After swimming her way on to Canada’s national team in April, Kelowna’s Kierra Smith made her presence felt on the world stage in two major events in 2014.
In July at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the 20-year-old Smith narrowly missed the podium in the women’s 200-metre breaststroke, finishing in 2:25.40, just 4/10 of a second out of the bronze medal position.
“The thing I wanted most from this meet was a second swim so I was so happy to be there and I tried to enjoy it as much as I could,” said Smith. “It gave me a lot of confidence to know that I can compete with the girls here and I could belong at a senior meet which is exciting for me.”
Then in December, Smith flirted with the podium again at the FINA World Championships in Doha, Qatar before settling for fourth one more time in the 200 metre breaststroke.
The Liquid Lightning and University of Minnesota Gophers swimmer established a personal best of 2:25.19 in the process.
“It’s frustrating to come fourth but I surprised myself coming in here and making a final,” said Smith.
Emil Dimitrov, Kierra’s coach in Kelowna, said medals at the international level are attainable for Smith.
“She needs to know in her own mind that she’s able to win at any given level before can step on a podium,” Dimitrov said. “She’s physically able to compete at worlds but she just needs to be convinced of it herself. “
In 2015, Smith will focus on the Pan Am Games Trials in Toronto in April.
In 2014, James Turner realized a childhood dream.
The 21-year-old from Kelowna claimed his first Canadian senior decathlon title at the national track and field championships in Ottawa.
Turner’s 10-event score of 7,408 points was 23 better than Canadian rival Pat Arbour of Ottawa.
No. 1 ranked Canadian Damian Warner didn’t compete, but it wasn’t nearly enough to take the lustre off Turner’s accomplishment.
“It means a lot to win this,” said Turner, a two-time Canadian junior champ. “Since I was young, it’s always been a goal of mine to get this, I’ve been working toward it for a long time. Those junior titles were fun, now I’m glad I’ve taken the next step.”
Turner is currently in his third year with the University of Toronto Blues track team.
As individual performances on the junior gridiron go, few were as memorable as the one turned in by Robbie Yochim in 2014.
The Okanagan Sun veteran assaulted the B.C. and Canadian junior football league record books with his kick and punt returning prowess, while also leading his club in interceptions in the defensive secondary.
Yochim, who scored six touchdowns on returns in 2014, set BCFC records for kick off single season return average at 43.1 yards as well as most punt returns in a career with 156.
“What Robbie did this season was phenomenal,” Sun coach Shane Beatty said of Yochim. “He’s a tremendously talented player with a great attitude.”
Yochim, who graduated after five years with the program, was one of four Sun players to be named an all-Canadian at season’s end, joining Zac Ironstand, Brennan Van Nistelrooy and Cliff Crews.
In leading the Sun to their first regular season title in four seasons with a 9-1 record, Shane Beatty was named the Canadian Junior Football League’s coach of the year.
“He’s one of the hardest working coaches I’ve seen and it’s nice the league has recognized that,” Christensen said of Beatty. “There’s no doubt he’s done a great job with the guys, and a lot of it has to do with tireless hours he puts in, the recruiting, breaking down film…he certainly deserves the recognition.”
The Sun hosted its first conference final since 2010, but lost to the Langley Rams.
A school with a strong tradition of competitive sports teams, 2014 was a superlatively successful year in athletics for the Immaculata Mustangs.
Mustangs teams won four B.C. School Sports championships, while claiming silver medals in two other sports.
On the hardwood, the Mustangs senior girls basketball team won its second straight provincial A title.
Immaculata defeated the rival Kelowna Christian Knights 69-49 in the provincial final in Lumby.
“They are just a fantastic group that carried the No. 1 ranking all year and took care of business in the finals,” said Mustangs coach Dino Gini.
In June, the Mustangs successfully defended their B.C. A girls soccer championship, defeating Glenlyon-Norfolk 1-0 in the gold medal final in Vancouver.
It was the Immaculata program’s fifth B.C. title in just nine years of existence.
“The girls were awesome at provincials,” said Mustangs coach Paul Freire. “All 18 players pulled together every step of the way.”
In December, Brian Drosdovech’s senior girls’ team lived up to its No. 1 ranking by winning the school’s first B.C. A volleyball title in 20 years.
Inside its home gym, Immaculata defeated Langley Christian in five hard-fought sets.
“It was nice for the girls who had been so close before to win this,” said Drosdovech
The Immaculata boys soccer team came close before setting for silver, while the golf team also finished second at the provincial finals.
When it came to excelling at running events in 2014, few athletes in B.C. were more proficient than Lake Country’s Taryn O’Neill.
The 14-year-old from George Elliot Secondary stood on the podium at every major competition she entered this season, including winning four gold medals.
After winning gold on the track in the 2000 metres at the B.C. Summer Games in Nanaimo, O’Neill followed up with a victory at the B.C. Athletics championships in the midget girls’ 3 K cross country event.
In November, she added a gold medal at the B.C. high school cross country championships in the junior girls’ category. O’Neill, also a member of the Okanagan Athletics Club, capped off the year in style, winning the gold medal in the girls 800 metre event at the International Children’s Games in Australia.
“She’s talented with lots of ability and dedicated to her training,” Okanagan Athletics Club coach Nathan Reiter said of O’Neill. “She performs well at big competitions, and when the countdown to each race is on, she’s ready to go out and execute the plan.”