BURNABY — It’s why, on that one night a year when a university athletic program gathers its masses to celebrate its tradition and excellence, we sit transfixed in the moment.
Achievement after achievement. Award after award. And one heartfelt speech after another.
There is a vibrancy to the accomplishments of student-athletes which can leave you in awe.
And when the evening’s program is complete, a singular theme emerges, one which best celebrates the present while also placing an arm around both the past and the future.
On Tuesday evening at the 2017 Simon Fraser Athletic Awards banquet, a young woman from Port Moody who grew up in the shadow of Clan athletics, so fittingly represented that theme.
“I can’t even put into words these past four years,” said SFU volleyball star Alison McKay, proudly donning her Clan seniors scarf in the cavernous Molson Canadian Theatre at Coquitlam’s Hard Rock Casino. “Just to feel the vibes in here, and to see how much love and support there is from everyone.”
The stories of every Clan athlete honoured Tuesday are unique in their own special way.
Yet it is through McKay, perhaps, that the most complete story of the Clan experience can be told because she is a part of a family tree whose deepest roots reach to charter moments in Simon Fraser sports history.
A PERFECT MOMENT
Believe it or not, Alison McKay has a deeper past with wrestling than she does with volleyball and it’s with that in mind that one of the evening’s most special moments occured.
On Tuesday, when it came time to honour SFU’s Female Athlete of the Year, the award was split between McKay and national champion wrestler Mallory Velte.
The pair rose together, hugged and then proceeded to the stage together to be presented their awards by longtime Clan wrestling coach Mike Jones.
Velte, recruited by Jones out of Sacramento, went undefeated for a second straight year and claimed her second straight WCWA national title.
The evening had begun with Jones himself being honoured with the Margaret Jones Lifetime Achievement Award.
After leading the Clan to 13 combined national championships and guiding the careers of gold-medal Olympians Daniel Igali, Carol Huynh and Helen Maroulis, Jones was officially calling it quits after 41 seasons.
That and a lot of past history led to a most heartfelt hug between Jones and McKay.
“I have known Mike Jones since the time I was born,” said McKay, whose father Dave is himself a former Clan wrestler and later, a Canadian Olympian and head coach of Canada’s national wrestling team.
“He’s Butterfingers to me,” she continued of the nickname she has for Jones, who is more like an uncle. “When I was younger, we used to play all kinds of games. He is someone I have known forever. And I just have so much respect for Mallory. She is such an amazing athlete.”
The same can be said for Alison McKay, although as she admitted Tuesday, her life at SFU could have been a lot different if not for some pronounced prodding from a fellow teammate.
“I honestly had no idea that I would even be playing volleyball (at university),” McKay said of her mindset as she graduated Port Moody’s Heritage Woods Secondary in 2013.
“(Clan teammate) Devon (May) was like ‘Are you kidding me? You can’t not play volleyball.’ I was thinking of just going to school at SFU.”
Instead, she blossomed under then-new head coach Gina Schmidt.
Bringing a 5-foot-6 frame filled with energy and innate anticipation, McKay became a superstar at libero.
She was not only named the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year her final two seasons, she became the Clan’s first-ever NCAA volleyball all-American, and she made the Canadian senior national team.
Yet most important to her, McKay was able to walk on to the stage to finish the evening’s festivities with the rest of her teammates after the volleyball team, which made the NCAA championship field for the first time ever this past season, was named the school’s Team of the Year.
In addition to all of that, however, McKay was also named the recipient of the Most Inspirational Athlete Award for her tireless devotion both on campus and in her community. It’s an honour named after the school’s most famous alum, Terry Fox.
In the end, she best represented the defining theme of a most special night.
She’s the girl who grew up in the shadows of Burnaby Mountain, unsure if she could even become a collegiate athlete.
Now, she is as a potential Olympian, just like her dad, who was also a star Clan athlete.
A volleyball program which sat at the bottom upon her arrival is now a player in the NCAA postseason.
And her work as a youth volleyball coach inspires a new generation of student-athletes.
She’s leaving Simon Fraser as a better place than when she arrived.
Fittingly, Alison McKay was thrice honoured Tuesday.
She celebrated the present, but kept an arm around both the past and the future.
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