Every spring, the Vancouver Island University Mariners wonder how they could ever possibly match the past year’s achievements. And every year, they seem to be able to do it.
VIU’s athletic department held its annual awards banquet on Tuesday at the Coast Bastion Inn. It was a chance to applaud, again, the accomplishments of the Mariners teams, but also to recognize some of the individuals who were difference-makers.
Winning Athlete of the Year for 2011-12 were Dani Smith, from the national-champion women’s volleyball team, and Jared Stephens from the provincial-champion men’s soccer team.
For Stephens, it was one more award in a season full of hardware. Last week he was also selected as the Pacific Western Athletic Association’s Athlete of the Year.
“You’re just a product of your surroundings and I learned so much from the guys and so much from that coaching staff,” he said. “I owe everything to them. Every one of those guys should take some pride in this award.”
Year in review
After the banquet, VIU athletic director Bruce Hunter reviewed the highlights of the season, starting with the program's greatest achievement, the national gold medal in women's volleyball.
"It's so special because you just don't have the opportunity to win a gold medal at home very often…" he said. "You only ever have one shot to win at home, and that's if you're lucky."
The men's v-ball team, said Hunter, was disappointed not to claim a provincial championship since it was "definitely a distinct possibility". He credited the team for its "amazing" overall 3.2 grade-point average.
Men's basketball was another team that had one of those oh-so-close seasons, ending with a silver-medal finish at provincials in coach Tony Bryce's last year with the program.
“I was very sad to see that team not get the opportunity to get back to nationals this year and have another shot at it, particularly for Tony in his last year and those players that played for five years and worked hard,” said Hunter.
The department will name a new coach “shortly”, he said.
“We have a couple of very good candidates that we’re down to the brass tacks.”
He wouldn’t divulge further information or offer any timeline, but indicated the new coach would be in place in time to be able to do some recruiting.
As far as women's hoops, the team also lost in the gold-medal final but was a highly ranked and respected program from the start of the season till the end.
"For the first time they actually believed that they should win…" said Hunter. "There was a definite attitude change in the women's basketball program this year."
The soccer teams are expected to be contenders again next year and M's badminton was able to add a prized recruit for 2012-13. Hunter said he's committed to gender equity in all sports and so he hopes to continue to grow the women's golf program moving forward.
Mariners boast all-stars
The other major awards handed out on Tuesday night were for Freshman Athlete of the Year. Volleyball player Alyssa Wolf and basketball player Jason McKee were the winners.
Taking home the President’s Award for commitment, leadership and performance were soccer players Steph Dean and Ben Leggett, volleyball players Shenise Power and Jan Engel, b-ball players Richelle Rafnkjelson and Trevor Davidson, golfer Kristian Hrabowych and badminton player Zack Yim.
Winners of the Golden Boot Award as top scorers on the M’s soccer teams were Emma Johannson and Stephens.
Every year VIU’s athletics department recognizes its graduating seniors who spent their whole college careers playing for the Mariners.
Basketball players Jacob Thom, Patrick McCarthy and Rafnkjelson, volleyball players Brett Weninger, Nigel Proch and Tamara Rosenlund, and soccer player Dean were presented with M’s jackets.
The Mariners’ Academic Excellence awards went to McCarthy and Rafnkjelson.
VIU celebrated the accomplishments of its athletes who earned distinctions from the Canadian Colleges’ Athletic Association and the Pacific Western Athletic Association.
The Mariners’ All-Canadians in 2011-12 were v-ball players Smith, Milo Warren and Lee Hamilton, b-ball player Thom and soccer player Stephens. Academic All-Canadians were soccer players Stephens, Leggett, Brittany Shillingford and Emily Nicholson, and volleyball players Proch and Jacqueline Doleman.