Vancouver,BC- The Winnipeg Wesmen are often caught in the shadows of their city counterparts, the Manitoba Bisons, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have some great stories.
It’s easy to forget about the University of Winnipeg, that only has a third of the students of the University of Manitoba, but some of their athletes put Canada West on notice this year. They did not do it in the form of medals, but their stories and recognition could be thought of as more impactful than if they had come at a larger school.
The Wesmen men’s volleyball team had one of the better seasons out of all the school’s teams, finishing the regular season with a record of 12-10, good enough for sixth place in Canada West.
With the sixth-place finish, the Wesmen set themselves a date with the UBC Thunderbirds in a best-of-three quarterfinal series. The Thunderbirds have long been one of U SPORTS top schools in volleyball, and even though they finished third, they still proved too much for the Wesmen. Although Winnipeg had a successful regular season, they were only able to win one set en route to their quick playoff exit.
While the year didn’t end how the Wesmen would have liked, for some individuals, the year was a great success. The team had a pair of players named to Canada West All-Star and All-Rookie teams for the first time since 2014-15. Fourth-year Daniel Thiessen was named a Canada West First-team All-Star and first-year Liam Kristjanson was named to the All-Rookie team.
Thiessen’s season was different this year, as he played 14 of the 22 conference games without his reliable left-side/middle Ethan Duncan. Without Duncan, Thiessen had to adjust to playing around other players he was not used to, and he did this to a tee. Other than adjustments, Thiessen led the nation in points with 365.5 and topped the 300 kill mark for the first time in his career.
Joining Thiessen with honours was Kristjanson, who made an immediate mark on the Wesmen, playing in 21 of 22 games, collecting 94 kills, 16 aces, 30 digs and 22 blocks. He stepped into the big shoes of Ethan Duncan and did not disappoint. While the playoffs didn’t go as they had hoped, having a young star like Kristjanson points to future success for Wesmen volleyball.
Just like volleyball, the women’s basketball team saw their season end with a quarter-final defeat against the UBC Thunderbirds, and just like volleyball, there was a young star as a silver-lining.
First-year point guard Anna Kernaghan did a lot right this year, and because of that, she earned a spot on the U SPORTS All-Rookie team. Just to put that in perspective, she was so important to a non-powerhouse team from a small school to be named one of five players who were the best rookies. If that’s not a stellar achievement, I don’t know what is.
It’s rare that you see a rookie play over half the games, but Kernaghan played in 18 of the 20 regular-season games and was often their top scorer. In the penultimate playoff game against UBC, she scored 19 points, the most of any of her teammates in a performance that showed just how much fight she has, even when her team is down. In addition to team-leading performances, she was one of the conference’s best from the free-throw line, finishing the year at a staggering 83.3%, 4th best in Canada West.
Her season and All-Rookie honours were not just remarkable for her, but for the Wesmen program, who had not had an All-Rookie team member since Stephanie Kleysen did it in 2010-2011.
Although a second-round playoff exit is not the most outstanding, the performances of young Winnipegger Anna Kernaghan were a silver lining on the premature exit.