National medallists feted at Boreal awards gala

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Any badminton player is well served with agility and good timing when it comes to success on the court.

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For College Boreal standouts Michelle Kozlowskyj and Frederic Houle, those qualities also came in handy as they navigated the collegiate athletic landscape amid the COVID-19 pandemic en route to winning a bronze medal at last year’s National Championships in Edmonton Month.

Kozlowskyj and Houle were once again honored as the college’s female and male athletes of the year at Boreal’s Viperes year-end gala awards ceremony last Wednesday.

“It was great,” said Kozlowskyj, who previously won the Boreal award for Sportswoman of the Year in 2017 and made two provincial podiums before returning for one final run in 2021-22.

“It was just the perfect end to a maybe not perfect season because of COVID but an amazing season with the end result we wanted. The recognition means so much to us because we worked so hard towards this goal and achieved it. It was just amazing to get all the congratulations from everyone and the special mentions at the banquet.”

Maybe even more unbelievable because it almost never happened. Kozlowskyj, a Sudbury native who won OCAA bronze with women’s doubles partner Courtney Brewer at Georgian College in 2018 and 2019, had seriously considered sitting out the season rather than her final year of varsity eligibility amid the coronavirus outbreak to use uncertainty. But the chance to work with Houle, an Elliot Lake product with NOSSA Championships and an OFSAA medal, proved too promising to pass up.

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Although both had experience in doubles play, the transition to mixed play required some important but quick adjustments from the newly formed duo. They shared the space to practice as much as possible and watched videos of mixed play to reduce their rotation.

Thankfully, they soon developed good chemistry, with Kozlowskyj impressing Houle with her versatility and veteran know-how while noting his work ethic and adaptability.

“She’s a great player,” said Houle. “We have great communication on the pitch and she knows how to play well up front and at the back. Sometimes on a mixed team the guy is at the back and the girl is at the front, but with Michelle she can be at the back and I don’t have to worry about her because I know she’s really good with herself.

“At the end of the day we were able to be such a great team that we’ve come a long way.”

Kozlowskyj and Houle, silver medal winners at the OCAA Championships in Toronto in early March, traveled to Edmonton for the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association Championships March 17-19 for a chance to win Boreal’s first national medal in any sport. The odds were initially slim as they lost their first two games in the group stage on Thursday before winning three straight games to advance to the medal round.

They quickly recovered from a hard-fought semifinal match against University of King’s College Halifax’s Jack Ronahan and Anna Gillies on Friday to defeat hometown pairing of Northern Alberta Institute of Technology’s Davis Wong and Ivy Ung in Saturday’s bronze medal encounter.

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“It was really a dream come true,” said Kozlowskyj. “We were so focused on qualifying and knowing that Ontario is a strong province and players from Ontario often come back with a medal or just do well, so we had that in mind but really we didn’t have any expectations for ourselves .We had two losses on the first day and then we won our last one, which set us back a bit, but we also had tough games on the first day, we could tell, and we played the most incredible badminton I’ve ever played ever seen and i have ever played. Everyone was so supportive, even people from other provinces saying we had a good match, it was a good mixed game, we just approached and talked to each other and it was just amazing.”

“Once we knew we were going to the Nationals we were just excited for the overall experience,” added Houle. “When we got there, we remembered that we had to play. We went onto the court and started acclimating to the gym, we started talking strategies and slowly got back into it. It was a slow start but we didn’t give up and finished third.”

Both were thrilled to be representing College Boreal, a school with a solid reputation but not necessarily known as an athletic powerhouse, on such a big stage.

“We felt like outsiders,” Houle said. “We knew we were the first in our school to make it to Nationals, and we were honored to be the first to go there.”

“I love Boreal,” added Kozlovskyj. “I had been there two years before so I knew how great the school was and it meant so much to me to represent the school, one of the smaller schools and a French school. Doing that for Boreal was great.”

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While her post-secondary playing days are over, Kozlowskyj intends to stay involved in the game by competing in open tournaments and maybe even coaching at the college or university level.

Houle is graduating from the college’s practical nursing program this spring and has yet to decide where to pursue his studies, but he also plans to keep a bat in hand.

“It’s been my sport since I was eight years old,” he said. “I will do everything to play again next year.”

Boreal’s College Life sector, with the support of the Sports Sector of the Students’ General Association, presented a total of 23 awards at last Wednesday’s gala, including rookie-of-the-year honors for volleyball players Stephane Philion and Jayme Landry, who stars in Randy were Pascal’s That Sudbury Sports Guy column earlier this week.

A full list of winners includes the following:

women’s volleyball

– Sarah Ethier (Kapuskasing, Ont.): Most upgraded player

– Megan Ouellette-Destin (Hawkesbury, Ontario): Best performing player

– Madeline Shier (Penetanguishene, Ont.): Most Valuable Player

– Jayme Landry (Sturgeon Falls): Top rookie

– Brianne Morin (Hanmer): Unsung heroine

Men’s Volleyball

– Jaden Chouinard (Moonbeam, Ontario): Most Improved Player

– Stephane Philion (Sturgeon Falls): Best performing player

– Gregoire Mrochek (Hanmer): Most Valuable Player

– Stephane Philion (Sturgeon Falls): Top rookie

– Alexandre Leger (Hanmer): Unsung Hero

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Women’s badminton

– Michelle Kozlowskyj (Sudbury): Best performing player

– Kristen Vane (Timmins): Top rookie

men’s badminton

– Domenic St. Aubin (Stoney Creek, Ontario): Most Improved Player

– Frederic Houle (Elliot Lake): Best Performing Player, Most Valuable Player

– Charles De La Riva (Sudbury): Top rookie

Rookie of the Year

– Jayme Landry (Errors)

– Stephane Philion (Sturgeon Falls)

Sportsman of the year

– Michelle Kozlowskyj (Sudbury)

– Frederic Houle (Elliot Lake)

The Denis Dionne Award for Sportsmanship was presented to Kristen Vane of Timmins. Established in honor of Dennis Dionne, former coach of the College Boreal badminton team, the award is presented annually by the College Boreal Foundation to a player who has demonstrated outstanding team spirit.

The Alumni Award was presented to Patrick Boileau for his great contribution to the world of sport and specifically to College Boreal.

Twitter: @ben_leeson


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