Canadian Interuniversity Sport always struggles to get its due. However, to follow CIS is to know you are watching some of the most driven sportspeople around.
Just look at the many CIS alumni who are breaking new ground in big-time sports. We saw that at the the 2010 Olympics. Heather Moyse, who once played rugby and ran track for the Waterloo Warriors, won a gold medal in women's bobsleigh in Vancouver.
It was evident in the CFL as Queen's Golden Gaels grad Danny Brannagan, playing for the Toronto Argonauts, became the first Canadian in almost 15 years to appear in a regular-season game. In basketball, former Carleton Ravens star Aaron Doornekamp, who now plays in Italy, became the first CIS grad in several years to play in the FIBA men's world championship. In soccer, female and male players alike are having an impact on Canada's national teams. Just last week, Josée Bélanger, a Sherbrooke Vert et Or product, sniped a goal to help Team Canada earn a tie in a friendly against Brazil, which we seem to recall is a pretty decent soccer country.
Here is some of the best — and worst — of CIS in 2010.
Saskatchewan's little generals — A pair of guards each no taller than 5-foot-9, Showron Glover and Michael Linklater, led the Saskatchewan Huskies to the school's first CIS men's basketball banner.
The Huskies would go 17-1 from Jan. 1 on, but were seeded fifth at the CIS Final 8 behind more traditional powers such as Carleton, UBC, Calgary and Windsor. Coach Greg Jockims cracked, "They figure we're from Saskatchewan, all we play is hockey." Then the Huskies delivered a roundball rebuke, beating Carleton in the semifinal and UBC in the final.
Glover, a charismatic Californian, has moved on to play in Europe. The Huskies have hardly skipped a beat, taking a No. 3 ranking into the new year.
Cory Greenwood makes the NFL — The former Concordia Stingers linebacker made the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent. While nothing is ever secure for a player of such status, the Kingston, Ont., native has become a valued special teams player on a Chiefs team headed to the post-season, dressing in every game and delivering some bone-crushing blocks on punt returns.
The redemption of Mike Danton — Danton, not unlike many ex-convicts, probably just wanted a sense of normalcy. The former NHL forward got a chance to be one of the guys with the Saint Mary's Huskies, joining the Halifax team in mid-season and helping it capture the CIS University Cup. It was controversial due to Danton's age (30) and notoriety, but coach Trevor Stienburg, captain Marc Rancourt and the Huskies made it work.
Laval brings it home — The Laval Rouge et Or football team is almost Google-like in the way it has come to dominate so much despite only being around since the mid-1990s. Personified by tailback Sebastien Levesque, who stayed stoutly bare-armed in a blizzard on Vanier Cup day, the Big Red Machine threw a victory party for its rabid fans a 29-2 crushing of Calgary in the championship game. It was Laval's record-tying sixth Vanier win — all coming since 1999.
Wick sparks the Battle of Alberta — Having Canadian national team star Hayley Wickenheiser sign on with the Calgary Dinos while she works toward becoming a doctor is a sign of how CIS women's hockey has come of age. Wickenheiser has immediately made Calgary, which didn't even compete in CIS a few years ago, a contender for the national title, although that means going through the defending champion, rival Alberta.
A hand for Stewart — Since he is 7-foot-2, you'd expect Greg Stewart of the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack to lead CIS men's hoops in blocked shots and be the second-leading rebounder. What if we were to tell you Stewart did that last season despite the fact he was born without a left forearm and hand? Stewart, who wears a prosthetic, is second in both categories this season.
Gaels of November — Queen's won the women's soccer title for the first time in 22 seasons, upsetting the Laurier Golden Hawks 1-0 in a dramatic extra-time final in early November. Goalkeeper Chantal Marson was the heroine, making a diving save on a header by the Hawks' Heather Malizia to make the goal stand up.
The outcome was a reversal from the previous week's Ontario final, so the result showed the depth in CIS soccer.
Simon Fraser checks out — Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., became the first Canadian school to join the NCAA, becoming a Division II program. They had their reasons, but it left a bad taste after several athletes were done out of competing for one more season. And what kind of message does it send that SFU preferred to compete in the NCAA, in which women's basketball has different rules than the men's game (unlike the more progressive CIS)?
Greg Marshall outsmarts himself — The Western Mustangs were capable of ousting Laval, but lost 13-11 in the Mitchell Bowl national semifinal after a last-second field-goal try into a stiff wind did not even reach the posts. Perhaps it would have turned out differently if Marshall, Western's coach, had taken the wind for the fourth quarter instead of the third. Or if he had not stuck with interception-prone QB Donnie Marshall. Like a Woody Hayes- or Bo Schembechler-coached team back in the day, the Mustangs had enough might to win their conference with a limited passing game, but that wasn't enough on the national stage, especially with the younger Marshall tossing four picks and losing a fumble in the big game.
Hell no, Mike won't go — The Windsor Lancers coach has averaged less than three wins a year over his 13-season tenure. Calls for him to be replaced got even louder this fall and suddenly just died down. That certainly would not have anything whatsoever with the threat Morencie could file a union grievance to keep from being replaced. He's entitled to such an entitlement, but how could he claim to care about his players and do something to set back the rebuilding?
Meantime, Morencie's son, CFL offensive lineman Matt Morencie, accosted Windsor Star columnist Bob Duff after a game this season. Classy.
The Waterloo War-roids overreaction — Increased drug testing in CIS football could have been brought in without kneecapping the Waterloo's football team for the next decade or two.
In the spring, CIS football met its Waterloo after a series of arrests turned up evidence of steroid use among Warriors players. It was a perfect storm: red meat for media moralizers and it happened at a university that does not particularly value football. Waterloo deep-sixed the team's season and threw Ontario University Athletics into an uproar, but the scandal wasn't bad enough that anyone in charge was fired. Only in Canada.
Meantime, CIS football was left with a dark cloud. Never mind that Waterloo players said the No. 1 cause might have been the CFL's previous lack of a testing policy.