A tough but good year in NAIT Ooks athletics

“We are the premier conference right now”

It’s not easy being part of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) these days.

Nationally, its teams are the ones to beat. In 2023-24 Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) competition, Alberta squads won championships in men’s and women’s basketball as well as men’s and women’s volleyball. That’s almost half of the sports on offer, each played by schools from across the country.

“We are the premier conference right now,” says Jordan Richey, director of NAIT Athletics and Recreation.

That means the NAIT Ooks can expect resistance in any match, any given sport. And it showed this year, says Richey – gold-medal finishes were tough to land in both leagues (there were two, total). But in the long run, he adds, that will only mean stronger student-athletes and greater entertainment for the fans who continue to grow in number.

Here’s a look at a season that consisted of surprises, heartbreak, record-setting performances, historic achievements, and everything else that goes into premier student-athlete competition.

Badminton – Multiple medals, ACAC and CCAA

nait badminton team acac silver medalists

“In badminton, silver was the colour this year, which is not bad,” says Richey.

NAIT posted strong performances in regional and national badminton. In ACAC action in February at Main Campus, the polytechnic finished in second place, after Concordia University of Edmonton. Results included silver in mixed doubles, men’s singles, women’s singles and men’s doubles.

The CCAA national championship followed in March in Toronto at Seneca Polytechnic, where the Ooks earned two medals. Smit Patel took bronze in the men’s finals while Davis Wong and Manasi Pandit rallied for the same result in mixed doubles.

Curling – Bronze, ACAC

nait curling team 2023-24 acac bronze medalists

After an exceptional 9-1 regular season, the men’s curling team earned bronze at the ACAC championships in February.

Also exceptional was head coach Karynn Flory-Simmons (Personal Fitness Trainer ’14), a former Ooks curler herself, who was named ACAC’s curling coach of the year. Since taking the lead for the Ooks in 2021, Flory-Simmons has guided teams to championship competition every season.

Women’s hockey – Gold, ACAC

nait ooks womens hockey team acac gold medalists

After giving up the ACAC semi-finals opening game to Red Deer, the Ooks skated to wins over their long-time rival in the next two meetings, taking the best-of-three series.

In the following final, against the Lakeland Rustlers, the Ooks found themselves back at NAIT for game four, leading two games to one. Home ice proved an advantage. The team scored two goals in the first period that went unanswered, securing another shutout for record-setting Ooks goalie Kaitlyn Slator, solidifying her legacy as the league’s winningest woman netminder of all time.

“There's quite a few players moving on [next year], but our coach, Brendan Jensen [Bachelor of Business Administration ’19, Management ’17], said he’s seeing a lot of interest right now,” says Richey. “That's the great recruiter, right? Winning championships.”

Men’s soccer – Silver, ACAC

nait ooks men's soccer player carrying the ball

Last October marked the men’s 18th consecutive postseason playoff appearance, this season held at the Edmonton Soccer Dome, an indoor facility, thanks to a joint bid to host by NAIT, Concordia and The King’s University.

“It was a major success because it snowed that weekend,” says Richey. “Probably the games would have been cancelled [otherwise].”

The final, against the Keyano Huskies, started off promising, with the Ooks up 2-0 at just over 20 minutes. But the Huskies battled back, forcing the game into extra time, with the decision made in a shootout in the visitors' favour.

“That was tough,” says Richey. “But anything can happen in penalty kicks.”

Men’s volleyball – Gold, ACAC; gold, CCAA

nait ooks men's volleyball team 2023-24 acac and ccaa champions

It doesn’t get much more dramatic than the Ooks semi-final at the ACAC men’s volleyball championships at Olds College in February. At the end of the second of a five-game set against Red Deer, NAIT found itself facing elimination. Then, the team rallied, securing a nail-biting 25-23 win – setting the stage to take the next two and the set.

“They never panicked,” says Richey. “They were probably the most well-rounded team that I've [seen].”

Their confidence boosted, the Ooks swept Keyano in three to earn their first ACAC title in 47 years – and their ticket to the CCAA nationals at Victoria’s Camosun College. There, they couldn’t be stopped. The Ooks battled through a pair of five-game matches to earn their place in the final, where they swept Quebec’s Titans de Limoilou in three.

The national gold medal in volleyball is NAIT’s first.

Very honorable mentions

golf ball with nait ooks logo on a tee

NAIT was new to golf and cross-country running in 2023-24 but that didn’t stop student-athletes from making their presence known as contenders. Both sports saw the Ooks advance to CCAA nationals.

While competition proved too stiff to bring home more medals, Richey isn’t bothered. “That was beyond our expectations,” he says of the freshman outing.

The same might be said of Tyler Leicht. In September, the first-time Ooks head coach was named the 2023 ACAC golf coach of the year.

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