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Airdrie's top 10 sports stories of 2021

Our recap of the Airdrie City View's 10 biggest sports stories of 2021.

Mustangs football

The George McDougall Mustangs football team enjoyed their best season in recent memory in 2021, culminating in a second-place showing in the Rocky View Sports Association (RVSA) playoffs and a post-playoff game in the Alberta Schools Athletic Association (ASAA) provincials.

The Mustangs ended the regular season with an unbeaten 6-0 record. A major highlight in that win streak included a 30-28 victory over the Cochrane Cobras – a game in which George McDougall overcame a 28-0 deficit in the first half. The Hollywood-inspired comeback marked the Mustangs’ first victory against the Cobras since October 2014, which was also the last time the Cobras lost to an RVSA opponent. 

Other regular-season highlights for George Mac included beating the Bert Church Chargers to reclaim the annual Airdrie Bowl, as well as overpowering the W.H. Croxford Cavaliers in the inaugural West Side Championship rivalry game.

As a result of their strong performances, the Mustangs maintained a position on the ASAA’s top-10 rankings for Tier II high school football programs all season long, at one point climbing as high as second.

Following the unbeaten regular season, the Mustangs won their first two battles of the RVSA playoffs to book another dance with the Cobras in the divisional championship game, which for the first time was held in Airdrie. After an intense match-up saw the two teams tied 28-28 after regulation, Cochrane came out on top in overtime at Ed Eggerer Athletic Park.

Unfortunately, the Mustangs’ season ended on an even more sour note a week later in early November, as the Mustangs were thumped 39-0 by the Holy Trinity Academy Knights, of Okotoks, in a southern Alberta qualifying game for the Tier II provincial championships. 

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Croxford volleyball

Prior to 2021, head coach Jared Fuller said his W.H. Croxford Cavaliers senior girls’ volleyball team had never been particularly competitive in the Rocky View Sports Association (RVSA) in the team’s five years competing in the league.

That all changed this year, with the Cavaliers proving to be one of the strongest teams in the division, other than the Cochrane Cobras (who went on to win the 3A provincial championships at the end of the season).

With strong representation across the court, Croxford posted their best-ever record in 2021, winning five of their matches and losing just one in the regular season.

Beating the Bow Valley Bobcats and Springbank Phoenix in the playoffs then booked the Cavaliers a match-up with the Cochrane Cobras in the RVSA title game. While they battled hard and took the match to four sets, Croxford ultimately could not match the Cobras’ strong hitting and robust defence.

Finishing in second place in the RVSA meant the Cavaliers qualified for the South Central Zones 4A tournament – for the first time in the school’s history, according to Fuller. Playing teams from Airdrie and Okotoks for the chance to compete at provincials the following weekend, the Cavaliers made it all the way to the gold-medal game, before losing to the host Foothills Falcons in four sets.

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Jake Neighbours

Airdrie hockey product Jake Neighbours didn’t take long to make an impact in his inaugural season in the National Hockey League.

A year after being drafted in the first round of the 2020 NHL Super Draft by the St. Louis Blues, the 19-year-old rookie from Airdrie scored his first NHL goal in just his fourth game. The goal, a one-timer assisted by Brayden Schenn, contributed to the Blues’ 7-3 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 23.

“Obviously, it’s been a pretty cool experience being up here,” Neighbours said of his rookie NHL campaign. “The team is off to a pretty hot start, so I can’t complain and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Neighbours’ new team has proven a force to be reckoned with in 2021-22; after 21 games, St. Louis is currently second in the NHL Central Division.

“I’m just trying to do my best and show what I can do in this league…and try to stick around,” Neighbours said. “The coaching staff have been happy with me and have been trusting me, sometimes late in the game or during a penalty kill situation, and I think I’ve done my best to take advantage of those opportunities.”

Neighbours ultimately played nine games for the Blues before the team sent him back to Alberta to continue his junior career with the Western Hockey League’s Edmonton Oil Kings. As of press time, Neighbours has played 10 games for the Oil Kings this season, scoring five and contributing 13 assists.

His year ended by being selected for the Team Canada squad for the 2022 World Juniors in Red Deer and Edmonton. Neighbours played in two games and registered two assists for the host Canadians, before the tournament was cancelled on Dec. 29 due to COVID-19 cases leading to some games being forfeited.

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Willem Grant

An Airdrie long-distance runner showed his propensity for cross-country in 2021, cracking the top five in the senior boys’ age group for the six-kilometre race at the Alberta Schools Athletic Association (ASAA) provincial championships.

Representing Bert Church High School on Oct. 16, Willem Grant crossed the finish line in 21:41 to finish as the fifth-fastest Grade 12 runner in the province. His 3:37-per-kilometre pace was enough to claim the fifth spot in a field of 65 competitors.

The 17-year-old had qualified for the provincial race on the back of a dominant performance at the South Central Zones meet in Trochu on Oct. 6. He ended that particular race in first place, with a time of 21:18 in the six-kilometre event – more than a minute faster than the second-placed finisher.

After his top-five finish at provincials, Grant later ran at the 2021 cross-country national championships on behalf of his club team – the University of Calgary Athletics Club on Nov. 26-27 in Ottawa. He ended up finishing in 70th place, in a field of 230 competitors.

The Bert Church student-athlete is no stranger to competition, as Grant also competes as a long-distance runner in competitive track-and-field. With just one term of high school left, Grant said his goal is to obtain a post-secondary athletic scholarship in either track-and-field or cross-country running.  

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Airdrie Irish

After the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 Alberta Football League (AFL) season, the Airdrie Irish were eager to finally return to the gridiron this year.

That keenness paid off for Airdrie’s competitive men’s football program in the form of much better performances than the 2019 AFL season, when the Irish failed to win a single game.

With new head coach and team alumnus Anton Bellot at the helm, the Irish won their first game since 2018 on Aug. 7 – and they did it in emphatic fashion, dismantling the Calgary Wolfpack 77-32 in a high-scoring encounter at Airdrie’s Ed Eggerer Athletic Park.

While that ended up being the Irish’s only win of the season, Airdrie proved competitive in most of their other games, and qualified for the 2021 post-season as the AFL’s fourth seed. That meant their playoff push began with a tough road battle against the top-seeded Central Alberta Buccaneers, who had beaten the Irish handily in the first game of the season.

Playing in Red Deer, the Irish suffered a sense of Déjà vu against the Buccaneers on Aug. 21, falling 46-6 to Central Alberta. The Buccaneers went on to record the first AFL title of their 22-year history against the Edmonton Elite the following weekend.

After the season was over, the Irish were awarded the AFL’s Organization of the Year accolade at the league’s wrap-up ceremony in September. In addition to that accolade, seven Airdrie players were named to the AFL’s first and second all-star teams.

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Airdrie Angels U19D

An Airdrie softball team capped off their 2021 season in style, with a gold medal at provincials.

The Airdrie Angels U19D squad was dominant in their provincial championship game, downing the Fort Saskatchewan Sliders 12-2 on Aug. 21 in Grande Prairie to end 2021 as Alberta’s top U19D team.

“It was a great game – our defence was unbelievable, and the offence just pounded away,” said Kelly Kot, the Angels’ head coach.

“It was a total team effort. Everyone contributed their part, whatever part they played.”

According to Kot, the Angels’ dominant showing in the gold-medal game wrapped up an unbeaten weekend for the team, as Airdrie went 5-0 in Grande Prairie, outscoring their opponents 75-22. The head coach attributed strong pitching and hitting to securing the win.

The victory in the final over Fort Saskatchewan marked the U19D Angels’ second provincial title in the last four years, as the team also won the accolade in 2018. According to Kot, the squad also earned a provincial bronze in 2019. The 2020 season was cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kot said the 2021 season was also impacted by the pandemic, with the season not kicking off until a few months later than it usually would.

“It was a crazy year, with COVID,” Kot said. “We started up in April but were shut down in May for a while. The season finally started on June 10. Normally, we’d be done by late July.”

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Abygale Reeve

It's safe to say Airdrie BMX racer Abygale Reeve is getting used to winning. The 15-year-old athlete once again proved a dominant force on the BMX track in 2021, winning every local race and competition she entered. Reeve capped off her racing season by winning the Canada Cup Junior Devo Division for the second year in a row. 

A 10-year veteran of the sport, Reeve has won the Alberta provincial championship in her age group nine years in a row. The Grade 11 student has also won the Alberta Series eight years in a row, and was the Alberta Junior Devo Champion for the second year in a row in 2021.

“I think it’s a really good accomplishment, but you have to move forward from all of these,” Reeve said, adding that she is always looking ahead to the future and bigger goals.

At the end of October, Reeve travelled to the United States to compete at an event in Houston, Texas, before taking to the track at the biggest event in BMX racing in Tulsa, Oklahoma in November – the USA BMX Grand Nationals. In Houston, she qualified for the "mains" by finishing sixth and seventh in each of her qualifying races. In Tulsa, she was knocked out of the quarterfinals of her age group and category, in a field of 60 competitors.

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Storm football

While their season ultimately ended with a heavy-handed defeat, there was still plenty to celebrate for the Airdrie Storm peewee football program in 2021.

With plenty of offensive fire power and one of the best defences in the league, the Storm made it to the Calgary Peewee Football Association’s (CPFA) Division 1 championship game for the first time since 2018 this fall. Airdrie ultimately was shut out in the final 40-0 by the unbeaten Calgary Cowboys on Nov. 6.

The Storm ended the 2021 regular season in second place, with a 6-2 record, having outscored their opponents 287-94 throughout their eight games.

Once the playoffs were underway, the Storm booked their place in the CPFA’s Division 1 championship game by winning their CPFA semi-final contest on Oct. 30. Playing at Shouldice Athletic Park in Calgary, the Storm overcame the Calgary Colts by a score of 30-14.

According to head coach Tyrell Rohl, the semi-final win was a testament to the team’s improvement throughout the 2021 season, as the Colts had beaten the Storm in the regular season.

Rohl said he is expecting the Storm to be even more competitive next year, when many of the Airdrie Minor Football’s atom-age players make the step up to peewee. The atom team was exceptionally dominant in 2021, Rohl added, winning all of their games without conceding a single touchdown and scoring an average of 60-plus points per game.

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Heather Nunn and Ben Vatcher

A teenage figure skating duo from Airdrie made their national debut in 2021, competing for the first time in the pre-novice ice dance competition at the Skate Canada Challenge, held in Regina, Sask. from Dec. 1 to 5.

Airdrionians Ben Vatcher, 16, and Heather Nunn, now 16, have been skating together for three years. While they had been to plenty of provincial and sectional competitions in that time, this year marked the first time they tested themselves against the best ice dance duos in the country.

Though they ultimately finished near the bottom of the standings in their U16 age group, (they came in 13th out of 14 competing teams) Nunn said the opportunity to compete at a national level will bode well for the two Bert Church High School student-athletes in the future. 

“For it being the first time, we weren't exactly super proud of our skates, but as competitor skaters, you can't always be super satisfied with your skates,” she said. “For our first time, it wasn't terrible, but we definitely know we could've done better.”

With nationals in the rear-view mirror, Nunn said the duo will continue to train, with their eyes set on a competition in February 2022 that will be hosted in Airdrie.

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Nick and Kendra Kolomyja

Married Airdrie couple Nick and Kendra Kolomyja have an interesting way of blowing off steam – by throwing axes at wooden targets.

The competitive axe-throwing couple once again took their accuracy to the global stage, competing at the World Axe Throwing World Championships from Dec. 10 to 12 in Fort Worth, Texas. The trip marked the Kolomyjas' second time competing at worlds, after they had done so for the first time in 2019.

At their first worlds two years ago, Nick finished fifth overall, while Kendra – notably the only woman at the competition – finished 27th. This year, the dynamic duo finished in seventh place in the duals division, while Nick finished 17th in the regular hatchet throw and Kendra placed 89th.

The pair picked up their first axes in 2016, when they tried out the sport for the first time at a birthday party. Quickly developing a knack for finding the target, they eventually started competing at tournaments, first locally, then nationally and internationally. 

Kendra said she was proud to once again represent Airdrie, and the city's local axe-throwing venue Rival Axe Throwing, on the world stage. 

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