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11 June 2021 | in NUSF News

UniSport Australia names dedicated 2020 award winners

Sunshine Coast’s (USC) University Basketball League (UBL) Program Coordinator Jay McCracken and USC basketball teamThe university sport ecosystem in Australia is well established with UniSport Australia leading the university sports community to achieve its potential. Comprised of 43 Australian member universities, the UniSport Nationals are where these universities compete head-to-head in a number of national standard sporting competitions.


Despite a difficult year in 2020 where UniNationals were cancelled and not much sport was played, there were still some outstanding individuals who made a big impact on university sport in Australia.


UniSport Australia recently announced their 2020 Award Winners, recognising those who went above and beyond to make sure students stayed connected throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.


One of those people was the University of the Sunshine Coast’s (USC) University Basketball League (UBL) Program Coordinator Jay McCracken, who won the Official of the Year. Jay has filled many roles at USC including being a University Team Manager at UniNationals, but his biggest project has been getting USC into the inaugural UBL season, a new initiative from UniSport Australia.


USC were the only Queensland team to nominate and thanks to Jay and his colleagues, they were well on their way to competing, having selected a management committee, coaches, the team and even ordered uniforms before COVID struck.


“We were just about there before COVID, but it was really cool to embark on that journey and it did allow us a 12-month preseason because the team and coaches stayed the same, as did our procedures and systems,” Jay said.


“It was quite good that we’d already laid down that foundation and even now that hard work was probably one of the driving forces behind this award, being not just the only Queensland university but the only regional university as well.”


UniSport Australia successfully got the season underway in 2021, with USC getting the chance to show off their magnificent facilities by hosting five different Australian universities.


However, the most pleasing aspect has been that other universities have been contacting USC to ask about what’s involved.


“The UBL is a fantastic concept with plenty of growth opportunities and one, being a basketball head myself, I’m really passionate about,” he said.


“It’s exciting other universities are reaching out to enquire about participating next year and asking questions about operation, finances and resources.”


“For us to be a founding member and a sounding board is quite special and it’s quite cool to assist them and realise the potential this League has.”


Jay works with more athletes than just basketballers at USC, including Katja Dedekind and Ben Tacey who also earned UniSport Awards.


Katja is a Paralympic swimmer who was awarded the Most Outstanding Performance by a Student-Athlete with a Disability, while Ben is a runner who won the men's division of the UniSport Virtual Distance Running Championships which led to him receiving the Male Student-Athlete of the Year.


Part of Jay's role at USC is assisting those athletes and ensuring the facility is up to standard so they have an effective and efficient training environment.


"I have regular interactions with Katja at our facility and I know that her work ethic is incredible – she’s in a very exciting position as she enters Tokyo preparations," Jay said.


"Her dedication is second to none and it's been really nice to be part of that journey with her.


"Ben capitalised the most during the COVID period, his engagement in the virtual running championships was incredible.


"They are great people in and away from the training environment and it’s really nice to be a part of that and facilitate that training culture."


After being heavily involved in university sport for almost 10 years, UniSport Australia’s Douglas (Dougy) Howard was a well-deserved winner of the Student-Volunteer award.


The year 2020 marked the first year since 2012 that Dougy hasn't been to UniNationals, but that didn't stop him from still being as heavily involved as any other year.


Founder and president of the UniSport Australia’s Tennis Club since its inception in 2014, Dougy has been fulfilling many tasks and roles, while studying his Medical Physics PhD.Winner of the Student-Volunteer award, Douglas (Dougy) Howard.


"Since starting the club I’ve been getting members involved and creating a social environment for people to have a hit, but also creating an environment where people can play competitively if they want as well,” Dougy said.


“Even if it's fairly casual competitive against other clubs in the area, or if it’s at a high level with the Nationals as well.”


When Australia was forced into lockdown due to COVID-19, Dougy made sure his UniSport Australia Tennis community stayed together and kept engaged by starting an online series called 'off-court chats'. 


They profiled their members asking how they got involved in tennis, their favourite part of playing, post-COVID plans and so on.


It was that engagement that meant when restrictions eased in South Australia, UniSport Australia Tennis quickly picked up where it had left off and even went the extra mile to help their members ease back in, combining with UniSport Australia’s Athletics Club to put on cardio and conditioning training every Saturday morning.


"With the fact that tennis is fairly non-contact sport, we were luckily one of the first sports able to come back," Dougy said.


"As soon as we were able, we had a lot of people wanting to have a hit and I think the constant engagement helped – they were still aware the club existed.


"We actually saw an increase in competition ever since then, and we're still seeing an increase since COVID."


Dougy is such a quiet achiever that he didn't even know he was nominated for the UniSport Award and was very surprised and grateful when he realised he won. 


But the most satisfaction Dougy gets out of all his work is the impact it has on the other students.


"I always love the sport aspect, but I also enjoy that other people get something from it," he said.


"The fact that someone else is able to play the sport and enjoy the sport, then that's great for me as well."


Dougy wasn't the only person from UniSA Sport recognised for their efforts in 2020, with two other award winners coming from UniSA.


Caitlin Adams won the Female Student-Athlete of the year after winning the 10km event in the Virtual Running Championships, while UniSA's men's cycling team were awarded Team of the Year after finishing first in the online cycle series via Zwift.


Having been to so many Nationals, playing both tennis and mixed netball, Dougy said it was great that UniSport Australia organised the virtual events so students still had the chance to compete.


"I think it was so important, because it gave people the opportunity to still train and be involved in sports, be involved in things that they love,” he said.


"Especially after we weren’t able to do anything, any opportunity to get back involved and see people participating in events was just amazing.”


"It was a shame that such a unique university experience like the Nationals was missed in 2020, but those virtual events did well to fill the gap and if people have the chance to actually go to the Nationals, they definitely should take it – I don’t know anyone who’s gone to Nationals and hasn’t enjoyed it."


UniSport Australia also congratulates all the other award winners – Madeline Gough (Bond University): Most Outstanding Performance by a Student-Athlete, Melbourne University Soccer Club: Club Leadership Award and Melbourne University Strong Women Network: Most Outstanding Project/Program.


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