The Langara guard slips past the VIU player defending her, dribbling into an open spot on the court. She eyes the hoop and jumps for the easy layup. The ball leaves her fingers.
Like a hammer blow, the arm of VIU forward Shayce Johnston comes down on the rising ball, smashing it out of bounds. The number “1” entered under the “Blocks” column in the stats sheet doesn’t translate the play’s impact.
Johnston lets out a triumphant shout, and the sparse but enthusiastic crowd at the VIU Gymnasium cheers along with her, clapping their hands and banging sticks on overturned garbage bins.
. . .
The VIU Mariners women’s and men’s basketball teams defeated the Langara Falcons Friday night, November 12, 77–60 and 109–84, respectively. It was the first time VIU’s basketball teams have played in front of their fans and under their own roof in nearly two years.
Back in early 2020, the women’s team was gearing up for the national tournament—with VIU playing host—only for it all to be swatted aside by the surging COVID-19 virus.
Fortunately, the Mariners have another chance to host Nationals, as teams across Canada will come to VIU in March of 2022 for the tournament.
The veteran Johnston and head coach Tony Bryce didn’t seem too worried about hosting after such a long absence.
“I’m sure there’s pressure, but I feel like we just have an advantage with it being our home court,” Johnston said after the game. “We just gotta use that.”
Bryce said his team’s goal is to win every year and that hosting doesn’t change their process. He seemed more concerned about the play in front of him.
“It wasn’t pretty at times [but] I loved our start,” Bryce said. The Mariners came out fast and didn’t let up, going on a 14–0 run with just about three minutes gone in the first quarter.
“You don’t want to get yourself in a hole and I thought we did a good job of controlling emotions tonight,” he said. “You can get over-excited sometimes and we didn’t—we came out very poised and I thought we were very disciplined and shredded them at the start.”
Bryce hopes to smoothly integrate the many fresh faces on the team. With a year off due to COVID-19, there are even more new players this year.
“That’s going to take time … [but] our goal is to be a real handful by the end of February.”
Johnston, who led both teams with 18 points and made eight of her eleven shots, is in her sixth year at VIU and has one more year of eligibility with the Mariners beyond this one. She’s graduating at the end of the school year, however, and doesn’t know if her body will hold up for another run.
When asked if this year was special for her because it may be her last, she nodded.
“Oh, absolutely,” she said. “I want to go out with a bang.”
Going out with a bang isn’t something every player gets to do. Madeline Hart, a former Mariners guard, was honoured before tip-off with a framed picture and an emotional speech by Bryce.
Hart and Bryce came to the Mariners the same year and grew together in their roles. While Bryce gets another shot at Nationals, however, COVID-19 ended Hart’s time as a Mariner.
“Her career ended with us losing the Nationals and then her losing her last year [of eligibility]. So that’s obviously a crappy way to end your career,” Bryce said.
Bryce and the team were going to celebrate Hart at an outdoor event last year but held off so they could do it infront of her parents and the VIU crowd.
“She’s been a really big part of who we [were] and who we are now, so she deserved that,” he said.
While she doesn’t play for them anymore, Hart and her family got to watch the Mariners pick up their second win of the young season. They’ve since grabbed another, defeating the Okanagan Coyotes 86–65 Saturday to sit a perfect 3–0. The men’s team followed suit with a 107–98 win over the Coyotes, giving them a 4–0 record.
Up next for each of the clubs are a pair of home games against the Capilano Blues, Friday, November 19 and Saturday, November 20. Start time for the women is 6 pm and 1 pm, respectively, with the men tipping off following the women’s games.