It’s only November, but Christmas clearly came early for Brandon’s Amanda Thornborough this month.
The 22-year-old Canadian sevens women’s rugby team member helped the St. Francis Xavier University X-Women cap a perfect season by winning the national championship last weekend in Antigonish, N.S., and now turns her attention to representing the country halfway around the world. In the final game of her university career, Thornborough scored a try and was named player of the game — and a tournament all-star — as she led No.1-ranked St.FX to a 37-0 triumph over Guelph to finish the season with a perfect 12-0 record.
“It’s a little bit surreal, actually, just having a perfect season with a perfect ending,” said Thornborough, who leaves Sunday for the national team training camp in B.C., before heading to the Persian Gulf.
For the second straight year, Thornborough will proudly wear Canada’s colours in the United Arab Emirates when she competes in the IRB (International Rugby Board) Women’s Sevens World Series starting Nov. 30 in Dubai, where current temperatures are a balmy 30-plus C.
“It’s going to be quite a change, for sure,” said Thornborough, a Vincent Massey High School graduate and former member of the Brandon Barbarians rugby program. “I’m really excited. Making the transition from CIS rugby to international rugby is obviously a leap, but over the last year I have had more opportunities to play internationally, so this is the next step for me.”
Dubai is the next step on the road to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro where sevens rugby makes its debut as a full-fledged Olympic sport. For Thornborough, who is wrapping up her final semester of university and plans to move to Victoria in January to train with the national team, the Olympics will be her focus for the next four years.
“The years have gone by so quickly and when you think about it being four years away, it’s not as far as it seems,” she said. “And I am just looking down the road now to everything leading up to that, so it’s exciting.”
Another local Olympic hopeful began her season on Thursday in Lake Placid, N.Y., where Brandonite Cassie Hawrysh, 28, placed 11th in her first World Cup skeleton race.
Hawrysh, who has made a remarkable rise up the ranks to compete with the best in the world, finished only 6/100ths of a second out of the top 10. Canadians Sarah Reid and Mellisa Hollingsworth won gold and silver, respectively. Russell’s Jon Montgomery, the 2010 Olympic champion, opened his World Cup season by finishing 12th in his first race after taking 2011-12 off.
The Brandon University Bobcats men’s basketball team has started 0-2, but is missing two key starters in high-scoring guard Emerick Ravier and 6-foot-7 forward Isaiah James, a former team MVP.
Ravier is still working his way back from reconstructive knee surgery, while James could return from a serious ankle injury in just a week or two.
“Definitely, we have made do without them and guys have played extra minutes,” said Bobcats coach Gil Cheung, whose team suffered a pair of 14-point setbacks on the road to the 10th-ranked Alberta Golden Bears last weekend.
“I thought we had a pretty good weekend, despite the losses, we put ourselves in contention to win. But definitely, it’s a big void missing two of our better players.”
BU’s basketball teams will make the short trip down the Trans-Canada this weekend to battle the Manitoba Bisons. Meanwhile, BU’s volleyball teams are off to a strong start with both the seventh-ranked men and the 11th-ranked women sporting 3-1 records in Canada West heading into this weekend’s key clashes with the Bisons at Brandon’s new Healthy Living Centre. Both the third-ranked Bison men and fourth-ranked women are off to 3-0 starts. With limited seating capacity of 450 again this weekend at the HLC, there were still a few tickets left for what promises to be one of the best matchups of the season.
I don’t imagine NHL scouts need a whole lot more convincing that Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman Ryan Pulock is the real deal.
After all, at the age of 18, the 6-foot-1, 211-pound standout is already one of the WHL’s best players, averaging more than a point a game with eight goals and 13 assists — and a +10 plus/minus rating — in 19 games. Pulock’s one-timer from the point on the power play is already NHL-calibre and he made a few more believers during last weekend’s Wheat Kings Skills Day competition when he hammered a 101-mph slapshot. Pulock is showing precisely why he is projected to be a top-10 pick in next year’s NHL draft.