Athletic triumphs mark banner year

by Bruce Mason
Staff writer

UBC athletes were in the news even before classes started last September.

Eight UBC swimmers, a field hockey goalie and four coaches were among those representing Canada at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur. Swimmer Mark Versfeld provided one of the highlights of the Games by setting a Commonwealth Games record in the 200-metre backstroke on the way to earning a gold medal.

The 1998/99 Canadian university season kicked off with the Thunderbird women's field hockey team winning UBC's 41st national championship. Coach Hash Kanjee was selected Canadian Inter-
university Athletic Union (CIAU) Coach of the Year after leading his team of Canada West All-Stars and CIAU All-Canadians to a 1-0 victory over provincial rival the University of Victoria Vikes in the championship final.

The return of the 1997 Vanier Cup champion UBC Thunderbird football team was greatly anticipated. A record number of fans watched the T-Birds fight to defend their title. Although the 'Birds did not disappoint, UBC finished the season with a 7-3 record, having to be satisfied with the fact that the team that beat them in the semi-finals was the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, who went on to take the national crown. But UBC won local bragging rights with a victory over cross-town rival SFU in the 21st annual Shrum Bowl.

The football team and university community lost head coach Casey Smith to cancer Nov. 24. The illness sidelined Smith during the 1998 season which the players dedicated to him. The popular and respected coach was given the Arthur W. Delamont Award for Freshman Spirit posthumously.

In mid-February, the Thunderbird women's and men's swim teams earned UBC's 42nd and 43rd CIAU national championships successfully defending their national titles. National media characterized the consecutive championships as a "tidal wave."

The women amassed a total of 10 gold, five silver and six bronze medals. On the men's side, the 'Birds came away with 10 gold, three silver and six bronze medals.

Rookie Thunderbird Jessica Deglau was named the CIAU Female Swimmer of the Year and head coach Tom Johnson was named the CIAU Women's and Men's Coach of the Year for the second straight season.

In March, women's volleyball, women's basketball and men's basketball teams all advanced to post-season play.

Finishing in fourth place in Canada West, both the women's and men's basketball teams faced provincial rival the University of Victoria Vikes in the Canada West semi-final. Unfortunately, the hoop 'Birds failed to make it past the first round where they were eliminated by provincial rival the University of Victoria.

For the first time in more than two decades, the women's volleyball team hosted the Canada West final. The team successfully defended its Canada West championship. The T-Birds fell short of a national title when they were defeated by four-time national champion, the University of Alberta Pandas.

The 1998/99 season concluded with the 75th annual Big Block Reunion and Awards Banquet which inducted 121 second-year athletes.

Two student athletes were recognized for their outstanding contribution to UBC. The Thunderbird Athletes of the Year were Joanne Ross from women's volleyball and Mike Dalziel from men's volleyball.