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Airdrie's 10 sports newsmakers of 2019

Airdrie Thunder

2019 was a banner year for the Airdrie Techmation Thunder. After dominating the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL), the junior B team capped off the 2018-19 season in March with its first championship in 19 years – and just its third title in franchise history.

Opposition struggled all season to contend with the Thunder’s powerful offence, which recorded a staggering 418 goals in 51 games – an average of more than eight per game. Defensively, the Thunder conceded just 127 goals, en route to a 46-5-0 record that earned the team recognition from as Canada’s best junior B team.

Following the successful campaign, the Thunder captured its first-ever provincial junior B championship in April, finishing the tournament in Wetaskiwin with a 5-0-0 record. Airdrie overcame the Wainwright Bisons – Alberta’s two-time defending champion – with an overtime goal in the gold-medal game. Brayden Dunn was the hero for Airdrie, scoring the game-tying goal with just a few minutes left in regulation time before sniping the winner early into OT.

Sienna MacDonald

SPO-YIRairdrieSecondGeorge McDougall's Sienna MacDonald set an ASAA points record in the open women's pentathlon event at the 2019 provincial high-school track and field championships in June. She later finished second in the heptathlon at nationals for her age group. File photo/Rocky View Publishing

Less than two years ago, Sienna MacDonald made the decision to quit basketball and soccer to focus on her burgeoning track-and-field career.

It’s a decision that seems to be paying off in spades.

The George McDougall High School student, who competes for the Calgary Warriors Track Club, kicked off 2019 with a multi-medal performance at the provincial indoor track-and-field championships. MacDonald, in Grade 11 at the time, brought home gold in the U18 women’s 60-metre (m) hurdles, silver in shot put and bronze in both the long jump and 60-m sprint.

She found an even higher gear once the snow melted. MacDonald dominated the open women’s pentathlon competition at the 2019 Alberta Schools Athletic Association (ASAA) provincial championship in June, winning the gold medal in the multi-discipline event and setting a points record in the process. She also captured gold in the 80-m hurdles.

After earning more accolades throughout the outdoor club season, MacDonald capped off the stellar year with a silver medal in heptathlon at the National Youth Track and Field Championships. She was, agonizingly, just two points shy of the gold-medal score.

Chargers football team

SPO-YIRairdrieThirdThe Bert Church Chargers football team won its first Airdrie Bowl in nine years Sept. 6, emphatically downing the George McDougall Mustangs 78-6 at Ed Eggerer Athletic Park. The Chargers went on to record its best season in more than 20 years, finishing second in the RVSA and qualifying for the semi-finals of the ASAA provincial Tier II championships. File photo/Rocky View Publishing

Based on its performance in 2019, it’s hard to believe the Bert Church Chargers football team went 1-11 in 2016 and 2017.

Having undergone a strong rebuild in 2018, the squad stormed out of the gate this year, kicking off its Rocky View Sports Association (RVSA) season in September by winning its first Airdrie Bowl in nearly a decade. The Chargers steam rolled the George McDougall Mustangs 78-6 in the yearly battle.

The Airdrie Bowl was a sign of things to come, as the Chargers won the next four games on the trot. As a result, the team made it into Football Alberta’s top-10 rankings for Tier II teams.

The only RVSA team that spoiled the Chargers’ perfect regular-season record was the perennially-dominant Cochrane Cobras, which beat Bert Church 21-3 in the final match-up of the regular season.

In the playoffs, Bert Church earned its spot in the RVSA championship game with a dramatic, come-from-behind win over the Springbank Phoenix.

The Chargers lost in the championship tilt with the Cobras but, as the division’s top-seeded Tier II team, still had the opportunity to compete at provincials for the first time since 1997. The Chargers won its first provincial battle 30-20 against the Hunting Hills Lightning, qualifying the squad for the Tier II southern final, where it fell 35-22 to the top-ranked Holy Trinity Academy Knights.

Abygale Reeve

SPO-YIRairdrieFourthAbygale Reeve won her eighth straight provincial championship in BMX racing in 2019. She also placed fourth at nationals and raced to a top-20 finish at the world championships in Belgium. File photo/Rocky View Publishing

Abygale Reeve is carving out a legacy as the person to beat for her age group in Alberta BMX racing, capping off the 2019 season by winning her eighth consecutive provincial title in September.

The 14-year-old, Bert Church High School student was consistent throughout the summer, finishing atop the Junior Development Female category of Alberta BMX’s 2019 provincial series, which included nine stops throughout the province.

Nationally, Reeve holds the N4 plate, which means she is the fourth-ranked female BMX racer for her age group in all of Canada. Having finished fourth at nationals this July, she competed at the 2019 BMX world championships in Belgium, where she raced to a top-20 placement. The trip to Europe marked her second time competing at worlds.

But it’s not just on the dirt track that Reeve excels. A multi-sport athlete, she won gold with U14AA Zone 2 Ringette at the Western Canadian Championships, as well as the provincial championships. She also successfully tried out for the Big Country ringette team that will feature at the 2019 Alberta Winter Games, a multi-sport tournament that Airdrie will host in February 2020.

Jordan McConnell

SPO-YIRairdrieFifthAirdrie Thunder forward Jordan McConnell set a single-season points record in the HJHL in 2019, ending the regular season with a whopping 125 points (50 goals, 75 assists). His offence propelled the Thunder to its first HJHL championship in 19 years, and its first-ever provincial junior B championship. File photo/Rocky View Publishing

Watching the Airdrie Thunder in 2018-19, it didn’t take long to identify the team’s main offensive generator. Then-20-year-old Jordan McConnell, who had joined his hometown junior B club after playing three seasons with teams in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, was the spark plug for the Thunder’s memorable campaign.

Striking up a ferocious partnership with line-mate Rylan Plante-Crough, McConnell maintained an impressive output for almost the entire season, averaging 3.7 points per game and scoring or assisting nearly every time he took to the ice.

In the third-final game of the regular season, McConnell notched his 122nd point for the Thunder, overcoming the Heritage Junior Hockey League’s single-season scoring record, which had stood for 13 years. He ended the regular season with 125 points (50 goals and 75 assists), helping the Thunder to its first championship since 2000. At the Thunder’s season-ending banquet, he was honoured with the team’s Most Valuable Player award.

Now 21 years old and in his final year of junior eligibility, McConnell is still scoring plenty of goals for the Thunder in the 2019-20 season, as the team’s new captain.

Burjaya Taekwon-do

SPO-YIRairdrieSixthEighteen-year-old Kevin Escoto (left) and 16-year-old Jacob Heide (right) competed at the 2019 International Taekwon-do Federation World Championships in Inzell, Germany. Richard Krafka (centre) is their instructor at Burjaya Taekwon-Do. File photo/Rocky View Publishing

After medalling at the 2018 Canadian Taekwon-do Federation International championships, two black-belt holders from Burjaya Taekwon-do represented Canada at the 2019 International Taekwon-Do Federation World Championships in Inzell, Germany.

Then-16-year-old Jacob Heide and 18-year-old Kevin Escoto travelled to southern Bavaria in April with roughly 60 other Canadian taekwondo athletes to see how they fared on the global stage.

Heide, at the time a senior at George McDougall High School, competed in the 62-kilograms-and-under weight class in the junior age category, against athletes aged 14 to 17. He won his first match at his first worlds against a competitor from Colombia before tying his second bout against a martial artist from New Zealand. In the tiebreaker, he ultimately lost to the Kiwi by one point.

Escoto, who was at his second taekwondo worlds after competing in Dublin, Ireland two years earlier, experienced a similarly short-lived tournament. Fighting as one of the youngest competitors in the 18- to 34-year-old age class, he lost his first bout, eliminating him from further competition.

Sean Penner

SPO-YIRairdrieSeventhNCSA swimmer Sean Penner (right) represented Airdrie in the 50-m freestyle and 100-m freestyle at the 2019 Canadian Junior Championships in July. Penner picked up several medals throughout the long-course season, including five at the Western Canada Summer Games in August. File photo/Rocky View Publishing

Sean Penner’s family might need to find a bigger cabinet for the young swimmer’s ever-growing number of medals. The freestyle- and butterfly-specialist with the Nose Creek Swim Association (NCSA) won several races throughout 2019, excelling, in particular, during the long-course season.

The 16-year-old St. Martin de Porres student won four gold medals at the provincial championships in July, which helped qualify him for the Canadian Junior Championships in Calgary later that month. Swimming at one of his home pools at the Repsol Sports Centre, Penner concluded his first national competition with a 28th-place finish in the 50-m freestyle. But because he had aged up right before the competition, he was competing against swimmers a year or two older.

“It wasn’t a great swim, but the experience will help me develop for the future,” he said. “It’s hard competition, [but good] to see where I have to get up to.”

Penner also qualified for the Alberta team that competed at the 2019 Western Canada Summer Games, alongside his NCSA teammate Nathan Wong. Of the nine Airdrie athletes who travelled to Swift Current, Sask. for the games, Penner brought home the city’s biggest haul of hardware, with five medals to his name.

Airdrie Minor Football

SPO-YIRairdrieEighthThe Airdrie Raiders midget football team won the Division 2 championship in the Calgary Spring Football League in April. The bantam Raiders later followed suit by picking up the Div. 2 championship in the Calgary Bantam Football Association. File photo/Rocky View Publishing

The Airdrie minor football community enjoyed plenty of success throughout 2019 – both on and off the field.

Two of Airdrie’s minor teams – the Airdrie Raiders bantam and midget teams – secured Division 2 championships in Calgary. Coincidentally, both won their respective finals by preventing the other team from scoring a field goal in the final minute.

By winning the Div. 2 Calgary Bantam Football Association title, the bantam Raiders got to battle for the Tier III bantam provincial championships in November, but lost 7-4 against the Edmonton Chargers.

Meanwhile, the Airdrie Storm continued to be one of the top peewee football programs in the Calgary area, ending the season as a Tier-1 semi-finalist in the Calgary Peewee Football Association.

The popularity of football among Airdrie’s youth is certainly growing. So many players signed up for the peewee team this year, according to head coach Tyrell Rohl, the Storm had to form a second team, which competed in the Central Alberta Peewee Football League.

Away from the gridiron, Airdrie’s football coaches spent the year fundraising and lobbying the City of Airdrie and Rocky View Schools to bring an artificial turf field to Ed Eggerer Athletic Park. While the project is still in its early stages, support has been widespread throughout the city.

Sophia Howell

SPO-YIRairdrieNinthSixteen-year-old Sophia Howell, (left) was the second-fastest junior-aged athlete from Canada (ages 16 to 19) in the Kelowna leg of the 2019 CamTri series, in July. She later won the triathlon competition at the 2019 Western Canada Summer Games. File photo/Rocky View Publishing

Despite being a relative newcomer to triathlon, having taken it up in 2017, Airdrie’s Sophia Howell is making waves in the sport. A member of the Kronos Triathlon Club in Calgary, Howell trains under Lisa Mensink, who competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Howell’s hard work learning the ropes of the three-discipline sport over the last few years certainly paid off in 2019; her performances garnered three gold medals at the 2019 Western Canada Games, and she also won gold in the junior women category at the Calgary Kids of Steel Super Sprint, as well as the Lethbridge Sprint Distance race. 

Alongside her junior competitions, Howell raced in the National CAMTRI Series ­– an elite international triathlon series. Competing against older athletes from across Canada, she finished 19th in Montreal, Que., June 29, and 13th in Kelowna, B.C., July 7. Her time in Kelowna was the second fastest for female junior athletes from Canada.

Now a senior at the Edge School in Springbank, Howell said her long-term goals in her sport are to compete at the Olympics and race in an Ironman triathlon.

Airdrie Mohawks

SPO-YIRairdrieTenthThe Airdrie Mohawks senior C men's team captured its fourth consecutive Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League championship in July downing the Edmonton Warriors 7-5. The team hasn't lost a league or playoff game since July 2015, a win-streak extending nearly 70 games. File photo/Rocky View Publishing

Airdrie’s senior C men’s box lacrosse team has forged a dynasty in recent years that shows no signs of ending anytime soon.

The Mohawks captured its fourth consecutive Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League (RMLL) senior C title in 2019, comfortably sweeping the Edmonton Warriors in the best-of-three championship series in late July.

The victory capped off another dominant season for the ‘Hawks, which hasn’t lost against RMLL opposition in more than four years. The team is riding a win streak of nearly 70 games against Alberta opposition – an unbeaten run that extends back to July 2015.

Airdrie coasted through the regular season, outscoring opponents 218-58. With the top scorers in the league at the helm, the Mohawks registered an average of more than 14 goals a game.

Success continued in the post-season, with Airdrie dismantling its first two opponents in the playoffs by a combined score of 36-18. The team then won the championship series against Edmonton, beating the Warriors 14-4 in Game 1 and 7-5 in Game 2. While the second outing was closer, Airdrie’s defensemen held onto the two-goal lead in the final few minutes to see out the result.

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