Cochrane Cobras alumni Jake Nielson is part of the University of Calgary Dinos history-making men's basketball team, that claimed its first national university championship ever on Sunday.
The Dinos used their nine-point first-half lead to hold off the rebounding Ryerson Rams and win the Final Eight tournament, 79-77. The game was tied 77-77 with nine seconds remaining when a play was drawn up for Dinos all-star Mambi Diawara to sink the winner in regulation.
"It feels surreal right now," says Nielson, a first-year guard for Calgary. "The Dinos have been trying for 51 years and it's the first time they've pulled it off. It's pretty special, that's for sure."
Nielson and his teammates returned from the Halifax tournament on Monday and he's been kept busy since the Sunday evening win with people reaching out to him.
"My phone just blew up after the game with people congratulating me. I was just walking down the hallway in school and I had a bunch of people tell me the same as well. It's pretty cool."
He said overcoming Brock was a challenge for the team in their opening game but Ryerson proved to be the toughest.
"They had some injuries early in the year but they actually have a very good team. They should have been higher ranked. It was close all the way through. They wanted it too, but you just go out there and battle."
Being a first-year player, Nielson didn't see much court time but what he did gain was a wealth of experience to take forward with him in his budding basketball career.
"You take with you all the preparation it takes to win a national championship and the dedication and the hard work. It really showed us young guys and we came through.
"It's only the start of many more to come," he said with confidence.
There's also the added pressure of playing in the national and the extra distractions, like national and international media.
"I guess it can add to the pressure, but I think we handled it pretty well."
Ranked second going into the tournament, the Dinos opened with a crucial 78-76 win over the Brocks Badgers. A followup 65-43 win against the McGill Redmen put them in the final.
The Dinos' national championship also ended the reign of the Carleton Ravens, who were seeking to extended their winning streak to a record eight consecutive.
The weekend previous, the Dinos upset the U of A Golden Bears in the Canada West championship, 84-77.