with three medals – two gold and one bronze. There are 94 schools that compete in the CCAA National Division in 10 different championships.
"Many have never gone to nationals, let alone win a medal. For us to do so well at nationals is incredibly significant," says White.
The VIU Mariner's women's soccer, basketball and volleyball teams along with the men's basketball and volleyball teams all competed at nationals this year.
For the first time since 2003, the men's volleyball team took home a bronze medal from nationals.
"This year at the PACWEST provincials, the team really played their best volleyball," says White. "The men's volleyball team had struggled in the past to compete at nationals, but this year they really challenged themselves and showed everyone what they are made of."
Setting a new record for the Mariners, the women's volleyball team won their second consecutive national championship after a clean sweep at provincials and an almost undefeated regular season.
The men's basketball team kept fans on the edge of their seats during the PACWEST provincials.
"The men's team always makes every game an event," says White. "They were down two points with just over a second left on an inbound play and they ended up trying the game in provincials. That is just unheard of."
The team continued the suspense at nationals, where they were consistently down double digits – but each time they managed to pull through. Their determination and belief in each other led them to gold.
"Winning gold with a group of coaches and players who you love, a group that put everything they had into pursuing a national championship, was truly amazing," says Matt Kuzminski, Head Coach of the VIU Mariner's men's basketball team. "When the buzzer sounded and we won, it was a rush of emotion for our group and all of our family and friends in attendance – a very unforgettable experience."
The women's and men's basketball and volleyball, women's soccer and golf, all scored gold at the PACWEST provincial champions this year as well.
Not only has it been a significant year for medals, but the growth and determination of each team has been exponential.
Two coaches who started with their teams only two years ago – Kevin Lindo, women's soccer team and Tony Bryce, women's basketball coach – both won the PACWEST Coach of the Year for their sport.
The VIU Mariners have not just been excelling on the court this year, but also in the classroom. Twenty-one players won a PACWEST Academic Excellence Award, an award recognizing athletes in the conference who achieved honours standings. Eight CCAA Academic All-Canadian awards were also awarded to players for their academic achievements.
"We love to win. We want to win as a program. But that's not what we primarily focus on," says White. "We focus on helping our student-athletes be successful whether in the classroom, in life or in sport. That's what our program is about."
Rae-Anne Guenther, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University