As a rallying cry, it was perfect: ‘You can’t stop a train.
The 1979-80 University of Victoria Vikings men’s basketball team screamed this in unison after many huge victories during a truly historic season.
The Vikes had been gathering speed and momentum for years. They were loaded up with expectations, talent, experience, and the steely drive to win it all. When the UVIC train began rolling that season there was no stopping them until they reached their desired destination: UVIC’s first-ever Canadian university basketball championship. And they would lay down the tracks for one of the great dynasties in all of Canadian university sport.
In 1976, coach Ken Shields began shaping the UVIC program and players with his unique blend of intensity, competitiveness, work ethic, and the drive for perfection. Practices were daily wars. Canada West conference games felt easier than many summer scrimmages.
“The old saying about ‘a team is made in September but a player is made in the summer’—that became the truth,” explained team member Chris Hebb. “The work that happened in the offseason on individual skills and being in the gym just beating the crap out of each other, it’s what really grew the team into what the level it was by the time the season arrived. The gym was always open. And we were always there.”
The team consisted of mostly Vancouver Island-born-and-raised players with a perfect mix of experienced veterans like Ian Hyde-Lay, Hebb, Ted Anderson, and Reni Dolcetti and young talents like Eli Pasquale, Gerald Kazanowski, and Kelly Dukeshire. American import Billy Turney-Loos was the team’s offensive sparkplug.
Urged on by the lunatic ravings of the team’s mascot, ‘The Mad Viking,’ over 2000 screaming supporters packed McKinnon Gym every game.
The Vikes rattled off 20 straight regular season victories in Canada West play, the first UVIC team to go undefeated and one of the few from any school in history. They then advanced to the CIAU national championships in Calgary after breezing through the playoffs without a loss. In the national tournament, victories over the University of Windsor and defending champion Saint Mary’s Huskies followed. In the national final, UVIC faced number-one-ranked Brandon University. After a slow start, Turney-Loos and Dolcetti turned the tide in the second half as UVIC earned a 73-65 victory. Both were named tournament all-stars, with Dolcetti also named MVP.
“We won the game, it was a deserved win, but it was a relief when we won,” summed up team captain Hyde-Lay. “There was a lot of pressure on us.”
Maybe the most remarkable aspect of this team, one of the most dominant in Canadian university sport history, is the era of success that it opened. It would be seven years before an opponent could legitimately claim to having stopped the UVIC train: the UVIC men won a then-unprecedented seven straight Canadian men’s university basketball championships.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
To read more on the story of the 1979-80 UVIC Vikings, please see the May 2020 Curator’s Corner article here: https://bcsportshall.com/curator-corner/1979-80-uvic-vikings-mens-basketball-you-cant-stop-a-train/