On the day she earned the biggest individual honour in Manitoba high school sports, Paige Thomson was more comfortable talking about her teammates.
The Neelin Spartans star won the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association’s Josten’s female athlete of the year award on Thursday in Winnipeg after earning graduating all-star honours in both basketball and volleyball.
Thomson, who also competed in softball, will move on to the university ranks in the fall to play basketball with the Victoria Vikes and it’s a bittersweet feeling for her to leave the Neelin programs and teammates that have meant so much to her.
"Words can’t describe it," said Thomson, who was also the AAA girls’ athlete of the year. "(Playing for the Spartans was) the best feeling and I have so many lasting memories and so many amazing lifelong friendships that I’ve got out of the last four years of playing high school sports at Neelin."
Thomson was an all-star at provincials when the Spartans stepped up a level in volleyball and won the silver medal, narrowly missing out on a second straight AAAA title, and she later helped Neelin finish third at the Manitoba AAA basketball championship.
The first Spartan to be named MHSAA female athlete of the year since Lisa Nagorski in 1990, Thomson is following in the footsteps of some impressive athletes in her family. Her parents, Don and Jennifer, both played basketball and coached at Brandon University, while her older sister, Mary, is a setter for the BU Bobcats volleyball team, and all were big influences in her life.
"Both my parents played at BU, and being around the basketball life ever since I was born and being around athletics, you grow up in that environment and you love to compete and love to play hard and work your butt off," she said.
The work is just beginning for Thomson as she prepares to make the jump to Canadian Interuniversity Sport. Now too old for the provincial basketball teams after helping Manitoba win bronze at last year’s Canada Games, Thomson finally gets to take a breather, although it won’t exactly be a vacation.
"It’s a little different because usually when one season ends another one begins and I haven’t really had an off-season in a long time, over the past four years," she said. "But it’s a good, new experience for me to have and to be able to train specifically basketball and be able to improve there and get ready to go to the next level."
Westman girls were front and centre at the MHSAA awards yesterday as Sarah Palson of Souris was named the top AA athlete, while Shayna Mathison of Hamiota topped the A field.
Palson, who was a provincial championship all-star and graduating all-star in basketball, placed in the top six in the province in badminton and also played for the Sabres volleyball team. She plans to go to Lethbridge College in the fall.
Mathison was a graduating all-star in volleyball and basketball and was co-captain of the Huskies soccer team, while also competing in fastball. The provincial MVP in A basketball, she plans to play hoops at Brandon University in the fall.
Mathison was one of two future Bobcats to be recognized, as BU men’s volleyball recruit Bruce Akubukaka of Winnipeg’s St. Paul’s Crusaders was named the AAAA boys’ athlete of the year.