Triumph and disappointment: Cowichan Valley sports year in review

Cowichan Secondary wrestler Talon Hird displays his five provincial gold medals as well as his hardware for being named male Wrestler of the Meet at the B.C. high school meet in February. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)Cowichan Secondary wrestler Talon Hird displays his five provincial gold medals as well as his hardware for being named male Wrestler of the Meet at the B.C. high school meet in February. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Cowichan Secondary wrestler Talon Hird displays his five provincial gold medals as well as his hardware for being named male Wrestler of the Meet at the B.C. high school meet in February. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Cowichan Bay’s Sophia Mackenzie won the B.C. novice girls golf title at Mount Brenton Golf Course in August. (Submitted)Cowichan Bay’s Sophia Mackenzie won the B.C. novice girls golf title at Mount Brenton Golf Course in August. (Submitted)
Luciano Wilson celebrates after scoring in overtime to send the Cowichan Valley Capitals to the second round of the B.C. Hockey League playoffs. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)Luciano Wilson celebrates after scoring in overtime to send the Cowichan Valley Capitals to the second round of the B.C. Hockey League playoffs. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Seen here in action with the U of M Bisons, Duncan’s Brock Gowanlock was drafted by the Montreal Alouettes in April. (Submitted)Seen here in action with the U of M Bisons, Duncan’s Brock Gowanlock was drafted by the Montreal Alouettes in April. (Submitted)

As with nearly everything else this year, sports were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a swath of cancellations starting in March and continuing to the end of the year. Nevertheless, there wasn’t a shortage of highlights to remember from 2020.

•••

The Cowichan Valley Capitals clinched a playoff spot and moved temporarily into first place in the B.C. Hockey League’s Island Division with a three-game weekend sweep of the Victoria Grizzlies, Nanaimo Clippers and Powell River Kings on Jan. 10-12.

READ MORE: Three-win weekend moves Caps to top of division

•••

Cowichan LMG goalkeeper Darian Achurch was named Most Valuable Player as he backstopped the Vancouver Island Soccer League team to a shootout win over the Fraser Valley Soccer League in the all-star game in Victoria on Jan. 11. Achurch was one of three LMG players named to play in the game, while the Cowichan 49ers had seven players picked for the VISL masters all-star squad.

READ MORE: Cowichan’s Achurch named all-star MVP

•••

In February, the Citizen caught up with Mill Bay’s Kabore Dunn. The 18-year-old defenceman was catching the eyes of scouts as he patrolled the blue line for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Dunn had earned a scholarship with the University of Maine, made NHL Central Scouting’s list of Players to Watch for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, and played in the CJHL Prospects Game in Hamilton, where his teammates included former Cowichan Valley Minor Hockey teammate Luciano Wilson.

READ MORE: Cowichan’s Kabore Dunn makes the most of an opportunity

•••

Chemainus basketball legend Bill Robinson died at the age of 71 following a stroke on Feb. 8. One of the greatest Canadian players of the pre-Steve Nash era, Robinson captained Canada to a fourth-place finish at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, played four years at Simon Fraser University, and was named to the all-tournament team at the 1974 World Championships. Robinson is a member of the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame and the North Cowichan/Duncan Sports Wall of Fame.

READ MORE: Canadian basketball legend Bill Robinson dead at 71

•••

An all-Cowichan match in the play-in game of the Tony Grover Cup masters soccer tournament on Feb. 15 was won 2-0 by the 49ers over the Steelheads.

READ MORE: 49ers slip past Steelheads in all-Cowichan Grover opener

•••

Representing Cowichan Secondary School and the Cowichan Valley Wrestling Club, Talon Hird made history in February by becoming just the fifth athlete in the 56-year history of high school wrestling in B.C. to win gold medals in all five years of their eligibility. Hird didn’t give up a single point in any one of his matches at provincials, and was named the Most Outstanding Boys Wrestler at the meet.

“It feels spectacular,” Hird said. “Five years of hard work and determination all came to fruition. It’s like a saga; all of my goals came towards this. To win all five is something I’m definitely proud of. I never let up in my commitment to always keep improving.”

Queen of Angels Grade 8 wrestler Loryn Roberts also won gold at the meet in Langley as CVWC athletes combined for 12 podium finishes.

READ MORE: Cowichan’s Talon Hird brings home gold medal No. 5

READ MORE: 12 provincial medals for Cowichan Valley wrestlers

•••

Cowichan Valley climber Brennan Doyle travelled to Los Angeles in late February to compete at the Pan Am Championships, where berths in the first-ever Olympic climbing competition were on the line.

“It’s not realistic for me to win,” he said. “My goal is to make the finals, which would put me in the top eight. But obviously anything can happen, so I’m not going to rule it out.”

Doyle just missed his goal, placing ninth overall as the top Canadian in the men’s competition.

READ MORE: Cowichan climber off to Olympic qualifier

•••

Duncan archer Liam Whitworth brought home two medals from the 2020 BC Winter Games in Fort St. John on Sunday. Whitworth claimed silver in the boys two-day aggregate recurve competition, and bronze in the boys match play recurve. Curler Carlie Hardie, also from Duncan, collected a silver medal as well, helping the Zone 6 team to second place in the girls competition. Cobble Hill’s Elsa Bollinger and Cowichan Bay’s Anna Michaluk helped Zone 6 to third in the team judo competition. Bollinger also narrowly missed an individual medal, placing fourth in the under-48 women’s division. Ashton Attew of Mill Bay competed in alpine skiing, finishing 29th overall in the male slalom.

READ MORE: Cowichan athletes medal in archery, curling and judo at BC Winter Games

READ MORE: Archer takes on new challenges at BC Winter Games

•••

After a two-decade absence, Cowichan Secondary School’s senior girls basketball team returned to the provincial championships following a third-place finish at the Island championships and a win over Royal Bay in a challenge game. Several members of the team had previous experience at provincial tournaments, having gone to the Grade 8 invitational in 2016 and junior provincials in 2018, but this was their first time reaching the senior AAAA tournament.

READ MORE: Cowichan T-Birds return to provincials

•••

For the first time since 2013, Cowichan LMG made an early exit from the Sir John Jackson Cup soccer tournament, losing 2-0 in the round of 16 to Div. 1 winners Lakehill on Feb. 21. Cowichan still had a shot at making the provincial tournament depending on their finish in league play and which teams made the Jackson Cup final. (The provincial tournament ended up being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

READ MORE: Early exit for LMG

•••

Brentwood College School’s senior boys basketball team won its fourth consecutive AA boys basketball title on Feb. 22, coming from behind to edge Kwalikum 75-73 in the final at Brentwood’s own Foote Athletic Centre. Dylan Gage was named Player of the Game for the final, while Juan Navarro was named tournament MVP.

READ MORE: Brentwood boys make it four Island titles in a row

•••

Brentwood’s junior girls basketball team qualified for provincials for the first time ever, then posted a 3-1 record at the tournament in Langley to win the Rivalry Bracket. After a loss to College Heights in the opener, Brentwood defeated Duchess Park, Robert Bateman and AAAA Riverside.

READ MORE: Brentwood jr. girls playing at B.C. hoops championship

•••

The Cowichan Secondary Thunderbirds finished 14th with one win at the senior girls AAAA basketball championships in Langley. The T-Birds defeated Prince George decisively, but lost their games against Walnut Grove, Claremont and Handsworth.

READ MORE: T-Birds look good in return to basketball provincials

•••

The peewee Tier 2 Cowichan Valley Capitals, peewee Tier 3 Kerry Park Islanders, and juvenile Cowichan Valley Capitals all earned the right to represent Vancouver Island at provincial tournaments that ended up being called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The peewee Capitals went undefeated in the North Island playoff round robin, then won their crossover semifinal against Juan de Fuca before beating the Victoria Admirals 4-3 and 8-6 in the best-of-three final. The Capitals were optimistic about provincials after going 12-2 in tournaments over the season.

The peewee Islanders were the first Kerry Park team to qualify for provincials since 2014. They swept through the round robin, then crushed Alberni Valley 23-0 in the semifinals before beating Powell River 10-1 and 9-2 in the best-of-three final.

Cowichan’s first juvenile men’s team in recent memory defeated Juan de Fuca 5-1 at the Big Stick on March 1 to win the Vancouver Island title. The team was set to host the Mainland champs for a best-of-three provincial final series that was cancelled because of the pandemic.

READ MORE: Cowichan peewees bound for T2 provincials

READ MORE: Peewee Islanders qualify for B.C. T3 tourney

READ MORE: Juvenile Capitals take Island title in first year

•••

The Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League season came to an end for the Kerry Park Islanders when they were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Oceanside Generals. The Generals won 4-1, 7-1, 6-1 and 5-1 to take the series. It didn’t end up making a difference to the Generals, as the remainder of the VIJHL playoffs were cancelled.

READ MORE: Kerry Park Islanders bow out of playoffs

•••

Hometown hero Luciano Wilson scored a powerplay goal in overtime as the Cowichan Valley Capitals won their BCHL first-round playoff series 4-1 over the Powell River Kings. That came after he assisted on Matt Crasa’s tying goal with 37 seconds left in regulation.

“Doing it in front of my home crowd is pretty special, especially with this group of guys; they’re unbelievable,” Wilson said. “It was an amazing feeling. Even being on the ice for [Crasa’s] tying goal, that was special too. I got to watch him celebrate right in front of me. Those memories, you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”

The Caps’ series win over Powell River set up a second-round matchup with the Nanaimo Clippers that never happened when the BCHL cancelled the remainder of the playoffs because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a day before the series was set to begin.

“You have to accept it. I’m not debating the decision,” Caps head coach Mike Vandekamp said. “But it’s very disappointing for the players and the coaching staff, and I’m sure for the fans, but I can only speak for the coaches and players.”

READ MORE: Hometown hero sends Caps to second round

READ MORE: Cowichan Valley Capitals lament season lost to COVID-19

•••

The Kerry Park/Victoria/Comox Valley rink skipped by the Cowichan Valley’s own Wes Craig came up just short of a provincial masters curling title in the championship that wrapped up at Lake Cowichan on March 8. With six wins and one loss in round-robin play, Craig’s team had the best record on the men’s side at the 2020 Connect Hearing BC Masters Curling Championships and earned a bye straight to the final, where they were defeated 8-4 by Craig Lepine’s Langley/Royal City/Penticton/Cloverdale foursome.

READ MORE: Masters Curling champ crowned in Cowichan

•••

Two years after winning back-to-back provincial AA boys basketball titles, Brentwood College returned to the podium with a surprise third-place finish at the 2020 tournament in Langley, which wrapped up on March 8.

“It was not an end goal,” head coach Blake Gage admitted. “We just wanted to play well. I did feel that the team was peaking at the right time and if we played well were capable of making a run.”

Brentwood defeated Clarence Fulton and Abbotsford Christian before falling to Charles Hays in the semifinal, then bounced back with an 81-52 victory over Lambrick Park in the final. Shaw Blaisdell and Juan Navarro were named first- and second-team all-stars, respectively.

READ MORE: Brentwood brings home bronze from B.C.’s

•••

B.C. School Sports suspended all school sporting activities as of March 17, ending the spring track and field, girls soccer, rugby, badminton, golf and tennis seasons. The shutdown of school sports continued through the end of 2020.

READ MORE: B.C. to suspend K-12 schools indefinitely due to COVID-19

•••

BC Soccer suspended all sanctioned soccer activity in March, putting on hold the seasons of five Cowichan Valley soccer teams. The Cowichan 49ers were scheduled to play in the semifinal of the Tony Grover Cup tournament, and ended up playing in the final when soccer activity resumed in the fall. Cowichan United was supposed to play in the semifinal of the Stephanie Shergold Cup tourney, which never did get played. Cowichan LMG, the Cowichan Steelheads and the Cowichan Cougars were all hoping to qualify for provincial tournaments, which were all cancelled outright. Quw’utsun FC took part in what may have been the last soccer game played in B.C. before the restrictions came down, losing 2-0 to Gorge FC at Rotary Park on March 12 to drop out of the George Pearkes Cup tournament.

READ MORE: Soccer season on hold due to COVID-19

READ MORE: Quw’utsun FC eliminated from Pearkes Cup play

•••

BC Rugby cancelled all rugby matches for March 14 and 15, and club competition has remained suspended since that time.

READ MORE: Rugby games cancelled, Piggy Park closed

•••

Brentwood College School cancelled its annual regatta, which was set for April 24-26, and which would have been the 50th. The school hopes to celebrate the 50th annual event in 2021.

READ MORE: Cowichan boarding schools keeping students out of classrooms

•••

Duncan’s Pat Kay, a member of the national men’s rugby sevens team, went through a confusing week in mid March as Canada announced that it was pulling out of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, and then as the International Olympic Committee announced the postponement of the Games until 2021.

“It was kind of a confusing time,” Kay acknowledged. “A lot of questions weren’t being answered immediately.”

Kay earned his 50th cap for Canada at the Canada Sevens in Vancouver on March 7-8, just before the remainder of the 2019-20 World Rugby Sevens Series was cancelled.

READ MORE: Duncan’s Pat Kay copes with Olympic roller-coaster

•••

After two eventful seasons behind the bench for the Cowichan Valley Capitals, head coach and general manager Mike Vandekamp left the team for a new job with the Grande Prairie Storm in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. In his first season with the Caps, Vandekamp coached the team to a 17-35-5-1 record in the regular season, followed by an upset of the Penticton Vees in the first round of the playoffs. In 2019-20, the team went 35-16-5-2 to finish second in the Island Division, one point back of the Nanaimo Clippers, then dumped the Powell River Kings in the first round of playoffs.

READ MORE: Vandekamp moving on from Cowichan Capitals

•••

Cowichan Valley Capitals play-by-play man Justis Doucet was honoured as the BCHL’s 2019-20 Broadcaster of the Year. Originally from Duncan, the 23-year-old Doucet is a graduate of the BCIT Broadcast and Online Journalism program. He previously worked with the Kerry Park Islanders before he started calling Caps games on 89.7 Juice FM at the start of the 2017-18 hockey season.

READ MORE: Cowichan Capitals’ broadcaster named BCHL’s best

•••

Mill Bay’s Ben Wright was picked in the Western Hockey League’s bantam draft on April 22. A centre on the Shawnigan Lake School bantam prep team, Wright was selected by the Edmonton Oil Kings in the 10th round, 218th overall. Six-foot-one and 155 pounds at 14 years old, Wright scored 22 goals and added 25 assists for a team-high 47 points in 30 regular season games this past season.

READ MORE: Mill Bay’s Ben Wright among 2020 WHL draft picks

•••

Brock Gowanlock took a big step forward in his football career when the defensive end from Duncan who has spent the last four years with the University of Manitoba Bisons was tapped by the Montreal Alouettes in the eighth round of the 2020 Canadian Football League Draft on April 30. “It was definitely a cool feeling getting the call,” Gowanlock admitted the following day. “It hasn’t set in yet.” Gowanlock had hoped to attend training camp in the summer, but the entire 2020 CFL season was cancelled.

READ MORE: Duncan’s Gowanlock drafted by Alouettes

•••

The Cowichan Valley Capitals announced in early May that Geoff Grimwood would take over from Mike Vandekamp as head coach and GM of the BCHL team. The experienced bench boss split the previous season between the Swan Valley Stampeders and Winkler Flyers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

READ MORE: Cowichan Capitals announce new bench boss

•••

Maple Bay Rowing Club member Anya Prokopchuk, 14, participated in the Row to the Moon Challenge in May, along with more than 1,000 rowers representing 30 countries around the world. Prokopchuk’s 108,000 metres were more than any other participant her age, male or female, and put her in the 90th percentile overall.

READ MORE: Cowichan Valley rower takes aim at the moon

•••

Mill Bay’s Jojo Tanaka-Campbell, who spent the 2019-20 season with the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers, was named the Academic Player of the Year for the entire CJHL, the umbrella organization for all junior A hockey leagues in the country. The 19-year-old Shawnigan Lake School grad, who will head to Yale on a hockey scholarship beginning in 2021, had a strong rookie campaign with the Vipers, finishing fourth on the club with 26 points on seven goals and 19 assists in 52 games.

READ MORE: Mill Bay’s Tanaka-Campbell gets national honour

•••

Duncan product and 2020 playoff hero Luciano Wilson was traded by the Cowichan Valley Capitals to the Penticton Vees in a big off-season trade for Jack Barnes and future considerations on June 1. Wilson led the Caps in the 2019-20 regular season with 34 assists and 53 points, and was second on the team with 19 goals.

READ MORE: Caps send Luciano Wilson to Penticton Vees

•••

Morgan Nederlof and Kristine Williams were named Duncan Christian School’s Senior Girls Athletes of the Year, Nathan Powell and Andrew Young shared the Senior Boys Athlete of the Year award, and Jaymie Brandsma and Anna Kempe were named Sportspeople of the Year.

READ MORE: Duncan Christian School hands out hardware

•••

Five-time provincial wrestling champion Talon Hird was named Cowichan Secondary School’s Male athlete of the Year for the second straight year, and field hockey star Chloe Langkammer was named Female Athlete of the Year. Maxine O’Leary and Mackenzie Hall shared the G.D. Corsan Scholar Athlete of the Year award, and Jessica Castle was named Sportsperson of the Year.

READ MORE: Provincial success stands out at Cowichan Secondary awards

•••

The South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club had to cancel most of its tournaments this year, including the Vancouver Island Grass Court Championships, which usually takes place in the third week of July. This was the first time in the club’s 133-year history that the Grass Court Championship had to be cancelled. The club did manage to hold the Kay Wilson Memorial Mixed Doubles TKO tournament in August.

READ MORE: South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club pushes on despite cancelled tourneys

•••

A new group took over the junior B Kerry Park Islanders during the summer, led by new owner and head coach Brandon Cox. Cox vowed to build the 2020-21 roster around local talent.

“I’m big about local kids,” he said. “We have a decent nucleus of local kids, we’re also bringing in more local kids and trying to trade for local kids.”

READ MORE: Under new ownership, Isles prepare for 2020-21

•••

Duncan golfer Tristan Mandur survived a late challenge to win the 118th B.C. Men’s Amateur Golf Championship, played July 27-29 at the Okanagan Golf Club in Kelowna. Closer to home and later in August, Cowichan Bay’s Sophia Mackenzie won the B.C. novice girls title and Mill Bay’s Zachary Grisdale finished third in the novice boys championship at Mount Brenton Golf Course.

READ MORE: Duncan’s Mandur wins BC Amateur title

READ MORE: Valley golfers among the best as Mt. Brenton hosts B.C. championships

•••

Mill Bay’s Will McDougall-Percillier was named Rugby Canada’s Young Player of the Year for 2019 in a ceremony held online in early August. The Brentwood College School grad captained Canada to a spot in the 2019 Junior World Trophy tournament, then led the entire tournament in scoring. McDougall-Percillier went on to make his debut in France’s Top 14 pro league on Nov. 1, scoring a try against Toulouse.

READ MORE: McDougall-Percillier gets top Rugby Canada honour

READ MORE: Cowichan’s Percillier scores in French Top 14 rugby debut

•••

The annual Gord Closson Oldtimers Fall Classic softball tournament had to make adjustments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with fewer teams and fewer fans allowed at Glenora’s Waldon Park, but the event on Aug. 28-30 was still a success. Mark James Excavating won the masters division, and Wheatsheaf prevailed in the open division.

READ MORE: Waldon Park ready for Gord Closson Classic

READ MORE: Pared-down Classic still a success

•••

Six months after the Tony Grover Cup tournament was suspended due to the pandemic, the Cowichan 49ers and UVic Alumni played the tournament final at Westhills Stadium on Sept. 19, with UVic winning 2-1. It marked the first time since the 49ers were founded in 2017 that the club did not win the Island masters soccer championship.

READ MORE: Cowichan 49ers just miss fourth Grover Cup

•••

Just days before the beginning of the 2020 BCHL preseason, Cowichan Valley Capitals head coach and GM Geoff Grimwood stepped down, without having coached a game for the club, citing “ethical and philosophical differences with ownership.” He was replaced on an interim basis by Brian Passmore, who previously coached the Caps in 2017-18.

READ MORE: Grimwood steps down as Cowichan Capitals head coach

•••

Ultramarathon runner Jerry Hughes took aim at a 129-year-old Canadian record in November, hoping to run more than 870 km on the Cowichan Sportsplex track between Nov. 15 and 20 in a fundraiser for the Help Fill a Dream Foundation. The 40-year-old from Victoria ended up falling short of the record, but raised more than $36,000.

READ MORE: Ultramarathoner takes aim at 130-year-old record for charity

READ MORE: Six days on the Cowichan Sportsplex track for ultramarathoner

•••

Two Cowichan Valley schools finished atop their categories in terms of participation as BC School Sports presented its first-ever virtual province-wide cross-country running competition in the fall. Duncan Christian School and Shawnigan Lake School had the most participants in Group D (1-175 high school students) and Group C (176-599 high school students, respectively, in the BCSS Cross Country Pandemic Challenge.

READ MORE: Two Cowichan Valley schools among tops in Pandemic Challenge

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