The Sport Yukon Awards Night “was a good night for cross-country skiing,” said Whitehorse’s Alain Masson.
In addition to Masson’s induction into the Sport Yukon Hall of Fame for his work as head coach for Cross Country Yukon, four cross-country skiers won the major individual athlete awards at the ceremony held
Thursday at the Westmark Whitehorse.
“It was great to see a lot of the skiers rewarded for their great results last season,” said Masson. “I was happy it coincided with my induction into the Hall of Fame. It was a great evening to be surrounded by skiers. It was a fantastic evening.”
Having competed at the World Nordic Championships last season, Whitehorse siblings Graham and Emily Nishikawa were given the international male and female athletes of the year awards.
“I was really happy and honoured to win that,” said Graham. “I had a great season last year and I was super honoured.”
“I was very honoured,” said Emily. “My mom texted me – she was at the award ceremony – and told me that I won, and I was so excited and so honoured to win this award.”
The Nishikawas, who are both on the national development team, won the awards in 2011 and Emily again last year.
Before qualifying for and competing at the world championships, the Nishikawas both posted personal best results at a World Cup event last December in Canmore, Alta. Graham raced to 15th in the 30-kilometre skiathlon and Emily sped to 34th in the 15-kilometre skiathlon.
Graham went on to win two silver and two bronze at the Haywood Ski Nationals – the Canadian championships – at the end of the season.
Both listed the trip to the worlds and the career-best finishes at the Alberta World Cup as their season highlights.
“Making it to the world championship was definitely a highlight, and I had a great race at the Canmore World Cup – it was a career best for me,” said Graham. “Skiing at a high level and consistently the whole year was exciting, seeing the hard work paying off.”
“Making the world championship team along with my brother, that was definitely the highlight of my season,” said Emily. “And my best World Cup result was here in Canmore in December last year. We both had a great race on that day in December last year.”
Whitehorse’s Knute Johnsgaard and Kendra Murray had great results last season and they now have an extra award to show for it. The two 20-year-olds were named national/territorial athletes of the year.
“I was super happy, it’s nice to get the recognition of the hard work I’ve put in,” said Murray. “It’s a chance to step back and look at what you’ve done.
“Thanks to everyone who have helped me along the way because I wouldn’t have made it without them.”
A season of hard work came to a head for both skiers at the Haywood Ski Nationals in March.
Murray took first in the Year of Birth aggregate division and was sixth for junior women.
The Carleton University skier bagged a bronze in the team sprint in the CCUNC division (Canadian College and University Nordic Championships).
Murray then took gold in the open female 10-kilometre classic in the CCUNC division, earning a silver in junior women.
“I was top-10 every day, so that was great,” said Murray.
Murray will soon compete at the World University Games in Trentino, Italy, later this month.
Johnsgaard also placed first in the Year of Birth aggregate at the nationals and placed seventh overall in his first time competing in the senior men division.
He and teammate David Greer won the silver in the team sprint on opening day. Johnsgaard went on to take fifth and sixth in two other races at the Haywoods.
Spending the year training with his team, the Yukon Elite Squad that he helped found, was his season highlight, said Johnsgaard.
“The whole year, the whole summer, it was pretty amazing to have five of us from the Yukon who are all friends and high-performance athletes all training together in the same spot. It was pretty amazing to have that group of guys to train with.”
Cross-country skiers were not the only award winners on Thursday.
Whitehorse curling rink Team Koltun was named team of the year. The team placed fourth in the women’s division of the 2012 Canadian Junior Curling Championship in February.
“We were very excited,” said skip Sarah Koltun. “When we heard we were nominated we were very grateful, very honoured.
“We think it’s a pretty big deal because we are very proud of where we’re from and the place we represent. We always go out to all these tournaments and try to do our best and show people the Yukon can compete, so to be recognized for that is very exciting. We’re all very grateful.”
The team, which includes third Chelsea Duncan, second Patty Wallingham and lead Jenna Duncan, finished the round-robin portion of the junior nationals tied for third with a 7-3 record.
With only the top three teams advancing into the playoffs, Team Koltun played a tiebreaker against Ontario, losing 6-5.
The high point of the season was “making it to that tiebreaker,” said Koltun. “Going into that last game knowing we had to beat Ontario if we wanted to keep our dream alive.
“Unfortunately it ended quickly with the loss in the tiebreaker game. But just making it out of the round-robin was huge for us. We were pretty proud of that.”
Team Koltun took five wins to place third in their first Women’s World Curling Tour event, the Valley First Crown of Curling, at the start of last season.
Years of hard work have culminated in a coach of the year award for Whitehorse’s Russ Tait.
“Throughout the Yukon there are a lot of great coaches, and it’s nice to be recognized because it’s been since 1987 I’ve coached every season, every year,” said Tait. “I finished with the Canada Games, so it’s been a long time, but it’s been very rewarding watching the athletes develop over the long term.”
Tait was head coach of the Yukon men’s volleyball team at the Canada Summer Games this past August in Sherbrooke, Que. The team twice defeated P.E.I at the Games.
He began with a core group of players on the team in elementary school and continued to coach them up through high school and on to the Western Canada Summer Games and Canada Summer Games.
The Canada Games team also competed as the Sub Zero U18 men’s volleyball team this season winning the Tier 2 of Division 2 at Alberta Volleyball’s Premier Tournament in April.
The team then won three of eight matches to reach the semifinal of Tier 2, Division 2 at the Canadian Open in May.
At the Canada Games the team narrowly lost a five-set match to Team Newfoundland and Labrador.
“Canada Games and defeating P.E.I. was a big highlight, but the match we played against Newfoundland, even though we lost 15-13 in the fifth, that was basically the (Memorial University) men’s team,” said Tait. “To play a five-set grueling match, point for point – it doesn’t get any closer than 13 all in the fifth, and the last two points could have gone either way.
“I really look back with fond memories of that match because our guys gave it their all and performed at their best.”
When he’s not playing or reffing soccer, Whitehorse’s Geoff Woodhouse is administering the sport in the territory with the Yukon Soccer Association.
After years of hard work, Woodhouse was named administrator of the year on Thursday.
“I’m delighted. It’s very nice to be recognized,” said Woodhouse. “It’s a lot of work, both Whitehorse Minor and the competitive co-ed league, and refereeing, but if we can help participation in sports in the community, that’s fantastic.”
Woodhouse oversees the Whitehorse Co-Ed Soccer League that is now in its third season and has reffed for over a decade.
He became the president of Whitehorse Minor Soccer in 2007 and has been re-elected to the role each season since, but plans to step down after this season.
“Both my kids have gone through the system, they’re well out of the system now, and there comes a point where you really do need to have the organization refreshed,” said Woodhouse.
Hall of Fame inductee Masson, 52, has been the head coach and sport co-ordinator for Cross Country Yukon since 1995. Since he began as head coach, 14 Yukoners have been selected for national team spots, including the Nishikawas.
“That’s great, he deserves that so much,” said Emily Nishikawa. “He’s worked so hard and he’s put together such an incredible program in the Yukon, I feel so lucky to have been a part of that and growing up on the Yukon Ski Team.”
Masson represented Canada at three Olympic Games, two winter and one summer.
He competed in cycling at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. He then raced in cross-country skiing in the 1998 Winter Games in Calgary and the 1992 Games in Albertville, France. He also skied at four world championships.
Following retirement in 1992, the Montreal native began to work as a wax technician with Cross Country Canada.
Masson continues to work with Canada’s national ski teams. He has attended seven world championships and three Olympic Games as a wax technician. Masson will add a fourth Olympics to the list in February at the Sochi Games.
The Yukon Ski Team’s 2006/2007 season is one that stands out in his mind.
That year Whitehorse hosted the Canada Winter Games with Yukon skiers winning three medals.
At the end of the season Yukon skiers collected 17 medals at the Haywood Ski Nationals, the most the Yukon Ski Team has ever won at a national championship.
“That year was remarkable,” said Masson.
“I was very pleased, I was super happy,” added Masson of the induction. “I’m very honoured to have been selected.”
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