Surrey-area athletes made the most of the COVID-19 pandemic, which cancelled games, ended competitions and stalled some careers.
Still, 2020 was a decent year for some who excel at sports. Notable are those who fought through adversity, made the leap to higher levels, were recognized for past achievements or sadly passed on after giving the community so much. Some of those stories are recalled below.
The Fleetwood Park Secondary grad had a long, soul-searching trip to professional soccer with a team in Germany, after a 2016 car crash that ended her college soccer career in Canada. While playing at UBCO in Kelowna and visiting family and friends in Vancouver, Savoy was a passenger in a vehicle that crashed into a cement barricade at high speed, after a collision with a swerving truck. “It’s interesting how things can come full circle,” she said in October. “I took a lot of time away from the sport but I feel like this is now my second chance to live out my dream, and I am truly grateful for it.”
The Boundary Park-area hockey player’s name was called by Florida Panthers during the NHL Entry Draft on Oct. 7, 87th overall in the third round. He’d hoped to be in Montreal for the big event in June, of course, but the pandemic put an end to an in-person draft, which was held online instead. COVID-19 also stalled a key year for the 2002-born prospect and his WHL Vancouver Giants, who haven’t played any games since March. Ultimately, Sourdif has a serious shot at playing in the NHL. “His work ethic and competitiveness are going to serve him well in the seasons to come and we’re excited to work alongside the Florida Panthers to help further his development,” Giants GM Barclay Parneta said following the draft.
Surrey United Premier women’s soccer team
In November, the Cloverdale-based club’s Premier Women’s Team was inducted into B.C.’s Soccer Hall of Fame for winning 11 provincial championships from 2004 to 2014. The dominant squad, which involved dozens of players over that decade, was a Team of Distinction class entry among 15 hall inductees for 2020, posted to bcsoccer.net. Surrey United’s 11 straight Provincial Cup wins is easily the longest winning streak in BC Soccer’s Provincial A Cup Championships, a bio noted. “Surrey represented B.C. in Canada Soccer’s Jubilee Trophy Championship in these 11 years, winning Gold Medals as champions in 2006 and 2011, Silver Medals in 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2014 and Bronze Medals in 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2013. No other team in CSA history has equalled this achievement at club nationals.”
The Fleetwood-raised MMA fighter won his Bellator organization debut Nov. 19 in a unanimous decision over fellow featherweight Matt Bessett, at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. “We just getting started! Very excited for this new chapter,” Kennedy later tweeted, with a graphic showing the 16 fights he’s won. The notches are tattooed on his left rib cage. Prior to the Bessett fight, Kennedy was itching to get back into the MMA ring with the California-based Bellator, the UFC rival promotion that signed him to its growing roster. He hadn’t fought since last October, due to scheduling snafus made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In August, the former Whalley Chiefs player returned to coach young baseball players with the club, more than two decades after being picked in the first round, 27th overall, by the San Diego Padres in the 1997 Major League Baseball draft. Remarkably, Nicholson’s only home run in the MLB was the result of his very first big-league hit. “That was in my second game,” he recalled. “We were playing in Cincinnati when I got called up, and so my family, a couple of friends and my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, they were there to watch my debut. I went 0-for-3 the first game and three-for-four the second game, and I managed to get that first homer, my first hit. (Reds star Ken) Griffey went and got the ball for me, so that was pretty cool, and then being back at the hotel later and watching the highlights and seeing it on there – kind of surreal.”
We caught up with the Surrey-raised NHLer in October, after he re-signed with Washington Capitals in a four-year deal worth $3.9 million annually. Undrafted, Dillon has made the most of his 598 games in the NHL, starting with Dallas Stars, the team that signed him as a free agent in 2011. “It’s definitely a mindset I’ve had in my career, a chip on my shoulder to stick around,” said Dillon, a Surrey Minor Hockey product. “Ultimately, I didn’t get drafted in the Western league (WHL) or the NHL draft, and I had a lot of, you could say, heartache, before there were smiles and happiness. Even to this day, when I’m working out in the summer or on the ice, I always want to continue to improve, to prove people wrong, those who doubted me as a player. I think that has helped me, and I would tell every kid who wasn’t drafted to just keep working toward your dreams.”
Run Surrey Run
Avid runners Gurjinder K. Bhurji and Hardip Jhaj hoped to launch an annual run/walk in Surrey last June, with the start/finish at Holland Park and a route through the Surrey Centre area, but it was postponed due to the pandemic. Instead, they’re focused on June 6, 2021, for the inaugural gathering, backed by Balsar Community Foundation. Key to the event, the women say, will be a road circuit that showcases Surrey’s downtown area, and the involvement of both walkers and runners. Look for registration details at runsurreyrun.com.
Just as COVID-19 hit for real in March, the CEO of Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association planned to do her 100th Ironman triathlon. Model originally wanted to swim, cycle and run in South Africa as a fundraiser to help build the new YMCA in Surrey City Centre, but the Ironman event in Port Elizabeth was postponed. Sadly, the YMCA project was later shelved due to financing issues. At age 40, Model “got hooked” on endurance racing, and by 2005 did her very first Ironman race, in Penticton. Doing the math, Model has since completed an average of seven Ironman races annually – but not in 2020, of course. “IM 100 in waiting,” Model, now also a Surrey Police Board member, told the Now-Leader on Dec. 22. “Everything (is) deferred to next year with movable dates so not even sure where or when it will be. I have also decided not to travel until I receive the vaccine. Can’t come fast enough.”
In May, Surrey’s baseball community remembered Bruce Lawson as a builder and “true giant” of the game locally. A heart attack claimed the life of the longtime volunteer coach and past-president of Surrey Canadian Baseball Association. He was 53. “Bruce always gave his heart and soul to Surrey Canadian and the game of baseball,” noted club president Dan Michaud. “He was still doing groundskeeping duties during the pandemic. He even helped install the 2018 Peewee AA championship banner on the tower just this Saturday. “Lionel Courchene (Park) was a second home to him, and was proud to keep it in the greatest condition possible. Beyond the tragedy of his passing, the amount of hours he spent helping out at our parks (including Holly), his knowledge and expertise will be very difficult to replace.”
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