Volume 95, Issue 85

Thursday, March 14, 2002
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Mustangs look to exorcise the demons in Halifax

Mustangs look to exorcise the demons in Halifax

By Dave Martin
Gazette Staff

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, get out your dancin' shoes – it's time for the year-end ball.

As always, the host facility for the men's basketball national championships lies far away in Halifax, where the cream of the crop will go head-to-head in hopes of taking home the title of national champions.

The heads-up first hand from the Mustangs

Niru Somayajula /Gazette
For the fourth year in a row, our Western Mustangs will be stepping onto the dance floor in Halifax – a destination from which they have yet to return with any major hardware.

Last year, the team went to Halifax knowing they could do it, but in accordance with Murphy's law – whatever can go wrong, will. Many people, the team included, believe Western has the 'right stuff' this year, as the Mustangs hold the number one seed entering the tournament.

Though this may appear to put similar expectations on the basketball team just like the "gold or bust" pressure placed on the Canadian Olympic men's hockey team, the Mustangs are not showing any signs of it affecting them.

"Having the top seed doesn't make that much of a difference, as we're going to put the same amount of pressure on ourselves no matter what," co-captain and forward Andy Kwiatkowski said. "It wouldn't be a wasted season, as we've got the Ontario University Athletics banner – which is nice – but it's the nationals that we really want."

Having all five starters, along with several others, competing in at least their second Canadian Interuniversity Sport championships –albeit some in different roles – could possibly be an important factor in this relaxed attitude.

"We've been there before and know what it's like. We just have to go out there and do what we normally do to win," centre Kelsey Green said.

Although statisticians may figure Western's chances of success have to be increasing as each year goes by, Boydell believes every chance is separate and he will have nothing to do with the idea that 'luck will eventually be on Western's side.'

"Every season, the common goal is to make it to nationals, but after that, each year is a completely independent event. All teams change and can come back completely different than the year before," he said.

Boydell noted Western's first round opponent as an example.

"We played Victoria in the first round last year, but neither team is the same, making us treat this year in a completely different way."

The low-down from a traveling reporter

As I pack my bags in preparation for my own journey to Halifax, I'm filled with excitement just thinking about seeing our team in purple hoisting the prized national trophy.

Although the team will miss the roar of Alumni Hall, in a strange way, it seems the further away the event, the more rewarding the victory. To have come from so far – both figuratively and literally – must certainly up the ante for the team.

Travelling to the eastern reaches of Canada will no doubt make every basket carry an extra level of intensity and nervousness, realizing the implications of both victory and defeat.

Somewhat calming the nerves is the knowledge that this team has every piece needed to complete the perfect puzzle – quite arguably the best player in the country surrounded by one of the best field generals, a dominant big man, a multi-talented defensive-duo and finally, the luxury of depth off the bench.

What also has to be considered however, is that every team is coming into the tournament with visions that they too have what it takes to be national champions.

Coming from the West, Alberta was ranked number one in the country almost the entire season. Victoria upset 'the best' to earn their trip here and then Brandon blew out Victoria.

Closer to home, York came within a basket of beating Western last weekend and they know what a difference a few inches can make.

And in the East, St. Francis-Xavier and Saint Mary's have the advantage of a sixth man – through the help of throngs of loyal spectators.

Canada is about to witness the best of what Canadian university basketball has to offer and I'm sure it will be keeping everyone, including me, on the edge of their seat.

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Copyright The Gazette 2002