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Athletics, recreation core at Quest University

Varsity basketball progressing, soccer now on the horizon

It was a tough beginning for Quest University with residences still under construction at the start of the school year, but the freshman class is now settling in to the collegiate experience. That means classes, homework, exams, and — unique to Quest — an emphasis on sports and recreation.

This fall, with a freshman class of just 80 students, Quest was awarded evaluation status by the B.C. Colleges’ Athletic Association (BCCAA) to field a men’s and women’s basketball team. All games are exhibition and Quest is not included in the rankings but the team has already won a few games, and built a solid following in the Squamish community. If the team passes as expected, Quest basketball will be ranked for the 2008-09 season.

This week the BCCAA awarded Quest approval to field men’s and women’s soccer teams, which would be evaluated in the 2008-09 season for approval in 2009-2010. Quest is now in the process of hiring coaches, and recruiting students as players.

“It’s been a lot of work, but it’s really pretty exciting to get the opportunity to be involved in something like this from the ground up,” said Toran Savjord, director of recreation for Quest University.

“Recreation is something we’re developing and something I think is really an important part of student education, even if it’s just mild recreation.”

Home basketball games have been drawing between 150 and 300 spectators, including members of the community. Most of them come for dinner as well at Quest’s cafeteria before cheering on the team.

“The varsity teams are doing quite well,” said Savjord. “When you recruit a bunch of freshmen or first years, and you’re playing against colleges that are now offering degrees and have students that have been in the league for five years, you’re going to be at a bit of a disadvantage. To win a couple of games against teams ranked fifth or sixth in the league is very encouraging, because the players will develop and we’ll be recruiting more.

“We’re mainly excited about the type of players that are coming here. They’re academic, which is our first priority because we have a pretty rigorous academic curriculum, but they’re also great athletes.”

Next year the college hopes to expand to up to 240 students, and will have up to 800 students by the time first year students reach their fourth year. That will increase the pool of athletes naturally, but the private university will also do its best to recruit athletes from around the world for their programs.

The current men’s basketball team is mostly Canadian, but there is one player from the U.S., one from Germany, one from Kosovo, and one from Bhutan. The women’s team is mostly Canadian, with one player from Thailand.

The coaches had different philosophies for their teams. Men’s coach Steve Anderson recruited nearly a full team for the first year to develop over the next few years, while Norm Hann, the women’s coach, deliberately kept the team small to leave room for new players next season.

Quest’s facilities include a U.S. college basketball standard gymnasium for basketball and volleyball, a soccer field with all-season artificial turf, tennis courts, squash courts, a beach volleyball area, and a workout facility with change rooms.

But one of Quest’s biggest facilities is Squamish itself, which bills itself as the outdoor recreational capital of Canada.

That’s where Quest’s recreational programs kick in.

“It’s the key to a well-balanced life, and we try to value the whole person and whole learning experience,” said Savjord. “That’s why we’re offering some courses in adventure pursuits during the summer, all of which are credit courses — things like backpacking, canoeing, whitewater kayaking, ocean kayaking.

“Those courses will have a more structured format, but we also have and support our own Quest Adventure Club, which is student run. They get to choose where their trips and adventures will be, and we help organize the trip and support the students. They’ve already been to Tofino to surf, and have gone to Whistler for a couple of ski days.”

The adventure club is looking into putting on backcountry skiing and avalanche courses to be able to run backcountry trips. In the spring, Quest is looking at the possibility of mountain bike clinics and rock climbing clinics with some sponsorship or support from local organizations.

Savjord says Quest is also looking for ways to bring community recreation to the campus. For example, the school is looking into the possibility of staging the Squamish Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race on campus.

Savjord says that the ability to offer these kinds of recreation programs, and the types of activities available in Squamish are attractive to prospective students.

“It’s part of who we are,” he said. “Most of the staff are interested in recreational activities, as well as the students, so it’s kind of neat to have that in common. The students are here to learn, but also to experience everything Squamish has to offer.”

The men’s and women’s basketball teams are playing their next games tonight, Thursday, Dec. 6, against traveling under-18 teams from Australia. The men play at 6 p.m., the women’s team at 8 p.m. The public is welcome to come out and watch.