The University of British Columbia

McNeil, Reitsma named Heat Outstanding Athletes of the Year

Lauren McNeil (left) and Nicholas Reitsma (right) poses with their hardware following the Heat Athletic Banquet on Tuesday, April 12 (Photo Credit: Conan Shing Photography)
Lauren McNeil (left) and Nicholas Reitsma (right) poses with their hardware following the Heat Athletic Banquet on Tuesday, April 12 (Photo Credit: Conan Shing Photography)

KELOWNA, B.C. – Rookie cross country runner Lauren McNeil and fourth-year men's soccer goalkeeper Nicholas Reitsma were named the 2021-22 UBC Okanagan Heat Outstanding Athletes of the Year on Tuesday as the department of athletics and recreation hosted their Athletic Banquet at the UBCO Gymnasium.

At the department's first in-person Athletic Banquet since 2019, McNeil, an exchange student from Buxton, England, became the second cross country runner in Heat history to be named the Outstanding Athlete of the Year. She also made school history as she was also named the Female Rookie of the Year becoming the first student-athlete at UBCO to ever sweep both awards.

Meanwhile, Reitsma is the second consecutive member of the men's soccer team to be named the Outstanding Athlete of the Year after former teammate Hamish Walde won the award the last time it was handed out in 2019-20.

Both McNeil and Reitsma will receive a $1000 prize courtesy of the Coast Capri Hotel for being named the Heat Outstanding Athletes of the Year.

"It's really amazing," said McNeil on being named both the Rookie of the Year and Outstanding Athlete of the Year. "It still doesn't feel very real but it's just been an amazing experience. I'm so glad that I've had the opportunity to come here and be part of the team. It's been amazing running with such an amazing team, everyone has just been so supportive and so friendly."

"It means a lot winning this award," said Reitsma on his recognition. "I couldn't do any of this without my teammates, without [head coach] Dante [Zanatta], without [lead assistant coach] Tom [Flanagan], without the keepers that have been here before me. I remember in my second year, Mitch McCaw, who was keeper in front of me, won this award and I was always hoping one day I could be that inspiration for one of the younger guys coming up."

McNeil had a season to remember for UBCO in her first time competing in Canadian university sport. She won her first two races against Canada West conference competition before finishing second at the Canada West Championships in October, just 0.2 seconds behind teammates Joanna Brown. That performance in Saskatoon earned her the Canada West Rookie of the Year as well as a spot on the Canada West First All-Star team. In November, at the U SPORTS National Championships, McNeil went toe-to-toe with top runners in the country and once again claimed individual silver. As a result, she was named the U SPORTS Rookie of the Year and became just the third Heat athlete to be named a U SPORTS All-Canadian.

Reitsma went out with a bang in his final season with the Heat as he capped off an excellent career by earning a spot on the Canada West Second All-Star team. The Kelowna, B.C., native started all 12 games for the Heat, earning three clean sheets, which tied him for third overall in the conference. He also finished the year with 44 saves, the second most in Canada West while becoming the fifth player in team history to be named a conference all-star. Thanks to his outstanding season, he finishes his career with UBCO as the holder of seven team goaltending records, including most saves and most clean sheets.

"It's been the best six years of my life," added Reitsma on his career with the Heat. "The growth that I've seen as a person and also as a player, interacting with all the guys, I couldn't be more grateful. This was really really special."

Standing alongside McNeil as the Male Rookie of the Year was men's volleyball's Zach van Geel. The first-year setter had a fantastic rookie campaign for the Heat as he started 14 of the Heat's 16 games while recording 392 assists, ranking 11th overall in Canada West. In the playoffs, the Calgary native raised his game to another level, recording 45 assists in the team's first-ever playoff victory over Winnipeg before adding 49 in the Heat's final match against Manitoba, the fifth-most in a 4-set match in team history. For his strong play this year, van Geel was named to the Canada West All-Rookie team.

The final major awards that the department handed out on Tuesday evening were the Graduating Athletes of the Year which were awarded to men's soccer's Sam McDonald and women's volleyball's Sara McCreary.

McDonald, a native of Kelowna, B.C., has enjoyed an excellent career for the Heat since joining UBCO back in 2017. A member of the Canada West All-Rookie team in his first season, McDonald went on to start all 49 games he played in for the Heat. The central defender was a rock on the backline for UBCO but also made an impact offensively, scoring seven goals and adding two assists during his career. He finishes his career tied for second all-time in team history in goals scored and his four game winning goals are the most ever by a member of the Heat.

As for McCreary, the Edmonton native closed out an impressive career for the Heat in 2021-22 after joining UBCO back in 2016. The setter, who was the 2016-17 UBCO Rookie of the Year, finishes her career second on the Heat's all-time assists list with 1585. In 2017-18, she helped lead the Heat to the Canada West semifinals and an appearance at the national championships after leading the country in assists per set at 10.22. After missing the past three seasons due to injury and the pandemic, McCreary returned to UBCO for a final season where she recorded 333 assists in 12 matches and helped the Heat reach the second round of the playoffs.

Also recognized on Tuesday evening were each team's Most Valuable Players and Leadership & Community Service Award recipients.

Team MVPs
M Basketball – Gus Goerzen
W Basketball – Kelsey Falk
M Cross Country – Connor Baerg
W Cross Country – Joanna Brown
M Golf – Ethan Hunt
W Golf – Emily Cornwall
M Rugby – Kyle Tremblay
W Softball – Taylor Roeseler
M Soccer – Nicholas Reitsma
W Soccer – Stefanie Young
M Volleyball – Max Heppell
W Volleyball - Hellen Lacava

Leadership & Community Service Awards
M Basketball – Jonathan Haughton
W Basketball – Brianna Falk
M Cross Country – Joel Worman
W Cross Country – Joanna Brown
M Golf – Ethan Hunt
W Golf – Kayleigh Trowman
M Rugby – Quinn Baak
W Softball – Kasey Wright
M Soccer – Sam McDonald
W Soccer – Erica Lampert
M Volleyball – Téo Ardanaz
W Volleyball – Sadie Taylor-Parks