VSN Athlete of the Year and VSN Team of the Year shortlist
© Copyright - 2017 - Victoria Sports News
Now that we have the 2016 calendar year in our rear view mirror, it is time to provide an analysis and shortlist for the VSN Team of the Year and VSN Athlete of the Year selections. VSN Person of the Year shortlist to be published Sunday, January 8th.
Although every sport in every league and many athletes have a story to be told, it is impossible in this sport and recreation mecca, to recognise them all. We apologise in advance if we miss a team or an athlete that you may find deserving, but below is VSN’s short list, with the winners to be revealed Monday, January 30th.
Victoria, a sports and recreation mecca
With a mild climate, many green spaces, a long off-road and paved trail network, world-class facilities and 12 national teams that call Victoria home, the island and especially the lower island is truly a recreational hub. Any day of the year the ocean and lakes are dotted with stand-up paddle boarders, kayakers, divers, swimmers, wind surfers, dragon boaters, rowers and triathletes. The parks are filled with baseball and soccer games and various other sports like ultimate and pickleball are growing - pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the world.
The hills are alive with off-road mountain and ultra-runners and mountain bikers, from Hartland to Bear Mountain, Mount Doug, Skafe and the rolling Sooke hills. The roads like West Saanich and the waterfront that includes Beach Drive, Dallas Road and Lochside Drive/Trail to Sidney are filled with cyclists of every ability from casual weekenders out for fresh air to Olympians looking for an extra watt or turn in cadence.
Some of Victoria’s annual events are a big deal, like the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon and its half-marathon and 8K as well as the TC10K - events that fill the downtown streets with runners. The Bastion Square Grand Prix and Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria are important fixtures on our cycling calendar.
Most of Victoria’s top-tier teams that lead the local sports scene had record or near-record seasons in 2016, but inspiring stories can come from all levels.
One inspiring story from 2016 is about the Vic High Totems basketball team finding the basket and successfully fundraising for uniforms, so that the team that would come to look respectable in uniform was backing it up on the court with improved play. Their struggles seem third world in comparison to the likes of Oak Bay High School’s shiny new 50-million dollar building or UVic’s 77-million dollar Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities (CARSA).
Through the grassroots style leadership of Tak Niketas and his cohorts, Coaches Christopher Marsh and Cory Ahlers and Athletics Director Greg Pitre, the Totems, who represent the City of Victoria’s only high school both physically and in name is respectable once again.
Category: Team of the Year
The Victoria Royals had the best season in their history dating back to when the team was located in Chilliwack. The Royals broke several team records as well as many players bettered team and franchise records and set benchmarks in scoring.
Although they didn’t make it past the Kelowna Rockets in the playoffs, the Royals gave Victoria fans what they have thirsted for since the legendary days of the old Victoria Cougars, who high-tailed it out of town for Prince George, where they remain.
The team boasted several players that would attract National Hockey League scouts and interest from the teams they represent like Tyler Soy (Anaheim), rookie sensation Matthew Phillips (Calgary), Chaz Reddekopp (LA), Joe Hicketts (Detroit).
Led by NHL veteran Head Coach Dave Lowry and President Cam Hope, the Royals iced a fast, skilled, exciting team that provided jaw dropping speed and finesse.
The Victoria Cougars who play one level below the Victoria Grizzlies in Junior B dominated the league from game one. They won the VIJHL regular season and went on to win the playoffs. They were a well-oiled machine that was hitting it on all cylinders, all season long.
The Cougars ran up a record of 41-5-1-1. They were so dominant that the second place team in the South Division, the Peninsula Panthers, record was just over .500 at 22-21-1-4, while the second place team overall, the perennial strong Campbell River Storm of the North Division were 38-6-2-2. The Cougars prevailed over their North Division rivals in the playoffs.
The Cougars ended up going 12-1-0-1 in the post season, while the Storm went 10-5-0-1.
The Westshore Rebels is another team that calls Greater Victoria home that had a historic season. Rising from the ashes from the previous team - like the WHL Cougars in hockey - they high-tailed it out of town, but this time for Nanaimo. Like the Raider name suggests, they took some volunteers, coaches, sponsors and equipment with them, leaving Victoria with nothing more than hope.
The Rebels were unable to defeat the Vancouver Island Raiders until this season, where they defeated them once at home in Langford and tied them in Nanaimo, before knocking them out of the British Columbia Football Conference post-season play.
The Rebels truly rose from the ashes and became BC Champs. They played competitive in the national championships as well, but the Saskatoon Hilltops were not to be dethroned for the national title – it was an inspiring run led by President Doug Kobayashi and his team including Head Coach J.C. Boice and Assistant Coach Shane Beatty.
The Victoria Shamrocks were the defending Mann Cup champions entering the 2016 season. They started the season by breaking scoring records, defeating the Nanaimo Timbermen 18-6 on opening night.
Cory Conway scored two goals and picked up a stunning 15 assists, helping the home side at The Q Centre overwhelm the Timbermen, shortly after raising the Mann Cup banner.
Conway’s point totals are a league record, breaking Jim Douglas’s 16 point total from 1941.
Rhys Duch, Cory Conway and Corey Small, went 1-2-3 in the league points race, with Duch earning 101 points, total. Jeff Shattler finished fourth.
Banged up and missing players for most of the season the Shamrocks still managed to win the league regular season title, however, it was a depleted line-up that entered the post-season and although they put up a good fight, a successful Mann Cup defence was not in the cards.
The Victoria Highlanders FC returned to the more competitive Premiere Development League (PDL) from the Pacific Coast League and under the direction of General Manager Marvin Diercks and Head Coach Dave Dew, they fielded a strong team, who, while making the adjustment to higher competition, had a won-loss record of 3-5-6 in 14 regular season games. They finished fifth out of seven teams in the Pacific Northwest Division. Although not a stellar record it would be very difficult for any team to move up to a new level of competition and stand out amongst some of the local talent that gave Victoria several outstanding seasons in hockey, football, lacrosse and baseball.
The Reynolds Roadrunners got on a roll and stayed focussed to end the season with their first BC AAA soccer championship. They first took on the St. Michael’s University School Blue Jags in the 2016 Colonist Cup boys’ high school soccer final and prevailed, 4-2.
The Blue Jags are the BC AA champions. The two teams met at Centennial Stadium and even though Reynolds was short a player, who was red-carded with approximately 20 minutes remaining in the game; they continued to score, getting three goals while short-handed.
It was a come-from-behind victory, as the Blue Jags were up by the score of 2-1 starting the second half.
The Roadrunners won the provincial title in a shootout after a scoreless draw against the Argyle Pipers of North Vancouver in Burnaby.
The provincial championships were the school's first AAA boys soccer title in 50 years, on the school’s 50th anniversary. The Colonist Cup win was the first since 1983.
The University of Victoria Vikes field teams in several sports and every year there are compelling stories that emerge from the Saanich campus, whether it is the unexpected 2015 national cross country championships title for the men or some piece of the legendary basketball history that the school prides itself on or national championship appearance by the 2016 men’s soccer team, the university takes its sports seriously.
The 2016 edition of the Vikes Field Hockey team attempted to win their 12th national title, although they had a strong season, they fell short for the second year in a row.
It was a 2-1 loss to the UBC Thunderbirds during the final that sealed their fate after going 1-0-2 during the round robin portion of the U Sport national championships.
Women’s Rugby 7s demonstrated to the world that Canada fields a seriously good team as they went on to win the bronze medal in an emotional effort during a very fast and furious game where mistakes can be devastating and no lead is safe at the half.
The women went in ranked fourth and one-upped that ranking. It was the first Olympics for Women’s Rugby 7s.
The HarbourCats, led by Managing Partner Jim Swanson and his crew that includes Brad Norris-Jones and Brittany French in the front office went on to win a league-record 40 games. They were so good that they had a first-half season record of 23-4 and sealed their playoff position well before any other team. They broke the league record for consecutive wins with 19 in the West Coast League.
No team in the WCL had eclipsed season attendance numbers over 50,000 in league history; the HarbourCats went on to pass 60,000 on the final game night.
Head Coach Graig Merritt moved on and in his place this season will be former Major League Baseball star outfielder Brian McRae. McRae has college coaching and summer ball management experience. McRae has agreed to a two-year contract to lead the on-field product at Royal Athletic Park.
Swanson is ranked as one of the 101 most influential people in Canadian baseball.
Victoria, a city long-starved for a competitive baseball team that would call Victoria home for any length of time, absolutely loves their HarbourCats.
The proudest moment for Swanson came the weekend when the Tragically Hip was in town or their emotional farewell tour, the music festival Rock the Shores was also on and there was a car show downtown in the harbour called Deuce Days, which attracted thousands. Meanwhile at the University of Victoria, the Victoria Track Classic was taking place. The HarbourCats still had 1900 fans that night.
Category: Athlete of the Year
It is hard to argue with the name of Steve Nash on the unlikely accomplishment of making the NBA out of a small university (Santa Clara) or of his two MVP nods, earned due to his incredible passing and shooting skills that wowed the greatest in the game. He was inducted into the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.
The Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame inductees for 2017 are noteworthy and include Roland Green (Cycling), Mark Recchi (Hockey), Geroy Simon (Football), Michelle Stilwell (Wheelchair Athletics/Wheelchair Basketball) and Mark Wyatt (Rugby).
Retirement begs for reflection and retrospectives on athletic careers like Hilary Stellingwerff, Ryder Hesjedal and Ryan Cochrane. Also retiring from sport was Suraj Banghar. He competed in the spring of 2016 for the ISKA World Super lightweight kickboxing title. He won convincingly.
Banghar was coached by two-time world super-middleweight champion Stan Peterec.
A masterful technician, he is a refined fighter with no weaknesses and good speed, but in typical Peterec fashion, is not afraid to mix it up on the inside.
In the sport of athletics (track and field), Hilary Stellingwerff toed-the-line in the 1500-metre distance. Track’s true middle-distance event that long ago replaced the imperial mile (1609m), the 1500m for women is typically a four-minute or so blast of speed, tactics, patience and kicking. Stellingwerff retired after the Olympics, knowing she gave the sport her all. She is also a 2012 London Olympian, where she competed in one of the most controversial races in the sport’s history. She was denied competing in the London Olympic final due to at least half of the field testing positive for performance enhancing drugs.
She is coached by Dave Scott-Thomas of Guelph, Ontario and her husband Canadian physiologist Trent Stellingwerff.
Ryan Cochrane has had a long career. His retirement was bigger news than his performances were in Rio, but little needs to be said from an athlete like Cochrane who is all class and boasts silver and bronze Olympic medals. He was a great representative in the 1500m freestyle competition for Canada.
The death of his long-time coach Randy Bennett shook Cochrane, a man who had led him to greatness starting at the age of 13. Cochrane left the sport just as Penny Oleksiak emerged to dominate the Canadian Olympic story with four medals, one of them gold.
Catharine Pendrel, who began as a casual mountain biker out at Hartland, rose quickly to international status. She twice won the world championships as well as won gold in the Pan Ams and Commonwealth Games.
Pendrel earned a bronze medal during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games finishing in the time of one hour and 31-minutes and 41 seconds (1:31:41).
Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee in rowing won the silver medal in lightweight women's double sculls in Rio.
The pair finished just behind the Dutch world champions Maaike Head and Ilse Paulis of the Netherlands. Jennerich and Obee have a strong finish, and were near the back of the field at halfway in fifth place, but they were able to take second crossing the line in 7:05:88, one second behind the winners.
That was the first rowing medal for Canada at the Rio Olympics.
Jennerich graduated from Claremont, while Obee is a Stelly’s grad. Rowing Canada plies the water of Elk Lake year-round.
Liam Stanley, a 1500m runner who competed in the Rio Paralympics won a silver medal. He is coached by two-time Olympian Bruce Deacon. Stanley transitioned from soccer to athletics and steadily improved under Deacon’s direction with careful planning of his training and growth in mileage and workout efforts, Stanley became competitive against non-Paralympic athletes. He competes in the T-37 category.
Oak Bay High School’s Tyler Dozzi won the Vancouver Island High School Cross Country Championships at Beaver Lake, he then went on to win the BC Club Championships that took place in Nanaimo and finally, the BC High School Championships near Kelowna, BC. He capped off this string of wins with a national junior title at the Canadian Cross Country Championships that took place in Kingston, Ontario.
Dozzi’s story is interesting as he moved from his home in Terrace at 15, to have the opportunity to train year-round in Victoria with Deacon; a decision that has worked out well for him.
Victoria’s legacy in multi-sport, a relatively new event is strong, with multi-time world champions Lori Bowden and Peter Reid and Olympic gold medallist Simon Whitfield in the shorter distance calling Victoria home, they have created a culture of success in multi-sport for Victoria, the national team’s home.
It is Brent McMahon with LifeSport who is carrying the torch and swimming, cycling and running rough-shod over the competition in international racing including scoring the second fastest ironman all-time with his performance of 7:46:10, which he accomplished at Ironman Brazil on May 29th this year.
Sixty-two-year-old Bill Okell raced to a win at California’s U.S. Auto Club Speedway on Nov 4th.
During the 1980s, Okell made four attempts at the SCCA’s Pacific Coast Road Racing Championships, with no better than a fourth place class finish. This year was different as he took his 1964 MGB to a NASPORT Lite class win at the NASCAR-owned facility, just outside of Los Angeles. In doing so, he set a new track record for the NASPORT Lite class at the combined high banked oval and road course.
The Sunday morning, PCCRC championship event, pegged at 19 laps long, was a challenge for him as he missed the Saturday afternoon qualifying race, and would have to start at the rear of the field of 23 cars. Off of the green flag, he wasted no time getting to the front of the multi-class field of cars, and was in third overall by lap six. As the checkered flag fell, 40 minutes later, he would finish third overall, 1st in the NASPORT Lite class race. Okell was the only Canadian of the 150 entrants from seven different western states, to win a championship. There were 43 other titles on the line.
Kirsten Sweetland competed in the Olympics after suffering for long periods of time with injuries that had her out of competition seemingly longer than she was in. She was a youth prodigy and is still capable of world-dominating performances, today. Making it to the Olympics healthy was an important step for her. Although participation is likely not a word in her lexicon, for the Stelly’s grad nicknamed “Sweets”, getting there healthy was important.
Sweetland was motivated by her father Rob, also a runner, who told her she could make it to Rio, after being unable to make the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Games due to injury and illness. She did compete in the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and earned a bronze medal.
Saunders is a left and centre-field playing lefty, who in 140 games last season stepped up to the plate 490 times, collecting 24 home runs and 57 RBIs. His batting average hovered near .300, mid-season and settled at .258 for his best year since 2012 when he played for the Seattle Mariners.
The 30-year-old was an 11th round pick of the Mariners in 2004. As he advanced through the various levels from short-A through to single, double then triple-A, his batting average kept improving; he was playing better against better pitchers.
The former Victoria Mariner earned 17.7 million votes in all-star balloting to get the nod to the annual MLB showcase.
Jamie Benn and brother Jordie grew up in Victoria and developed their game in the Peninsula Panthers organization and in Junior A with the Victoria Salsa (Grizzlies).
The senior Benn, Jamie, has been one of the top point-getters in the NHL over the past four years including leading the league with 87 points during the 2014-2015 regular season. He finished second the following year to Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks with 89 points. Kane earned 106. Benn finished 10th during the 2013-2014 season with 79 points.
During the past three seasons from 2013-2014 to 2015-2016, he is second in the NHL to Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins with 289 points in 283 games, while Crosby has collected 315 points in 269 games over the span.
Benn has been a model of consistency.
Remember to check Victoria Sports News for the VSN Team of the Year® and VSN Athlete of the Year® recognition on Monday, January 30th.