Mustangs Set to Compete at FISU in Italy
Western University is home to some pretty special athletes, which is evident every year with the numerous provincial and national titles that come back to campus. Some Mustangs athletes will now get a chance to represent their country at the 2019 FISU Universiade Games which is being held in Naples, Italy this summer.
The FISU Games are the second-largest athletic competition behind the Olympics. FISU stands for the International University Sports Federation, which was founded in 1949 and has over 170 member organizations - including Western University.
Every two years, FISU holds a winter and a summer Universiade, which is a competition amongst the best student athletes, competing in an Olympic-style event which spans over a week and a half. There has already been a Winter Universiade this year, taking place in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, but there were no Western athletes competing.
In the summer edition slated to begin in early July, there will be six members of Western University heading overseas as part of Team Canada. Four athletes and two coaches will represent the purple and white across four sports.
Kelsey Veltman was named to the women’s volleyball team representing Team Canada after she just concluded her fifth season with the Western Mustangs. She will be competing in her second Universiade, having already represented Canada in 2017 when the games were held in Taiwan. Veltman leaves Western as one of, if not the greatest women’s volleyball player in school history, raking in countless honours in every season she played. She was named the OUA Player of the Year three times, a first-team OUA all-star five times, and was a U Sports All-Canadian in all five years as well, while also winning one silver and three bronze medals at the OUA level. She has also just recently signed to play professionally in Italy for Volley Millenium Brescia.
Given that she already has FISU experience, the middle-hitter will already know what to expect at this year’s event: “it’s amazing how the country can get on board with Team Canada,” she reminisces from her last time, “their support was unreal. They were waiting outside for us, always wanting signatures or photos or something.” The Canadian women’s volleyball team finished in 11th place in the 2017 games.
One of the top Mustangs athletes on campus this past year was Charis Huddle, swimming her way to a U Sports gold and silver medals. Huddle won her silver in the 100m freestyle, while collecting gold in the 50m free event. Huddle also just completed her tenure at Western University, now graduating after five years on the swim team.
“It’s really exciting to carry the momentum from this past season which was a great season for me. Just to hold onto that momentum...I’m excited to see what I can do there,” said Huddle, who has had the FISU Games on her radar for a few years: “it became more real at the beginning of this year when the selection criteria was posted and then just preparing for that knowing that U Sports was a qualification meet for it, so that lined up really well.”
Huddle is not the only member of the Mustangs swim team heading to Italy, as her coach, Paul Midgley will also be attending as a coach for Team Canada. Midgley has been the coach of the Mustangs since 2002, and has extensive experience swimming and coaching at all levels, but the appointment to this year’s games was still special for him: “[I was] very surprised… I had been on national teams in the past and thought I would be a little bit more blasé about it,” he said, not having coached for a national team in almost a decade, “I’m just really, really excited to once again be able to wear the flag and have Canada on my back when I step out onto the deck.”
Midgley has coached at essentially every other level of national competition short of the Olympics, except for the FISU games, with this year marking the first time. To make it even more special, he will have one of his own athletes overseas as well: “it’s always nice to have somebody back and forth between the two of us....we understand each other quite well over five years now...it’s comfortable for her and comfortable for me that I have someone who understands what I’m trying to get across in the program already.”
Someone who has no shortage of experience representing Canada on the world stage is Evelyn Zheng, who will represent her school and country in the fencing competition. Zheng just completed her first year at Western as part of the fencing team, but she has been competing at international events for two years leading up to the FISU games: “I was in Colombia for the first Olympic qualifier,” Zheng reflects on when she found out about her FISU appointment, “I just opened up my email and it said ‘you were selected for the FISU games’ so I was very very excited.” The fencer has already represented Canada at the North America Cup on two occasions, a European circuit, two Satellite World Cups, two large World Cups and a Grand Prix which is why she was in Colombia.
Zheng enjoyed a successful first year on Western’s fencing team, winning a silver medal at this year’s Western Open, which was her first individual competition in her Mustangs career. Zheng will also be familiar with the entire Canadian team competing in fencing, as it is essentially the same group of people she has already been fencing with for the past two years.
Joy Spear-Chief Morris hasn’t competed as a Western Mustang since 2017, but she will have one final chance to represent the purple & white as part of the track & field team at this year’s Universiade. “For me it’s really exciting. I haven’t been able to make it onto a national team since 2014...I’ve been wanting to do FISU for so long and it’ll also be the largest games that I have competed in at this point,” said Spear-Chief Morris, who is currently a graduate student at Western. The track star was an outstanding athlete in her undergraduate career. She started at the University of British Columbia before transferring to Western after her second year. In 2016, she won the national gold medal in the 60m sprint, and was named the 2017 FWP Trophy recipient as the top women’s athlete. She is hoping that this competition will lead to further international opportunities in her athletics career, with her competing in the 100m sprint event.
Spear-Chief Morris will have a familiar face joining her in Italy, with her coach, Vicky Croley also being named to the Team Canada coaching staff. Croley has been the Head Coach of the Mustangs Track & Field team for almost a quarter-century. “I’m quite honoured to be named to the FISU coaching staff for this summer,” Croley said, “it’s always an honour to be able to work with the top athletes in Canada and I particularly like being involved with this event because it involves all the best student athletes around the world.” Croley is being brought on as an assistant coach, who will be responsible for a small group of athletes, ensuring that they are in the right state of mind to compete.
The 2019 FISU Universiade Games will begin on July 3rd in Naples, Italy, and will run until July 14th.
Best of luck to all those representing Western University!