The Dalhousie University Tigers men’s basketball team made history this season when they won a U Sports silver medal to cap off the 2019-20 season.
The Tigers finished up the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) season at the top of the standings, finishing the regular season with a record of 19 wins and one loss (19-1).
They went on to win the AUS conference championship and were one of the favourites to win the national Final 8 tournament in Ottawa, Ont.
The Tigers narrowly won their quarter final matchup against the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees by a score of 67-63. They then booked a ticket to the gold medal game with a dominant 84-55 semifinal win against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.
Facing off against the Carleton University Ravens, this was Dal’s first appearance in the national final in program history. They tried to approach the championship with the same attitude as the rest of the season.
“The pregame routine is the same and you try to tell your team that it’s any other game,” said fifth-year Sascha Kappos. “As that game went on, it didn’t feel like the stakes were so high and then, the fourth quarter started and the game was tight and then you [realized] what you [were] playing for and that might’ve been the most exciting moment.”
The Tigers were leading by 12 points after half of the gold medal game, but ended up falling to the Ravens by a score of 74-65. The silver medal is still the best result in the team’s history; their only other national medal was a bronze in 2016-2017.
This season, Kappos played in his last game as a Tiger, as did teammates Jordan Wilson, Matt McVeigh and Brent Martindale.
Their experience and leadership will be a loss for the team next season. However, the Tigers’ roster still has considerable talent, including third-year Keevan Veinot, who was named a U Sports first team all-Canadian.
The Tigers’ head coach Rick Plato was proud of what his players accomplished this season.
“I told the boys many times that this team is the best team I’ve ever coached and they certainly played that way,” said Plato.
“To win the AUS championship for the fifth time in six years, to get to our first national final, to have Carleton on the ropes in their hometown on basically their home court and home fans for better part of 36 minutes, you got a lot of things to look at and be proud of.”
The learning process
The Tigers were close to winning the national championship, but came up short. It left room for learning and improvement next year as they try to achieve that goal.
Plato said that doing the little things more consistently is a crucial factor between a win and a loss. That includes things like boxing out on every shot to try to get the rebound and paying attention to where you should be covering when playing defence.
While their coach praised attention to detail and tough defence, players like Kappos and Veinot stressed trust and hard work as some of the keys to their success this season.
“I think the biggest learning lesson here is just to have trust in one another,” said Veinot. “Sometimes we wouldn’t agree on certain things, but at the end of the day, [Plato] kept telling us to trust each other because he knows what it takes and at the end, he got us to the national finals.”