Grading the Thunderbirds: The 2016/17 first term report card

Schools out nerds. Who excelled? Who didn't live up to the expectations? We review the first half of the athletics season by grading the UBC Thunderbird teams.

Football

Expectations were high at the start of the season for the defending Vanier Cup champions, but the Thunderbirds football team ultimately finished with a 3-5 record and only managed to make a playoff appearance by a complete stroke of luck.

The team’s season ended after the 46-43 loss against the Calgary Dinos in the Hardy Cup. The ’Birds biggest struggle throughout the season was consistency. Several of the team’s games this season — including the Homecoming game back in September — could have easily ended in a UBC win if the ’Birds actually maintained their consistency throughout the game. The final team result might not have been too impressive, but many players, especially those on the offensive line, have performed phenomenally and the statistics do speak for themselves.

Running back Ben Cummings has averaged close to 100 yards per game throughout the season. Various receivers have also tallied over 100 receiving yards in a single game. Perhaps the most stellar performance came from sophomore quarterback Michael O’Connor, who averaged 324.8 passing yards per game — the third most of all U Sport quarterbacks.

If the ’Birds can somehow improve their consistency, they’ll definitely have a better shot at the national championship next year.

Best player: Michael O’Connor. He is third of all quarterbacks in passing yards per game. He also broke Billy Greene's previous passing completion record of 171.

Biggest surprise: Ben Cummings. This year has been a season of change for him, as he’s made the switch from receiver to running back. Even so, he’s proven to be a terror for opposing defensive lines and is on track to becoming the next Brandon Deschamps.

Grade: C+

Women’s field hockey

Women’s field hockey was on fire yet again this season — in regular season, they had a 6-0-2, where both ties came in their first two games of the year.

From there, the girls didn’t look back, solidifying wins as immense as 7-0 and 5-0 against the University of Calgary Dinos early in the season. With a comeback victory in this year’s national finals to claim first place in Canada and get their hands on the MacCrae Cup once again, the 2016 ’Birds are continuing a long, impressive women’s field hockey legacy at UBC.

The team now sits on six consecutive national titles. Going into 2017, the team will lose just three senior players, leaving a core group of girls to keep that unbelievable winning streak alive. This year’s queens of varsity sport, we here at The Ubyssey are more than looking forward to what this group can do again next year. If this season was any indication, they will be a group to watch once again.

Best player: Rachel Donohoe. Winner of the Liz Hoffman Award for player of the year, the fourth-year is a key member of UBC’s defence, and a playmaker going forward as well. She even scored two goals for the ’Birds this year.

Biggest surprise: Stephanie Norlander. Having joined the UBC team from the University of Iowa this season, Norlander has been a key piece of UBC’s attack this season, notching six goals for the ’Birds. She was named to the U Sports All-Canadian Team for her efforts.

Grade: A+

Women’s soccer

With head coach Jesse Symons starting a new regime for women’s soccer this season, the girls faced the tough challenge of living up to their championship win in the CIS last year. Finishing with a 6-3-5 record in Canada West, the team was convincing in the Canada West Select Six just two weeks ago, defeating rivals Trinity Western 3-0 to claim top seed in the west.

Yet, the national championships proved more difficult than anticipated, with close calls against tournament host Acadia University in their first match (1-0 win) and Queen’s University in the semifinals (another 1-0 win, this time on penalty kicks). The tournament ended with a tough last-minute loss against the Quebec champions, Laval, leaving UBC with the second place title for this season.

Overall, the girls had a consistent season — no loss was astronomical and they blew some opponents out of the water. Case in point, their 8-0 win over Thompson Rivers University on October 1. But going into the U Sport gold medal match at top seed, they didn’t look as solid as usual, and didn’t seal the deal at the end of the day.

Best player: Jasmin Dhanda. 16 goals, 8 assists. CIS shots leader with 81 this season. Enough said.

Biggest surprise: Aman Shergill. She scored the second most goals for the team, with 8 overall. What’s impressive here? She is a central defender.

Grade: A

Men’s soccer

Following a successful season, head coach Mike Mosher and his Thunderbirds were aiming for another high-place finish in the regular season and a long playoff run.

The Thunderbirds’ completed the regular season as the Pacific division champions, with a 9-1-6 record which put them four points above the second placed Trinity Western Spartans. The ’Birds played exceptionally well in the Canada West tournament, where they pulled off an impressive comeback against Lethbridge in the quarter-finals and also defeated Calgary before narrowly losing to Alberta in the penalty shootout of the finals.

The U Sport national tournament did not go the way UBC had hoped, as they surrendered their semi-finals spot to the University of Quebec (UQAM) early in the tournament. The Thunderbirds finished the tournament with a less than impressive fifth-place finish. With UBC’s standards, this season finished with a bit of disappointment in both tournaments, as the ’Birds were fully capable of winning both.

Nevertheless, the season can’t be deemed unsuccessful as they finished first in the Pacific division, making it into both the Canada West and U Sport national championship. One thing to improve on for next season would most likely be offence due to the fact that the T-Birds clearly were not producing enough goals this year and even saw three straight matches of scoreless draws.

Best player: Titouan Chopin. In a season lacking of goals, Chopin showed each match that UBC can still be a big offensive threat.

Biggest surprise: Zach Verhoven. In his first year in UBC, Verhoven proved to be a quick and efficient winger.

Grade: B+

Women’s hockey

Varsity coaches often say that senior players are the strongest assets on a team and the UBC women’s hockey team is definitely making a strong case about it. With one of the largest squad of senior players in recent history, the ’Birds currently hold a 7-2-1-0 season record and are the top team in Canada West.

One of UBC’s most recent matchups happened on the road against the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns, where the ’Birds won 4-3 to pick up an eighth straight win. Three of the team’s goals went to fourth-year forward Kathleen Cahoon for the hat trick. Cahoon — UBC’s second leading scorer from last season — now has seven goals and a total of 12 points.

Cahoon isn’t the only one generating firepower for the T-Birds. Teammate Cassandra Vilgrain currently has the most points at 14. Nicole Saxvik, Stephanie Schaupmeyer and many others are also bringing a lot of fuel and momentum on the offence.

While the season is still a long way from finished, few can doubt that the T-Birds are destined for another successful finish.

Best player: Cassandra Vilgrain. She is currently leading the Canada West in points and assists.

Biggest surprise: Although the goalies are all new to UBC, they have allowed only 18 goals in the past 11 games, and rank among the U Sports' best in save percentage and goals against average.

Grade: A+

Women's Rugby

Women’s rugby has seen much better days at UBC. Overall the ’Birds ended their 2016 season with a 1-3 conference record.

What’s worse is that they started the season with an 0-3 record in which they lost each game by a minimum margin of at least 22 points. The biggest thrashing came in the form of the September 18 season opener against their rival, the University of Victoria Vikes, in which the ’Birds lost 47-17.

A point of solace is the fact that home games were fairly loud and supportive for the ’Birds despite their performance or the weather. And perhaps it was that energy that helped the them propel past the University of Lethbridge in the season finale, winning the close-fought game by a score of 45-34. That and the fact that the Pronghorns are the only team with a worse record than the ’Birds, as they finished 0-4 in conference play.

But there is still plenty to look forward to. Overall, the ’Birds have one of the youngest teams in Canada West, with almost half of the team in first year. This means that there is plenty to work with and time will only allow this team to improve and get better — something that we began to see in their last game against Lethbridge. Added with the leadership of older players like Mackenzie Lee, who scored four tries in the final game against Lethbridge, and the 'Birds might just be able to turn themselves around next season.

Best player: Mackenzie Lee

Biggest surprise: Mackenzie Carson, awarded the U Sports award for rookie of the year.

Grade: C-

Men's Hockey

After an early playoff exit last season, Sven Butenschon replaced Adam Shell behind the ’Birds' bench. After an impressive preseason campaign that saw the ’Birds go 5-1, UBC struggled to start their Canada West play.

Through the first six games, Butenschon’s team went 1-5. They started their season on the road in Saskatchewan and Calgary, losing twice to both teams. In their second game against Saskatchewan, the ’Birds were handed a dismal 7-0 defeat — their lowest point of the season so far.

Despite their misfortunes, the ’Birds have been able to bounce back. A pair of overtime victories against Lethbridge two weekends ago gave Butenschon’s squad their fourth win in their last eight games. With the season far from over, there is plenty of time for the ’Birds to turn the tables and make up for their bad start.

Best player: Anthony Bardaro. He has had 11 points in 10 games.

Biggest surprise: Jerret Smith. The first-year defenceman played for the Seattle Thunderbirds and is now a UBC Thunderbird. With seven points in eight games, Smith has been a solid addition to the team, providing some much-needed offensive help from the blue line.

Grade: C