For the first time in nearly 3 decades, Wesmen men's basketball team will play in national championship
The last time the University of Winnipeg Wesmen men's basketball team competed for a national championship, none of the players on this year's roster had been born yet.
Now the team's hoping to take home the biggest win of their careers thus far.
"It's obviously been a really special season for us. The guys have have worked extremely hard to be in this situation and the thing that I said to them yesterday was we got a chance to have another two weeks together," coach Mike Raimbault said.
The Wesmen defeated the second-seeded Manitoba Bisons 73-70 at Investors Group Athletic Centre on Saturday.
It was a Canada West conference semifinal matchup, with Bisons missing a buzzer-beating attempt that would've forced overtime.
"It was a great game. Obviously the atmosphere was electric," Raimbault said.
"There was you know, a sold-out crowd with a chance to go to nationals on the line, and and two really good young teams that played right to the end."
The win earned the team a spot in next Saturday's Canada West title game in Victoria, B.C.
The men's Wesmen basketball team has never been a conference champion since joining in 2000.
David Larkins, the Wesmen media and operations coordinator, said there were around 3,100 fans out supporting both teams.
"They did a great job in terms of filling that place," Larkins said. "So the environment was unlike anything we've had in our province in a while."
Larkins said their team had about a third of the fans cheering for them.
"I look in the crowd and we've got probably 1,000 of our fans there and they're louder than the 2,100 of theirs. That was really awesome," he said.
Third-year point guard Shawn Maranan led his team with 20 points and 13 assists.
"That game was crazy," he said Sunday after in an interview with CBC News.
Maranan said the win was extra special because of the support he had in the crowd.
"I had a whole section in that little Wesmen crowd," he said. "So they helped me, you know, get going, get me fired up. It was exciting."
The 22-year-old said the next two weeks will be filled with practices and gearing up for the both games ahead.
"To be honest ... it's an unbelievable feeling," Maranan said.
"I've known a lot of these guys since we were younger. A lot of these guys I played with them or against them in high school. So for us to kind of do it together, it means a lot to me."
Saturday's win comes on the heels of a triple overtime win the previous week. Raimbault said the two tense games are helping to prepare the team for some difficult competition in the coming weeks.
"We're just garnering experience as we go and you know just try to do our best to live in the moment and enjoy the the opportunities that we have," he said.
It's the first time the team has earned a trip to the national men's hoops tournament since the 1993/94 season, and they are hoping to bring home a championship.
"It's just very, very difficult to do," Larkins said. "Eight teams go to nationals across the entire country and in our conference we got some really, really tough teams. This group has just been going beyond expectations all year long and it's been really fun to watch and and rewarding to see."