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Church sisters combine to make “the super-player”

New recruits Chelsea Church (left) and Brittney Church (right) spend the day at the KPU gym in Surrey.

It may be completely normal to expect two sisters to be competitive – call it sibling rivalry.

Sisters Brittney Church and Chelsea Church, new players on Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s women’s basketball team,  are competitive, completely – just not with one another.

When it comes to sibling rivalry, “we’ve never been competitive,” Chelsea said.

“Or turned against each other or anything,” Brittney said.

“We get along. We hangout.”

Hanging-out. That might as well have been what KPU’s women’s basketball team was doing on court all last season. The team won four games, lost 14. The team fell apart. The headcoach was replaced. Now, new coach Dan Nayebzadeh is building from scratch, and bringing in two star players, who happen to be sisters, but who save the rivalry for their competitors.

Brittney, 17, originally signed with the team early in the season. Chelsea, 19, was recruited a couple weeks ago.

The biggest recruiting difference, however, between the addition of each sister to the roster isn’t the timing, rather, the recruiter.

Brittney had been signed by Matthew McKay, Last season’s head coach, who was let go by KPU athletics department after a weak season.

Chelsea was signed by Nayebzadeh, McKay’s replacement.

“Once I got there I got to sit down with [Brittney] and talk to get some expectations – to make sure she was on the same page as us,” Nayebzadeh said.

“And she was.”

“She was pretty obvious choice,” Nayebzadeh said. “She was a very, very good high school player. She would have been highly sought by any team.”

Brittney and Chelsea round-up the 12 players Nayebzadeh has added to his roster for the new season.

And come the new season, the sisters will be playing on the same court, at the same time, for the first time, since high school.

The near 3-year break from their sister-team mate relationship wont need dusting come time to lace-up for the KPU duo-ship. Basketball, they said, is simply second nature.

The sisters have been playing together since they were ages nine and 11. In the school courtyard. At the local gym. In their backyard.

“Basketball has been in our lives since we were in the fourth grade, we don’t know anything else,” Chelsea said.

Basketball is a Church thing. Their father, Alan Church, a six foot six centre forward played for Douglas College’s men’s basketball team in 1986.

A little under two decades later, his daughters are following in his varsity footsteps – Chelsea as forward, Brittney as shooting guard.

“We totally play different games,” Brittney said, stemming from their different positions on court. “She’s better at the things I can’t do.”

In part, the sisters said what’s built their effective partnership is their ability to capitalize on their individual skills by trusting the other to pick up in areas in which the former is less capable.

“If you combine us together,” Chelsea said, “we would be the super-player.”

It also goes past blood – into the mind.

“We play really well together. We have that thing, were it’s like the other person knows what’s going through your mind,” Chelsea said.

“Twin telepathy,” Brittney said. “Even though we’re not twins.”

Sister telepathy, however, isn’t the reason Nayebzadeh praises the Church sisters’ addition to the new team.

“As far as being sisters, it’s not that important to the team,” Nayebzadeh said. “What’s important is that they’re both very mature girls.”

And relatively-seasoned, solid players, he said.

Nayebzadeh did, however, ask Brittney about her relationship with Chelsea, Brittney said.

“When you have a family member on the team and you’re flipping out on each other on the court, it affects the game,” she said.

“But, the fact that we get along, helps us play better together as a group,” Chelsea said.

Are these sisters friendly, mature young women? Absolutely. Will they be kind to their opponents? Absolutely not, they assure.

“I like a really competitive team – I want our opponents to be scared of us,” Chelsea said.

But for right now, it’s about building the team, setting a foundation, the sisters said.

Since last season, only two of the players have been re-added to the roster. That means a fresh new team – the slate, completely clean.

Nayebzadeh is holding open gym practices for the team, where the players come to get to know each other on the court. In a couple weeks, the team will be heading into organized training.

“I’m really excited for it,” Brittney said about working with the team in the coming season. “We get along really well.”

“The thing is trusting one another, to grow as a group,” she said.

“If there’s no trust there’s there is no group,” Chelsea said.

One idea that rings true for the Church sisters, and for Nayebzadeh, is that the team heads into the next phase looking to build a program – to get organized, to get a system going.

“We set standards for ourselves,” Nayebzadeh said, “and with that will come success.”

Standards, the sisters already know all about it. They also know about being realistic, and setting standards and goals that accommodate their reality.

“I’m not going to say we’re going to win a championship,” Chelsea said when asked about the teams overall goal heading into the 2011-2012 season.

“I’m not saying we have to win anything – but I have goals for success.”

“If you lose a game, you can still be successful,” she said. “I just want us to do well, feel good as a team, and be proud to be Kwantlen athletes.”

Coach Braich prepares for the deep-end

Kwantlen Polytechnic University student-athlete gets a kick-in. Image courtesy of Kyle Benning.

Practice, train, organize – these are fundamentals most coaches carry in their back pockets. But it’s not limited to just that, if you’re the coach of a varsity team.

When it comes to creating a successful varsity team, a lot of it is about the coach cheerleading for the school, so to speak, said Ajit Braich, Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s men’s soccer coach.

Braich isn’t planning on sporting a skirt and some some pom-poms. He is, however, singing the praises of Kwantlen athletics around the Lower Mainland.

“We have fantastic facilities but we don’t shout about it enough,” Braich said.

Yes, team sports, like soccer, are essentially all about the team – but who makes the team? Individuals. When comes to recruiting players, varsity coaches are looking for the best individuals, naturally. But those players will only come and try-out for KPU’s team, if they plan on attending KPU.

So, it’s not only about attracting solid players, but solid players who are also solid students who want to attend Kwantlen.

Braich, a 25-year coaching veteran who’s trained everything from local soccer clubs, the American y-league to the Vancouver Whitecaps, has now figured the secret to successful varsity coaching.

If you’ve got it, flaunt it, and they’ll want it.

Recently, Braich was invited on a local Indo-Canadian radio show, where he talked about the sports programs Kwantlen has to offer and the benefits to its student-athletes.

And he’s not stoping there.

“I’ll even go to the high schools if you want,”he said, referring to the offer he made to the athletics department for recruitment tactics.

Braich’s determination to put KPU on the map appears to be showing dividends.

At the team’s last training camp, which in many respects is a recruitment outing, Braich saw many ideal players coming out for a slot on the team.

“We had some very nice surprises,” Braich said.

“We got some of the better players we’ve been chasing, who’ve finally made their minds up to come to school here, instead of going across the river to the Langaras or Douglases.”

And those better players will be vital to the new season. Last season the team saw one tie, 11 loses – no wins.

Braich is currently choosing between 39 players. Approximately 18 of them will make the final cut, nabbing a spot on the new roster. The announcement is expected to come in a couple weeks.

Now that Braich has spread the word and gotten his skilled players, he’s looking to reach his next big goal: provincials.

“We want to make the provincials at all cost,” he said.

And how does he plan to do that?

Braich’s plan: Raise fitness. Raise team chemistry. Raise scholastic morale.

He’s also confident, despite last year’s air-gasping season, that things are going to turn-around.

“We just lacked experience and fitness,” Braich said of last year’s team. “And me as a coach, I was in the deep without a life jacket.”

Last season was Braich’s first year with KPU, he was still getting a hang of things, he said.

Now, “I’m already two months ahead of where I was last season.”

Two months ahead, life-jacket on, and seasoned players on board – could KPU be over its growing pains?

Yes, or perhaps no, Braich is out there singing for KPU, raising expectations, and potentially – the bar.

“I’m very proud,” he said, “to be a part of the growing phase.”

New women’s basketball coach to mould into the team

New coach Dan Nayebzadeh (left) and Kwantlen’s 2010-11 women’s basketball team. Images courtesy of Kwantlen Athletics.

The new basketball coach for the women’s varsity team isn’t coming in with strategies ready to go.

 He’s about letting those strategies develop with his players, said Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s new coach Dan Nayebzadeh.

 “My on-court system all depends on the player,” Nayebzadeh said about his fit-the-player coaching style. “I guess I’m kind of like ‘you can reshape and mould me to whatever the team is.’”

 Nayebzadeh’s concentrated style stems from his own experience in sport.

 The North Shore native grew up with soccer and basketball. Somewhere along the way Nayebzadeh found a new life passion: teaching.

 While in the education program at UBC, he was required to plug volunteer hours.

 There, he was reacquainted with his love of sport.

 “I decide to coach a little bit of basketball – and I got hooked,” Nayebzadeh said.

 And he stayed hooked. Nayebzadeh has now been coaching for 13 years.

 “Its the ability to shape athletes that really intrigues me,” Nayebzadeh said about the allure of the job. “I love using basketball as a stage to develop character.”

 The certified NCCP level 3 coach started his career at North Vancouver’s Sutherland Secondary School.

 There, as head coach, he led the senior girls basketball team to a record 200 wins and 40 losses over eight seasons.

 Then, in 2009 Nayebzadeh was granted the role of assistant coach with the BC Titans Minor League Professional team.

 Following that, he was selected as head coach by the Basketball BC Elite Development Program for the U-16 provincial team.

 The list goes on.

 He assisted the Canadian National team at the Canadian Centre for Performance and Regional Training.

 His latest stint – the assistant coach of the women’s basketball team at Simon Fraser University.

 If there’s any inclination as to the success of his coaching style, the SFU team shows it. The women have won two national titles within the last two year alone.

 The came Kwantlen.

 “It was very detailed – very meticulous,” Nayebzadeh said about the interview process. “There were a whole lot of interviews.”

 Nayebzadeh was in the process of applying for a coaching position with the men’s basketball team when the position for the women’s opened up.

 He was advised to apply for both. He was granted the latter.

 “I think they found a very good candidate,” Nayebzadeh said about the University’s choice to go with Stefon Wilson as coach for the men’s team. “It worked out for the best, for both of us.”

 “I can’t wait,” he said about coaching the varsity women’s basketball program. “It’s going to be a great journey.”

 As it stand, the team is still being constructed – recruitment season in full view.

 As Kwantlen holds its identification camp Sunday, April 17, for female basketball athletes ages 17 up, Nayebzadeh heads into the selection process looking for players who meet the standards.

 “The number one thing that I look for is character,” he said. “They have to be willing to work hard.”

 “We look for kids that are competitive. We look for kids who love the game. We look for kids who want to be there.”

 In short, Nayebzadeh is entering recruitment season looking for what it was that pulled him onto the court – passion.

 “It’s crucial for the athlete to love the sport,” he said, “to want to be there. To want to compete.”

 “You have to love to be there – you have to be willing to sacrifice.”

 Nayebzadeh said the success of the team is dependent on team respect and selflessness. He, himself included, in expectations for the team.

 “You have to go in with your passion as a coach,” he stresses, “you have to have passion.”

 Entering the dynamics, Nayebzadeh is clear that the game is never about the coach, it’s not about him. It’s about the team.

 “You have to be athlete centred, you have to have a plan,” he said of his certainties.

 As for the rest, Nayebzadeh said, “let the chips fall where they may.”

Kimiya Shokoohi


Kwantlen badminton duo fights injury to make history

Kwantlen badminton duo Ashley Jang and Jensen Ly are awarded their national gold in New Brunswick, March 5th. (Photo courtesy of Kwantlen)

It’s one thing to win a national title. It’s another to do it with one leg.

Ashley Jang, 19, and Jensen Ly, 21, did just that in Sackville, New Brunswick on March 5th.

The mixed badminton duo fought through a popped knee cap to win Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s first national banner.

They secured a spot in the University’s history. Simultaneously, strengthening their partnership en route.

“A lot more trust is built because of this,” Jang said. ” You just have a better connection after going through something like this.”

This, was the struggle to continue fitting through provincials after Jang cracked her knee in a game earlier in the provincial season.

The injury was a re-surfacing problem which first emerged four years ago. Every year since, she said, its been taking a hit. From agitations during practices and games, to a blow from a car accident.

“My [medial collateral ligament] is really stretched out and my knee pops out of place, every time,” Jang said, “I have to pop it back into place.”

This round of trouble came during an early provincial game. Jang went for a hit. She felt her knee fall loose mid-air. She landed. Her foot planted. Her knee cracked.

“Before provincials I was always hoping ‘don’t get injured, don’t get injured,’” she said. “When I went down I thought ‘oh crap, not again.”

This time, it wasn’t as simple as popping her knee back into place. She needed physiotherapy, she needed special care – she needed rest and recovery time.

She, and Ly, decided against the latter. There was no time for rest. They were in the heat of provincials, with final qualifiers approaching.

“Everyone told me to not play,” Jang said.

She and Ly, on the other hand, “we didn’t really say anything to each other.”

“We both sort of knew what each other was thinking,” she said. “We knew what we wanted.”

The duo had competed in doubles badminton last season, but with different partners. Both ended their seasons with their goals unmet.

Both set the same goal for next season: to put everything they had into their next shot at national gold – no matter what.

“All I could really think about was how I could overcome this,” Ly said of the challenge of winning games despite the injury of his partner.

“I was willing to put a lot effort into it. I was willing to do everything.”

The next five provincials games were on Ly.

As the rules of doubles badminton goes, as long as the both players are on the court, it’s fair game.

Jang would serve, Ly would play.

“In provincials, we were essentially playing one on two,” Jang said. ” I was just standing in the corner, I would see him run around everywhere.”

“I really wanted to help.”

Off the court, Jang helped – by exercising all avenues of recovery. Chinese healer included.

The Chinese healer was crucial to her recovery, Jang said. Especially seeing as the doctor used to work for China’s national badminton team.

“She’s a really small woman, but she has a lot of power,” Jang said of her doctor who relaxes muscles by applying heavy force on pressure point.

“She makes everybody cry – even the biggest guys.”

Back on court, Ly said Jang was helping a lot more than she may have thought. She was helping Ly – mentally.

“Having seen her will alone, was pretty motivating.” Ly said. “To see her will to play though she could hardly walk.”

“It made me think ‘if she could do it with one leg, it shouldn’t be a problem for me with two.”

Ly and Jang fought through provincials, finishing second. They broke into nationals. Ashley’s leg was better. They were more determined than ever.

They beat national favourites from Northern Alberta Institute of Technology during the final round robin. They entered the final game with NAIT, again, as they opponents.

“Jensen and I walked on the court really confident, knowing that we were going to take them down.” Jang said. “We were both really in the zone.”

The duo started strong against their opponents weakened by the previous loss. The duo stayed strong.

The birdie was on their side for the win after the opposing team made a hit that had Ly accidental rebound with a physical shot to the opponent. From there, NAIT’s execution shots deteriorated.

“It was actually at that point when their mentality really started breaking down.” Ly said. “We took advantage.”

Jang and Ly won the game. They won in straight sets. The last set by a nine-point margin.

“When we won, Jensen and I didn’t say anything to each other,” Jang said. “We looked at each other and shook hands.”

“Some things we just don’t need to say,” Ly said. “We both knew what was going through each other’s mind.”

Years worth of practice. A year of preparation. A significant injury overcome. one goal, finally met.

“We felt really, I don’t what the right word is, we just felt really,” Jang paused,” happy.”

Kimiya Shokoohi

Vancouver breaks the Olympic mould, London takes note

Canadian fans show their stripes at the women’s hockey final during the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games one year ago.

VANCOUVER – For people experiencing an Olympic Games for the first time, Vancouver may have seemed like a typical run-of-the-Olympic-mill.

Except it wasn’t, exactly.

Vancouver broke the Olympic mould, said Lucia Montanarella, director of press operations for VANOC and media consultant to the International Olympic Committee.

“I think Vancouver could be the turning point in terms of the IOC learning that there could be different angles of looking at things,” Montanarella said.

The Olympics have always been known to be a high-security event, especially heightened since the Munich Games in 1972.

In 2010 however, Vancouver marked the first time in recent Olympic history that intensive individual security checks were reduced.

Rather than thoroughly checking each accredited person at the door, they were checking one in every ten.

Montanarella said the security focus had been shifted from the door, and moved towards an intensified background check prior to the grant of an accreditation.

“The IOC was skeptical, it was very skeptical,” she said. But, “that showed things can be done differently.”

One goal VANOC had made clear since day one was that they would deliver a carbon-neutral Games.

That brought with it a couple skeptics of its own.

But Rob VanWynsberghe, co-author of the University of British Colombia Olympic Games Impact Study, said the city did an “incredible job” at leveraging the Games to make Vancouver one of the world’s greenest cities.

“The Games created a kind of launching pad,” he said, adding it may have set the groundwork to Vancouver becoming a real leader in green infrastructure.

Achievements, according to a David Suzuki Foundation report, included the building of energy-efficient venues, use of clean-energy sources and heavy reliance on public transit.

The aforementioned unprecedented use of public transit was also a novelty, as far as Olympics go.

“I can tell you for sure that the use of public transfer [for the media] in the Olympics has never happened before Vancouver,” Montanarella said.

Since the Games the IOC has seen cities vying for the 2018 Games include the use of public transportation as a part of their bid for the Olympics.

“We try as much as possible to build on what went right and improve on what didn’t at each edition of the Games,” said Gilbert Felli, IOC executive director of the Olympic Games.

“This allows [future organizing committees] to learn the lessons of the previous Games and hopefully continue to improve upon what came before.”

Taking notes next in the Olympic queue: London 2012.

“Vancouver, if we’re being open, was more of a learning experience for us in many respects than Beijing,” said Sebastian Coe, chairman of the 2012 London Olympic Organizing Committee.

In Beijing, they learned the technical logistics to hosting a summer Games.

In Vancouver, “our games experience was about how a city functions during Games time,” Coe said.

Coe, a former Olympian himself, said Vancouver introduced a new kind of passion for sport.

“You had stadiums in Vancouver that were full, and they were full of people that wanted to be there,” he said of crowd ambiance at events, regardless of whether or not Canadian athletes were competing.

“There was a passion there.”

However, the Vancouver Games didn’t act as a how-to play-by-play for LOCOG.

Vancouver may have shifted its security focus, but London has no such plans.

“Every Olympic city has to assure a safe Games and that they have the right protections in place,” Coe said. “Vancouver is not as big of city as London so we have to one-up [security].”

Despite both cities metropolitan statuses, Coe recognizes they are separate entities. London will not be Vancouver, nor will it be Beijing.

“London,” he said, “shares London desires.”

“It’s not [about] replicating the system,” Montanarella said of Vancouver’s impact on the Olympic movement and future Games.

Rather, “showing things can be done differently.”

Kimiya Shokoohi


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