When the Vancouver Island University (VIU) Mariners battle the Sheridan Bruins for the national championship basketball championships at the Langley Events Centre Saturday night, the location will be familiar territory for Brett Christensen.
Christensen has won District, Fraser Valley and a Provincial championship on the courts of the facility.
Now a second-year forward with Nanaimo’s Mariners, he has returned the LEC court for the first time since his final high school basketball game with Langley’s Walnut Grove Gators, which ended with Christensen and the Gators celebrating the 4A title at the BC Boys Basketball Championships in March of 2017.
“I don’t know if it’s something about the court or just being from the area, but I have always had lots of success here,” he said.
“The facilities are great here, the rims are always nice and the court is well-kept, so it is just nice to play in a first-class facility.”
His team is just one game away from taking gold at the CCAA (Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association) Men’s Basketball National Championship.
“This is something I have always dreamt about, to play for a national championship,” Christensen said. “Especially in my hometown, in front of my friends and family. This is a dream come true.”
VIU’s last appearance at nationals was in 2017 – Christensen’s final year of high school – when the team finished fourth in the country.
In 19.4 minutes per game, the six-foot-four forward is averaging 8.1 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game, which were very similar to his rookie year numbers (9.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists).
Mariners, the PacWest champs from Nanaimo, rallied from 19 points down to hand Montreal’s Vanier Cheetahs their first loss of the season in one semifinal while in the other it was Sheridan, the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association champions from Oakville, ON, handing another unbeaten squad, the Holland Hurricanes (Charlottetown, PEI) their first loss of the season.
And now the last two teams standing will battle for the CCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship at Langley Events Centre on Saturday (March 16) at 7:30 p.m.
VIU has needed double-digit comebacks in both their two games at the Championship, coming from 15 back to defeat Calgary’s SAIT Trojans in the quarter-finals and then stunning the Cheetahs in Friday’s semifinal, taking their first lead of the game with just 2:19 remaining of what became an 85-83 victory.
“It is the character of the guys. We go down like that, we are not playing well, they never turn on each for a second, it is about the next play, chip away. There is a ton to be said when you can stay together through adversity and this group is maybe the best I’ve ever had at that,” explained VIU coach Matt Kuzminski about the propensity of his scrappy team for rallying when it appears they seemed destined for defeat.
The Mariners are in search of their second ever national title, having won the Championship in 2013.
Sheridan is looking for their third CCAA National title all-time, but first since 1990.
The Bruins had a great start to Friday’s semifinal, leading 16-0 to start but the Hurricanes battled back, taking the lead at the half before the teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 73.
Sheridan coach Jim Flack said the weekly test his Bruins faced during league play – they finished 19-5 and were second in their division – helps prepare them for moments like Friday’s semifinals.
“(Our league) is brutal. We have 22 teams and we beat the crap out of each other night after night after night and you come (to nationals) battle-hardened,” Flack said. “We are tired when we get here but we are ready to compete.”