Any badminton player will be well-served, when it comes to on-court success, by agility and a keen sense of timing.
For college boreal standouts Michelle Kozlowskyj and Frederic Houle, those qualities also came in handy while navigating the collegiate sport landscape amid the COVID-19 pandemic, en route to winning a bronze medal at nationals in Edmonton last month.
Kozlowskyj and Houle were honored again last Wednesday, at Boreal’s year-end Viperes Gala awards ceremony, as the college’s female and male athletes of the year.
“It was awesome,” said Kozlowskyj, who had already won Boreal’s Female Athlete of the Year award in 2017 and hit the provincial podium on two occasions before returning for one last run in 2021-22.
“It was just the perfect end to maybe not a perfect season, because of COVID, but an amazing season with the end result that we wanted. Getting the recognition means so much to us, because we worked so hard on this goal and we achieved it. Getting all the congratulations from everyone and the special mentions at the banquet, it was just incredible. ”
Even more incredible, perhaps, because it almost didn’t happen at all. Kozlowskyj, a Sudbury native who won OCAA bronze with women’s doubles partner Courtney Brewer at Georgian College in both 2018 and 2019, had seriously considered sitting out the season, rather than using her final year of varsity eligibility amid the uncertainty caused by COVID-19. But a chance to collaborate with Houle, an Elliot Lake product with NOSSA championships and an OFSAA medal to his credit, proved too promising to pass up.
While both had experience playing doubles, the transition to mixed play required some important, yet quick adjustments from the newly formed duo. They shared the court for practice as often as possible and watched videos of mixed play to get their rotation down.
Thankfully, they soon developed good chemistry, with Kozlowskyj impressing Houle with her versatility and veteran savvy, while she took note of his work ethic and adaptability.
“She’s a great player,” Houle said. “We have great communication on the court and she knows how to play well at the front and at the back. Sometimes, with a mixed team, the guy’s at the back and the girl’s at the front, but with Michelle, she can go at the back and I don’t have to worry about her, because I know she can handle herself really well.
“At the end of the day, we were able to be such a great team that we went far.”
Silver medallists at the OCAA championships in Toronto in early March, Kozlowskyj and Houle headed to Edmonton for the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association championships, March 17-19, with a chance to win Boreal’s first national medal in any sport. Odds looked long at first, as they dropped their first two matches in the group stage on Thursday, before winning three in a row to make the medal round.
They bounced back quickly from a closely contested semifinal against Jack Ronahan and Anna Gillies from University of King’s College in Halifax on Friday to defeat the hometown pairing of Davis Wong and Ivy Ung from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in the bronze-medal encounter on Saturday. .
“It was seriously a dream come true,” Kozlowskyj said. “We were so focused on qualifying and we knew Ontario was a strong province and players from Ontario would often come back with a medal or just do well, so we had that in the back of our minds, but we didn’t really have any. expectations for ourselves. We had two losses on the first day and then we won our last one, so that set us back a little bit, but we had the hard matches on the first day also, which we realized, and we played the most incredible badminton I have. ever seen and I have ever played. Everyone was so supportive, even people from other provinces, telling is we had a good match, that was a good mixed game, just coming up and talking to us, and it was just incredible. “
“When we knew we were going to nationals, we were just excited for the overall experience,” Houle added. “Once we got there, we remembered we had to play. We got on the court and we started to get used to the gym, we started to talk strategy and we slowly got back into it. It was a slow start, but we didn’t give up and we managed to get a third. “
Both were thrilled to represent College Boreal, a school with a strong reputation, but not necessarily known as an athletic powerhouse, on such a big stage.
“We felt like underdogs,” Houle said. “We knew we were the first ones from our school to make it to nationals and we were honored to be the first to go there.”
“I love Boreal,” Kozlowskyj added. “I did two years there before, so I knew how great the school was and it meant so much to represent the school, one of the smaller schools and a French school. To do that for Boreal, it was awesome. “
While her post-secondary playing days are over, Kozlowsky intends to stay involved in the game by entering open tournaments and perhaps even coaching at the college or university level.
Houle is graduating from the college’s practical nursing program this spring and has yet to decide where he’ll continue his studies, but he also plans to keep a racquet in hand.
“It has been my sport since I was eight years old,” he said. “I’m going to do everything possible to play again next year.”
Boreal’s College Life sector, with support from the sports sector of the Students’ General Association, handed out 23 awards in all at the gala last Wednesday, including rookie of the year honors for volleyball players Stephane Philion and Jayme Landry, who were featured in Randy Pascal’s That Sudbury Sports Guy column earlier this week.
A full list of winners includes the following:
– Sarah Ethier (Kapuskasing, Ont.): Most Improved Player
– Megan Ouellette-Destin (Hawkesbury, Ont.): Best Performing Player
– Madeline Shier (Penetanguishene, Ont.): Most Valuable Player
– Jayme Landry (Sturgeon Falls): Top Rookie
– Brianne Morin (Hanmer): Unsung Hero
– Jaden Chouinard (Moonbeam, Ont.): Most Improved Player
– Stephane Philion (Sturgeon Falls): Best Performing Player
– Gregoire Mrochek (Hanmer): Most Valuable Player
– Stephane Philion (Sturgeon Falls): Top Rookie
– Alexandre Leger (Hanmer): Unsung Hero
– Michelle Kozlowskyj (Sudbury): Best Performing Player
– Kristen Vane (Timmins): Top Rookie
– Domenic St. Aubin (Stoney Creek, Ont.): Most Improved Player
– Frederic Houle (Elliot Lake): Best Performing Player, Most Valuable Player
– Charles De La Riva (Sudbury): Top Rookie
Rookies of the Year
– Jayme Landry (Sturgeon Falls)
– Stephane Philion (Sturgeon Falls)
Athletes of the Year
– Michelle Kozlowskyj (Sudbury)
– Frederic Houle (Elliot Lake)
The Denis Dionne Award for sporting spirit was presented to Kristen Vane of Timmins. Created in honor of Dennis Dionne, former coach of College Boreal’s badminton team, the award is presented annually by the College Boreal Foundation to a player who has shown outstanding team spirit.
The Alumni Award was presented to Patrick Boileau for his great contribution to the world of sports and in particular, to College Boreal.