“It’s a dream come true!”
Those were the words echoed through-out the court after the men’s basketball team captured the national champion-ship this past weekend in Fort McMurray. The underdog Ooks went into the ACAC playoffs second in the North Division and pulled off a remarkable run to win the ACAC title and then advanced to the CCAA Nationals this past weekend. The Ooks upset the No. 1 team in the nation (VIU Mariners) and advanced to the gold medal game where they excelled in a five-point victory to claim the CCAA National Men’s Basketball Championship.
The quarterfinals saw the ACAC’s fourth ranked NAIT Ooks up against the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association’s (OCAA) No. 5 seed Mohawk Mountaineers. The Ooks were in a tight game until the Mountaineers’ best player, Jeff Hunter, started to falter in the fourth. Ook Adrian Curtis fin-ished with 22 points on the night, along with teammate Jackson Jacob, who had 18 points and five steals to propel the Ooks to 85-84 victory to advance to the semifinals the next day against the nation’s top team, Vancouver University Island Mariners.
The Mariners were as good on the court as they were on paper but that didn’t bother the Ooks as they gave them a run for their money, setting the game’s pace in the first 10 minutes. Although the Mariners kept Jackson Jacob quiet for most of the night, the Ooks had other offensive weapons to fill the temporary void. Connor Dolson sank three-pointer after three-pointer and, combined with his relentless defence, helped the Ooks maintain their advantage over the Mariners, which lasted all the way till the last buzzer, when the scoreboard read 87-82 for the Ooks. The win sent them to the gold medal game the following day against the Humber College Hawks.
Eight teams, 13 games but only two teams and one game mattered the most. The Ooks were about to embark on the game of their lives against the defending CCAA champion Humber College Hawks. NAIT led by two after the first quarter, but fell behind in the second to trail the Hawks by only five at the half. With the gold medal focused on their mind, the Ooks came out firing in the third, outscoring the Hawks 19-12 to reclaim the lead, 55-53 heading into the final quarter. Connor Dolson, Sebastien Cava, along with fifth year Adrian Curtis and rookie Jackson Jacob proved to be a force to be reckoned with offensively and defensively the entire night for the Ooks. The fourth quarter was no different as they laid it all out on the court, as they watched the clock wind down and the final buzzer sounded, the Ooks bench fled to the remaining players, who looked to the sky in disbelief and exhaustion, as the team embraced them.
“It’s a dream come true,” Jackson Jacob said as he was holding back tears. He was also named the Most Valuable Player of the national championship. “It is finally here. All the hard work paid off. Coach had us prepared for every game like he always does.”
That coach being Mike Connolly, who has been with the Ooks for four years and sported a well-deserving CCAA gold medal around his neck for the first time in his coaching career. This is NAIT’s third national title in men’s basketball.
Bridgette Tsang, Sports Editor