Winning makes everything better.
It sound obvious, but it was a lesson learned last year by the Vancouver Island University Mariners women's basketball team.
Over the years there has been more heartbreak and disappointment in the Pacific Western Athletic Association tournament for the VIU women than anything, until last year's miracle run.
They rebounded from a horrendous 2-4 start, where absolutely everything went wrong, to winning 13 of 15 games after Christmas and earning the second seed bye to the PacWest semifinals.
They then beat the Douglas college Royals and the Camosun Chargers in the final for their first provincial championship in 15 years.
At the Canadian College Athletic Association championships in Truro, N.S., they finished in fifth place, but learned a lot.
All of it made for a successful off-season for recruiting and gave them the ability to finally breathe easy.
"It was a lot more pleasurable than past summers," said head coach Bill McWhinnie. "It provided a spark for me and for the girls and I think this was probably the best off-season I've had in here my five years for the girls doing work and myself doing work."
The Mariners are returning a veteran lineup with all of their stars from last year in place.
This group of Shayna Worthington, Heather McCarthy, Erin Veckic, Alicia Grossi, and Jenna Carver is led by fifth-year guard Jocelyn Jones.
She was a second-team all-star at nationals and was second in scoring in the PacWest with 262 points in 18 games and was named PacWest athlete of the week three times in 2012-13. It was the breakout season the M's were hoping for after the Seattle native transferred in for the 2011-12 season. She was named VIU female athlete of the year.
She didn't take it easy this summer. She worked on her game constantly in a rec league, playing against other Seattle-area college and European exports.
"It helped me make my defence even better," she said.
She also saw her game and the team grow a lot through last year's early struggles when they were beset by injuries - including her own - and other off court issues.
"Every situation we needed to go through, we went through," said Jones. "It tested us and helped us in the long run."
McWhinnie is using the CCAA championships as learning opportunity. He saw where they needed to improve and hit the recruiting trail hard this year.
His biggest goals were to improve their toughness and offence and brought in Whatcom Community College transfer Amanda Tapia and Alexa Richardson who is transferring in from an NAIA school in Chicago.
But he also paid attention to his own back yard, and is bringing in two Wellington Wildcat stars: Mariah Vansickle and Taeler Keir.
"I think Mariah and Taeler can contribute this year," said McWhinnie. "We lack some size this year so Taeler fills that void and Mariah is a very good athlete and a good defender."
The Mariners open their exhibition schedule on Oct. 9 at the University of Victoria.
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