Mariners win several awards at the Nanaimo Sports Achievement banquet

February 2nd, 2014


Read more in the Nanaimo News Bulletin


VIU Mariners clean up sports awards

Jocelyn Jones, Brandon Jones, Melissa Liew, Matt Kuzminski, men's basketball all honoured


Josh Aldrich / Daily News
February 3, 2014

The Vancouver Island University Mariners cleaned up at the ninth annual Nanaimo Sport Achievement Awards on Saturday at the Coast Bastion Hotel. It is a common refrain for the awards, which celebrate athletic excellence at all levels in Nanaimo, but it speaks to the hard work that has bread continued success, both provincially and nationally, at the university.

This year, women's basketball player Jocelyn Jones was female team athlete of the year, men's basketball player Brandon Jones was named male team athlete of the year, badminton's Melissa Liew was named female individual athlete of the year, men's basketball's Matt Kuzminski was named high performance coach of the year, and the national champion men's basketball team was named team of the year.

"It's way harder than people think to maintain a program at the top level," said VIU athletic director Bruce Hunter. "What it really requires is to have coaches that players want to play for, it's important to have those top coaches in your stable and they're able to recruit those top players year after year after year. It's a huge on going commitment from our coaching staff to maintain that top level performing team."

It was quite the season for the university's athletic department.

The men's basketball team managed to put it together late in the 2012-13 season under rookie head coach Kuzminski. They secured a wildcard birth and the No. 6 seed at the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association championships with a second place finish at the Pacific Western Athletic Association championships. At nationals at John Abbott College in Montreal, they pulled off upsets over No. 3 Red Deer College and No. 2 Sheridan College before beating the No. 5 Humber College Hawks 77-70 for their first gold medal in 19 years.

They were led by Brandon Jones who named the PacWest championship MVP, the CCAA championship MVP, an all-Canadian and a PacWest first team all-star. He was also named VIU's male athlete of the year across all sports and was a finalist for Basketball B.C.'s player of the year.

"For me and Brandon, our individual awards are a product of our team success," said Kuzminski, also crediting his assistant coaches Avneet Brar, Scott Marr and Djimith N'Diaye. "If we hadn't have won the national championship or been such a good team throughout the regular season, Brandon would not have got the recognition he got and I would not have got the recognition I had. It's a team award."

Jocelyn Jones had a similar run with the women's team, as the won their first PacWest championship in 15 years, and helped turn around a team that had suffered through a string of injuries and fell to a 2-4 start. She was named the PacWest tournament MVP, a PacWest first team all-star and an all-Canadian. She was also named VIU's female athlete of the year for 2013 and has the Mariners at a perfect 16-0 through this weekend's games.

"I was very surprised, they can choose anybody, so I was very blessed," said Jones.

Jones made it a point to rush back to Nanaimo after their 83-46 win over the Columbia Bible College Bearcats for the awards. It was a moment she got to share with her mother Ronee McKinney who had made the trip up from Seattle.

"Since Day 1, she has supported me through all of my sports and it really feels great to have my mom by my side," said Jones.

Liew had a huge first year with the badminton team, while working towards a degree in cellular and molecular biology. She placed first at the Honolulu Open, second at the CCAA championships in Barrie, Ont., was named VIU's rookie of the year and the Winnipeg native was named the Manitoba Badminton Association's most outstanding


The other big story out of the evening was the Nanaimo District Secondary School Islanders senior girls volleyball team. They snagged two top awards - Victoria Behie was named junior female athlete of the year and the team was named junior team of the year.

Behie won silver at the U17 provincial club indoor volleyball championships, gold at the U17 Beach Volleyball Championships, and bronze at the U18 National Beach Volleyball championships. She was named captain of the U18 indoor provincial team and led them to a bronze medal finish at nationals.

"It's really a big shock because all of the competitors up for this award had such amazing accomplishments, so it really makes it a big honour," said Behie, 17.

However, she may have saved the best for last, leading NDSS to a provincial gold medal, where she was named MVP.

"We just kind of had something click at provincials and took off and went on this crazy run," said Behie. "We really came together as a team and it taught us all a bunch of lessons that anything is possible, because we did have a bit of a bumpy season leading up to provincials."

To cap it all off, she signed a scholarship to play for the six-time defending Canadian Interuniversity Sport champion University of British Columbia Thunderbirds next year. She took in some action at UBC on Friday, and it hit her then that she will be on that court next year.

"It's surreal," she said. "It's like 'Wow, I can't believe I'm growing up and I'm going to be with those amazing athletes.'" It was a big night overall for the awards committee, as they handed out 18 awards and raised money and awareness to go towards athletes training to get to the next level and for the Nanaimo Sports Hall of Fame.

There were a couple of last year's recipients of funding named finalists again this year, including Erin Burrett who was nominated for female individual athlete of the year and had a huge year, making provincial and national teams in long distance running.

"She has been so appreciative and has said what she accomplished from that training was what she needed, and she didn't think she could go (without the funding)," said NSAA chairwoman Marilyn Sullivan. "We encourage these kids to apply. .. and we'll look at it as a group and a committee, see how much money we have from our auction tonight and disperse it accordingly." 250-729-4243

2014 Nanaimo Sport Achievement Awards

Nanaimo Sport Achievement Awards winners Masters Athlete of the Year - Samira Rusman, swimming Sport Administrator of the year - Brenda and Phil Levesque, Nanaimo Buccaneers Official of the year - Mike Walker, badminton Partners of the year - Riley Kazanowski and Caleb Harder, beach volleyball Grassroots coach of the year - Sean Roden, Nanaimo Redmen High performance coach of the year - Matt Kuzminski, VIU basketball Female junior athlete of the year - Victoria Behie, NDSS Islanders Male junior athlete of the year - Brandon Parker, Barsby Bulldogs Junior team of the year - NDSS senior girls volleyball Female team athlete of the year - Jocelyn Jones, VIU basketball Male team athlete of the year - Brandon Jones, VIU basketball Female individual athlete of the year - Melissa Liew, VIU badminton Male individual athlete of the year - Graham Spencer, MMA Team of the year - VIU men's basketball Sports news story of the year - Longest indoor hockey game Michael Rhode Memorial Award - Matt "Snoop" Blokker, football Hero in you award - Dave Forester