SOME MAY SEE VARSITY ATHLETES AS JOCKS who are only interested in sport, not academics. It’s an age-old stereotype depicted in TV and movies. But in real-life, specifically the world of varsity sport, this stereotype is crushed.
UBC Okanagan Heat athletes are the living proof. After hitting limits of physical exertion, they hit the books…hard.
Heat athletes are expected to commit first to academic excellence and then to their team. Consequently, they are champs in both arenas. At UBCO, they tend to have a higher academic average than the general student population and are more likely to continue their programs and successfully graduate.
Soccer forward Erica Reis can give gym ‘cred’ to this: “Being a student-athlete is who I am right now. It is what drives me to do well in my studies and on the pitch.”
Reis and her fellow Heat athletes are cliché breakers and tradition builders who are full of heart. And a new athletics director is formulating a game-plan to make them the best they can be.
Tradition Starts Here
Many university athletes look forward to being part of long-standing traditions. The legacy of varsity sport is filled with tales of pride: the Indiana Hoosiers (Indiana University, Bloomington) who have been excelling in basketball since 1899 or McGill University, which can brag that it fielded North America’s first rugby and football games in the late 1800’s.
However, at the young UBC Okanagan campus, student athletes have the unique opportunity to make tradition. Not only do they have the opportunity to carry the title of “first-EVER champion” but they can also help shape the Heat by developing its philosophy and impact on the community. The ball is truly in the court of the ever-growing roster of Heat athletes.
- Okanagan University becomes UBCO
- Previous sport teams were the Lakers
- 6 teams; 77 athletes
- “The Heat” moniker is revealed at the annual scholarship breakfast
- Men’s and Women’s Golf teams added
- 8 teams total
- Conditional membership to Canadian Interuniversity Sport
- Women’s and Men’s Rugby and Women’s and Men’s Cross-Country Running added
- 12 teams; 137 athletes
- UBCO joins Canada West Universities Athletic Association
- Heat establishes the Big Block Club, an alumni club for Heat student athletes, coaches and builders
- Unveiling of new UBCO Heat mascot, Scorch
- Full membership granted to Canada West Universities Athletic Association
- President’s Cup Challenge with Thompson Rivers University re-established
- UBCO Heat contends for a national women’s university volleyball title
Meet the Heat
Showing strength, vulnerability and trust in each other, 16 current student athletes share what it’s like to represent UBC Okanagan, their team and their community.
Program: Human Kinetics
Hometown: Burnaby, BC
Personal motto: Family first
A team leader on and off the court, Aldrich Berrios is driven by his “family first” motto and gratitude to be able to play competitive ball with a university scholarship.
Last season, he led all of Canada West in floor time, averaging a career-high of 37.2 minutes a game. Off the court, he played for the Okanagan Sun Football Club and did well academically, too, contending for the Provost Award for Excellence.
“If I’m doing what it takes to be happy, then I’m fighting a winning battle…and that in itself is the reward.”
Getting involved with KidSport and coaching kids in the Junior Heat program helps him live out his passion: “To enable and empower as many children and families as possible.”
“Basketball has always been my escape, a safe haven of sorts, where the world disappears and it’s just me, a basketball and a hoop. Now, basketball has also become an avenue for me to leave an imprint on as many lives as I can.”
When Berrios was in the fourth grade, his hard-working single mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“She fought with every ounce of her 4’11’’ frame and still stands here today, in full remission, as my biggest support,” he says. “My mom is the reason I do what I do, day in and day out.”
Program: Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE)
Hometown: Coldstream, BC
Personal achievement: Cancer survivor
Though Jordan Korol was born into a family of tall, successful varsity athletes, her life hasn’t necessarily been an easy layup.
At three years old, she was diagnosed with leukemia and spent the better part of the next few years battling it out at the BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.
She’s well now and stronger than ever after a summer focus on training for another Heat basketball season. “Something’s got to change. It might as well start with me,” says Korol, a co-captain with fellow veterans Vanessa Botteselle and Ana Evans.
Her team hasn’t been a playoff contender, and Korol understatedly describes the past four seasons as “topsy-turvy.” She’s quick to add, they were well-rewarded by supportive teammates and Bobby Mitchell, the team’s new interim head coach.
“The challenge, with effort and improvement, is the real reward.”
She’s known the hoops coach since her middle-school and Junior Heat days and chose UBCO over another top school, in part because of Mitchell and the university’s academic reputation.
“Bobby understands the game well, is always positive and gives great feedback.”
Majoring in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), Korol aims to pursue law and possibly criminology at UBC. She took her Law School Administration Test this summer, preceded by winning the prestigious Tessa Beauchamp Scholarship.
Both of her parents—”great examples of what it takes”—played competitive basketball: her mom with the University of Regina Cougars and her dad with the UBC Thunderbirds.
As for being a leukemia survivor, it’s pretty much behind Korol now. “It’s a happy ending,” she says, “and it’s also a drive—a motivation to be the best I can be. Hey, I’m a normal kid—I can do all sorts of stuff!”
Hometown: West Kelowna, BC
Personal motto: Go for the win
Go for the win. Last year, Veronika Fagan thought about that goal every week until she began visualizing herself actually doing it, mentally preparing to chase down the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association’s (CCAA) national championship.
“When it came to race day, I felt the pressure, but I also felt calm inside knowing that I knew what I had to do, and I had been preparing for this all season,” says Fagan. She credits her coach, John Machuga, for his belief in her and for planting the idea that first place was well within her determined grasp.
Fagan captured the 2017 CCAA national individual title in Blainville, Quebec with a time of 21:42 for the 6-km long course. She also helped her team capture a bronze medal, which marked the third straight year she won a medal in the team’s competition.
Also last season, the CCAA All-Canadian set a course record three times—so it wasn’t much of a surprise when this captain of the women’s running team was awarded UBC Okanagan Heat’s 2017-18 Athlete of the Year.
In 2018, she earned Canada West first team All-Star recognition with her sixth-place finish at the Canada West Championship and placed eighteenth overall at U SPORTS nationals.
However, her first win at UBCO was being accepted into nursing program: “I was so excited to begin learning in a profession where I serve people and help people achieve their best potential in life.”
More wins: Finding her passion for perinatal, labour and delivery nursing after working professionally as a nurse at the Kelowna General Hospital, and experiencing firsthand the ebbs and flows of a nursing floor, “where miracles of life occur every day.”
“Running is part of my purpose in life. It gives me a sense of control in my life and provides a way for me to cope with the demands of my school life.”
She’s inspired by the potential for improvement, “knowing I can always be faster and there is always someone to chase down.”
Another thing that inspires her: “I run just a little bit harder every time I see someone who cannot run, and I do it for them.”
Program: Applied Science (Engineering)
Hometown: Kimberley, BC
Inspiration: His coaches, teammates and the UBCO community
As a senior Engineering student and veteran competitor at the national level, Michael Mitchell knows what it takes: put in the work and trust the process.
“To be able to compete in varsity running while studying what I’m passionate about at university has been a hugely rewarding experience,” says the team leader on the men’s running squad.
“The culture that cross-country running—and the Heat community as a whole—has created gives me purpose within a team setting, a sense of school pride, and allows me to focus my time outside of training on academic pursuits.”
Getting up early for strenuous and time-consuming training is made easier by his fellow student athletes, he says: They’re in it together.
“Also, seeing the success of members of our team and fellow student athletes throughout UBCO, and across the country, inspires me to continue to train and compete.”
He credits his resilience to the “amazing” support staff and team.
“Knowing you have people behind you that will support you in any aspect of being a student athlete gives you the motivation and ability to pursue the sport you love.”
Program: Human Kinetics
Hometown: Squamish, BC
Personal motto: Improve every day
The towering veteran ball striker and team leader does a whole lot more than just play scratch golf.
He’s building on the Heat golf team’s 2017-18 result: second place in Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) National Championships.
Contending is a Heat maxim, but “first place is the goal,” he says. Rizun is also aiming to earn an individual spot on the Pacwest All-Star and All-Canadian rosters.
That kind of drive comes from his focus: “Improve every day,” Rizun says.
“Stay in the moment, shot by shot.”
Which comes in pretty handy as a fourth-year Bachelor of Human Kinetics student and part-time communications assistant with Heat Athletics.
The challenge, he says—echoed by many Heat teammates—is time management. Off the course, Rizun recommends time-blocking on weekends, during travel and hotel stays.
Rizun says head coach Cass Hritzuk inspires his resilience. “He helps us to keep fighting by talking through what’s going on in the moment, good or bad. He knows each of us—introverts, extroverts, rookies and veterans—and what each of us needs.”
Rizun’s job with Athletics is not unlike that of a sports journalist. He previews and recaps Heat games, and helps to manage web updates, rosters and player bios. He’s also streaming on Canada West TV as a game analyst for basketball, volleyball and soccer.
“Learn by doing,” he says. “And stay in the moment.”
Program: Human Kinetics
Hometown: Kelowna, BC
Personal goal: To be the best I can be
Following in the footsteps of her big brother Nick (goalie for the Heat men’s soccer team), Rebecca Reitsma also graduated from Aberdeen Hall Preparatory School, UBC Okanagan’s next-door neighbour.
Just like her brother, Reitsma joined the Athletics program and enrolled in Human Kinetics.
“Top student, top athlete. He worked hard to be the student-athlete he is,” she says as she glows about her studies. “It’s everything I ever wanted to do.”
“I love all my classes. And I love UBCO—I know it like the back of my hand already.”
Golf, on the other hand, is relatively newer still—she’s only been playing for two years and is already competing for the Heat in Pacwest (Pacific Western Athletic Association) tournament play.
From a background in team sports, golf, at first, was a challenge. “It was new: Me being fully responsible for my success. I threw myself into it. I knew I could do it.”
The first full 18-hole game of her life was also her first competitive round. She shot 103. One year later, same golf course, she shot 81.
She also earned PacWest All Star honors on her way to being part of the bronze medal-winning team at the 2018 CCAA National Golf Championship.
“I take losses and failures with a grain of salt. I learn from mistakes,” she says, chuckling, “so I make a lot of them.”
Now she’s chasing that feeling of making the perfect shot—a.k.a. “Butter!”—and aspires to a career as a golf mentor for other young women.
Reitsma is also a redshirt (practice) player with the women’s volleyball team, graduating from the Junior Heat program.
“I love working through a challenge,” she says. “Growing up, I played all the sports I could—always trying to be the best I can be!”
Position: Second Row
Program: Human Kinetics
Hometown: Moose Jaw, SK
Best team sport: Rugby
Being a UBC student athlete takes a lot of dedication. Just ask Saskatchewan’s own Dara DeMarce.
“It takes dedication to study and learn time-management skills, to train, practice and be on the road almost every weekend.
“It’s dedication that gets you up at 4 a.m. for a bus ride to the coast,” she says, crediting her teammates for constant support and encouragement.
“I really couldn’t imagine university without them, they are my family. Rugby is the ultimate team sport.
“We have each other’s backs. The camaraderie of the sport and knowing that I have made friends for life will always be an important part of my university experience.
DeMarce plays in the “tight five,” the cleaner-uppers on the pitch who take a lot of contact. She describes it as “the hard work behind the curtain.”
In pursuit of a Bachelor of Human Kinetics, DeMarce chose to specialize in health promotion. “I love what I learn,” she says. “Learning how to design helpful programs that communities can implement has definitely been a highlight.”
“There is no better sport to teach resilience than rugby—blood, sweat and tears are just part of the game.”
Coming from a small town in the prairies, DeMarce landed at UBCO after a holiday trip to the Okanagan where she was struck by the valley’s natural beauty.
“I also wanted to experience something new, to get out and experience life. It was hard to move away from my family to a place where I knew no one, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Position: Scrum Half
Program: Applied Science (Engineering)
Hometown: North Vancouver, BC
Secret to success: Competitive drive
In rugby, the position of scrum half is kind of like a quarterback in football—“but with less of the glory,” cracks Kurt Yesilcimen.
“That’s a lot of pressure, which can sometimes get to you, but knowing my team trusts me and relies on me is what gives me purpose.”
A major in electrical engineering, Yesilcimen is also well-versed in the role of student-researcher, following a passion for building and manufacturing.
As part of the Composites Research Network (CRN), he built a 3-D printer that can print with the same kind of plastic used in biomedical implants and Boeing airplane parts. He may very well pursue a master’s thesis about global heat transfer.
His dream is to have a career that “that allows me to prototype and manufacture products that will be used by everyone.”
Love what you do and it doesn’t feel like work is a sentiment Yesilcimen can relate to. But he really champions work-athletics-life balance—which sure comes in handy when something you love, like team sports, goes away.
Injuries caused Yesilcimen to miss a couple rugby seasons. Helplessly watching his teammates battle on the pitch wasn’t much fun. But through rehab and training, he persevered and landed himself a spot on the starting squad.
“Getting knocked down, literally and figuratively, is something that happens a lot in rugby and in life. But a competitive drive makes you keep getting up and that’s what drives one to success.”
Hometown: Surrey, BC
Role models: His parents
His remarkable soccer career includes a Vancouver Whitecaps Residency, training with the US Soccer Development Academy, and international competition with the U18-Men’s Canadian National team.
Yet Jeevin Kang says his top highlight is UBC Okanagan.
“I can confidently say that my time in the Heat program has been the most enjoyable due to the great group of guys I’ve been fortunate enough to play alongside, as well as being able to play under coach Dante Zanatta, who I know truly cares about me,” he says.
“Having this support group really makes the difficult losses and hard times a lot easier.”
“What really compels me is the fact that I’m not only playing for myself but I’m also playing for my brothers on the field, and a coach who puts in countless hours for us.”
This applies in the classroom, too, he says, where group projects on management cases requires “the same mentality—applying it to do my best for the group.”
Third-year Bachelor of Management students test their meddle in the annual Live Case Competition, which Kang says is “a really cool experience.”
Pitching solutions to a real company facing a real challenge—and placing third overall—is his scholastic highlight so far. “The format of the competition is basically like a knockout tournament, so it really combines both my academic and athletic sides.”
Through UBC’s Go Global work-study abroad program, Kang will be heading to an international soccer hub—Manchester, England.
No doubt that too will make his parents as proud of him as he is of them. They are the main source of his inspiration, he says. Like dad, he tries to work hard and continuously strive for success.
“I also aspire to be like my mom as she is the most loving and caring person I know.”
Hometown: Kelowna, BC
Personal description: Student athlete
“Hi, my name is Erica and I play soccer here at school.”
Recently tasked with a networking assignment in one of her opening second-year management classes, it was all Erica Lampert could come up with on the spot.
“I wanted to think of something more compelling to describe myself—yet I couldn’t,” she says.
“Being a student-athlete is who I am right now. It is what drives me to do well in my studies and to do well on the pitch.”
Not long ago, a pre-university moment of identity crisis—a “limbo”—almost derailed her path. But Lampert’s emergence as a top Heat student athlete was nudged along by her gift for acrobatic balance, in life and sport, as well as a hard, benevolent shove of UBCO serendipity.
Though she grew up competing in diving and gymnastics and defending at an elite level in provincial and international soccer tournaments, there was a minute there where she almost hung up her cleats. Then she talked to Craig Smith, who, at the time, was the new head coach of the Heat women’s soccer team.
Smith, who played seven seasons as a pro in Scotland and Australia, reminded Lampert what she was all about: as equally passionate about athletics as other life pursuits, not the least of which was an opportunity for higher education at UBC Okanagan.
“I have the same drive in school as I do for soccer, and even in the relationships I build outside of all of that,” says Lampert, who was a top Heat rookie last season and played in a pro league this summer in Vancouver.
“You work your whole life at the sport you choose, and hope for so many years that you will end up right where you are, or somewhat close.
“Once that goal is attained, your motivation switches from making the team to making the travelling team, or to earn some minutes in your season or even to break the starting lineup.
“We work so hard to get to the place we are, but it all becomes worth it the minute you get to step out and represent your school.”
Program: Human Kinetics
Hometown: Calgary, AB
Success tactic: Commit to being the best
Holding yourself to a high standard as a UBC Okanagan Heat student-athlete is definitely something Sophia Furlan digs.
In fact, the veteran leader and libero digs about as good as they get, having played all 88 sets in the regular season last year for the women’s nationally ranked volleyball team.
As the team’s back-row defensive specialist, the libero is counted-on to save and pass the ball forward. Furlan did just that, leading the team and topping her own record with 229 digs.
“You have to work hard in order to fill that role,” she says, “and you have to commit to having the mindset of being the best.”
A “very cool” side benefit of that mental toughness and perseverance is the opportunity to be a role model for others, even meeting fans and signing posters of yourself.
“There are tons of kids in the volleyball community that come watch us and sign up for our Heat camps, and we are there to represent the team as well as the university.”
Furlan is a USPORTS Academic All-Canadian and a three-time recipient of the UBC Okanagan Heat Scholar-Athlete Award.
Recently selected to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship in the BC division, the aspiring physiotherapist (who’s seen her own share of injuries) has a front-row seat to the occupation. She says she’s constantly trying to learn from Heat athletic therapists Kevin Phillips and Jeff Thorburn.
“Being able to help people to the best of my ability so they can function and perform to the best of their ability is something that really makes me happy inside.”
Hometown: Strathmore, AB
Inspiration: Building a legacy
The Heat’s shutdown defender had an auspicious start in 2017-18, being named to the Canada West All-Rookie Team, playing in all 24 conference matches, and leading the team with 60 blocks.
Growing up in rural Alberta, Funk played competitive hockey and Triple-A baseball, with dreams of playing in the big leagues. But after being introduced to volleyball—as will often happen with natural athletes who are 6’7”—“I fell in love with it.”
In 2016, he finished third at the National Team Challenge Cup as a member of Team Alberta and was selected for the Youth National Development Program.
“Accolades are nice to get but it comes down to winning sets and matches,” he says. “I like to win. I’m a very, very competitive person.”
Fielding offers from six other schools, he was sold on UBCO by head coach Brad Hudson. “It was the opportunity to play in my first year and be part of something special,” Funk says. “We want to build a legacy.”
Though redshirted—sitting out 2018-19 to recover from a torn ACL—he’s still very much part of the team, regularly practicing and training, even running his teammates—”a good group of guys, a close bunch”—through the drills.
Heat involvement with the Parkinson SuperWalk and reffing Junior volleyball tournaments helps take his mind off of injury—as does his pursuit of a major in International Relations.
Scholastically, Funk says, it always helped that both of his parents were teachers.
“Growing up, I had to be quite keen.”
Tom Huisman: Squad Leader
Meet Tom Huisman, UBC Okanagan’s director of recreation and athletics. He joined UBCO in May 2018 with more than 25 years of senior sport and university leadership experience that followed his own athletic career as a former Academic All-Canadian cross-country and distance runner and provincial soccer player. Huisman brings a wealth of training, competing and coaching experience.
Huisman knows what it takes to go through intensive training and the hurt. Not only did he return to university as a ‘mature’ student to take on a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA), he also trotted back to the track and found himself humbled.
“I had to compete against these young bucks. Although I made it on to the team, my calves were shredded after try-outs.”
His determination pushed him through two years of grueling training that allowed him to qualify for the national championships. “I got there,” he says. Oh, and he graduated from his MBA program with flying colours.
“It takes getting knocked down, to know you can get back up again. These are valuable life lessons.”
Huisman understands first-hand how competition fosters resilience. “It takes getting knocked down, to know you can get back up again. These are valuable life lessons.” Being immersed in the philosophies of sports—dedication, fair play, respect for teammates and opponents—helps balance a student’s perspectives, he says.
The reputation of the Heat (and UBC Okanagan overall) was a big draw for Huisman. He recognized how well rounded UBC Okanagan is with volleyball, soccer and basketball and how the campus is teeming with talented players.
“Most, if not all, of the fundamental building blocks to having a very successful inter-university sport program are here, as well as a broad-based recreation program to complement scholastics,” he says.
If UBC Okanagan’s athletics foundation is built, what’s next? “As hokey as it might sound, my job from a varsity side is to build an environment in which the athletes and coaches can be the best that they can be,” says Huisman
If there is an environment of excellence and promotion of the right values, the winning will take care of itself, he adds. Win here?
“I know we can,” he says. “Look at the women’s volleyball team. They’ve already proven we can be a national championship contending team.”
From the Bench to the Borough
UBC Okanagan athletes don’t just ‘bring it’ on the court and in the field, they also give to the community. Following a commitment to better the world, Heat athletes are encouraged to be proactive members that engage with groups outside of athletics and the university.
They coach Junior Heat clubs in basketball, soccer and volleyball to support budding athletes. They appear at K-12 school rallies to motivate youth. They join dozens of community-based fundraising walk- and run-athons throughout the year. And each fall, they use their brawn to lift spirits and fridges during UBCO’s residence Move In-Day.
Volleyball all-star Natalie Livingston is a veteran Move In-Day volunteer who enjoys the energy of this day.
“It’s fun to work with my teammates off the court. The appreciation from the new residents and their families is all the coaching we need.”