The University of Victoria Vikes kickoff a week’s worth of major award finalist announcements with the unveiling of the three nominees for the Chancellor’s Award, presented by bubly Sparkling Water. Men’s rugby James O’Neill, women’s rowing McKenna Simpson and women’s soccer Puck Louwes are the finalists for the award that recognizes student-athletes that provide leadership and vision exemplifying the goals of their team.
Finalist: James O’Neill, men’s rugby – Cochrane, Alta. (Social Sciences)
After spending each of the past four years on the varsity team, men’s rugby captain James O’Neill just wrapped up one his best seasons on the pitch.
O’Neill was a major reason why the Vikes ended the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds attempt at a three-peat during the Canadian University Men’s Rugby Championship last fall in Montreal.
Over the course of the tournament, O’Neill led the Vikes with five tries, including two in the championship game. He was named player of the game for the quarterfinal and championship match. He was also named a tournament all-star for the third time in his career.
Vikes long time Head Coach Doug Tate calls O’Neill his most dedicated captain since 1993.
Each fall, O’Neill organizes meetings with each varsity player to outline individual and team goals, while establishing work ethic and commitment levels to the program. He also built a players manual that outlines philosophy, tactics and training session protocols, among other items.
O’Neill has rarely missed a training session over the past four years with the Vikes. On top of that, he also spends two or three days each week at the Rugby Canada centre. He always puts his team and program first and has been a great role model for younger players.
In the community, O’Neill is engaged in numerous clinics at the middle and high school levels. He speaks on behalf of Rugby Canada and is an acting mentor to a variety of age groups at the national level. Away from rugby, he also volunteers his time by feeding people at homeless shelters, works with elderly at retirement homes and works with special needs children in after school programs.
Finalist: McKenna Simpson, Women’s Rowing – Mission, B.C. (Education)
McKenna Simpson has been a calming influence and a leader during an unusual and unpredictable rowing season.
On the water, she was unstoppable – even when faced with unprecedented scenarios.
When the Vikes hosted the Canadian University Rowing Championships last fall, Simpson and her teammate Piper Battersby were set to defend their national title in the women’s pair. After a strong time trial, the duo appeared to repeat as champions, but the Western University Mustangs protested the race. A lengthy review occurred. Meanwhile, both rowers competed in the varsity 8+ and won silver. It was later determined that Simpson and Battersby had to re-race the women’s pair at the end of the day, where they eventually won gold despite racing for the third time.
Simpson was looking for her fourth Brown Cup title earlier this spring, but the 29th annual race got cancelled due to the coronavirus.
She is also the heart and soul of the rowing program. She is the first to arrive and last to leave all training sessions. In the community, she has been involved with Kid Sport Victoria and volunteers as a coach within the local rowing community.
Finalist: Puck Louwes, women’s soccer – Utrecht, Netherlands (Humanities)
It was impossible to watch a Vikes women’s soccer game over the past three years without seeing Puck Louwes between the pipes.
In her final season with the Vikes, she proved once again that she is an elite keeper.
This year she finished with the fourth-most saves (72), recorded the third-best save percentage (.857), earned the second-best goals against average among starters (0.86) and tied for third with six shutouts.
She was also one of the main reasons the Vikes defeated the University of Regina Cougars during the Canada West Play-In game at Grant MacEwan University. She didn’t allow a goal in regulation or overtime and came up with the key save in a 5-4 victory in the penalty shootout.
When the U SPORTS National Women’s Soccer Championship arrived at Centennial Stadium, Louwes racked up another shutout in the consolation semifinal, where they eliminated Acadia University with a 1-0 victory.
She has served as co-captain of the Vikes for the past three seasons and is constantly putting the team before herself. She always has a positive attitude and the coaching staff has relied on her to organize team meetings and other events.
In the community, Louwes is the goalkeepers coach at the Prospect Lake Girls Soccer Day and at the annual She Kicks Girls Soccer Fest.
Award finalists are announced in a staggered fashion beginning with Chancellor’s Award on March 30 and followed by both Rookies of the Year on Mar. 31. The finalists for the Male Athlete of the Year will be released o April 1, with the Female Athlete of the Year nominees released on April 2. The nominees for the President’s Award will be announced last and will be unveiled on April 3. With the cancellation of the annual Celebration of Champions banquet, all award winners will be announced via video on Instagram on Monday, April 6. For a description of each award and list of past recipients click here.
The Provost Award, already announced in November at the Vikes Honour Roll Luncheon. This year, there is no Publisher’s Community Award winner.