MacEwan Athletics boasts a plethora of competitive teams. Taking in an inexpensive volleyball match in the gym or a hockey game at the rink is one of the perks of being a member of a school community. At the helms of each team is the team captain. These unique student athletes are often seen in the gym or on the playing field, but they are rarely understood or heard about outside of athletic spheres. Four MacEwan University captains welcomely shared their stories and experiences and have offered thoughtful insights on what a strong leader is composed of. These four men and women are: Cam Gotaas, Hailey Cornelis, Nikki Reimer, and Max Vriend.
Men’s Hockey Captain
The son of former NHL player Steve Gotaas, Cam Gotaas began playing hockey from the age of four and has consistently excelled at a high level throughout his career.
“(Hockey) has always been a big part of my life and at some points it was my life,” Gottas says.
Before coming to MacEwan, Gotaas played four seasons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League for the Camrose Kodiaks. When speaking on why he was drawn to MacEwan, he attributed some of his fellow Griffins teammates such as Brett Njaa, who played with Gotaas while he was in Camrose, and Nolan Yaremchuk.
“(University hockey) itself is bigger and faster than junior,” Gotaas says. “Players typically turn to university hockey once they have aged out of junior, so a lot of the players are in their mid-20s.”
This makes the 23-year-old Gotaas a relatively young captain for university hockey, but he stresses that the strong bond the team shares allows for their leadership structure to operate smoothly.
“We have built a persona here over the last few years of trying to carry ourselves as professionals. They are all really supportive of me which makes my job easy,” he says.
Another major factor of university hockey Gotaas notes is the balancing act of trying to earn a degree as well as perform on the ice. The team does a good job at ensuring that the academic aspect is taken care of before they turn their focus to hockey, he says.
Gotaas’s parents as well as his sister, who plays hockey at Saint Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, played important roles in shaping his philosophy. The advice that Gotaas gives to young athletes is to enjoy the game as long as possible because “you could snap your fingers and it could be over.” Gotaas still thoroughly loves playing hockey and is looking to lead the Griffins to a third straight ACAC championship.
Women’s Hockey Captain
Unlike many MacEwan athletes, Nikki Reimer was not originally recruited to play hockey at MacEwan. Reimer instead began her university hockey career as a Panda at the University of Alberta. However, Reimer did not feel at home at the U of A and eventually found a successful position at MacEwan as an elite defenceman and fifth-year team captain.
“U of A wasn’t a good fit for me, (and) my sister was already at MacEwan so once I found out all of my courses could transfer over then the decision was a no brainer,” Reimer says.
Reimer’s sister, Jordyn, is a fourth-year forward on the team who has spent her entire career as a Griffin. The Reimer sisters have always been close, and they often played on the same hockey teams while growing up in Winnipeg. Despite the tight bond the two share, Nikki does her best to not let their relationship get in the way when work needs to be done.
“(Jordyn and I) can be a little blunter with each other, but our team is so close that we are all each other’s best friends. At this point, I treat Jordyn basically the same as I would treat any other of my teammates,” she says.
Reimer was named captain at the beginning of the season and had no issue adjusting to her new role. She does not attribute the team’s leadership and functional success only to herself though, and remains modest about the extent to which she can accomplish things alone.
“Hockey has taught me that you don’t need to have it all,” Reimer says. “You don’t have to be the best at everything because everyone brings something different. Hockey is not an individual thing, and neither is the captain role because every- one on the team brings something important that helps keep us on track and disciplined.”
Reimer and the rest of the team will be looking use their discipline to claim a third straight ACAC championship this season.
Women’s Volleyball Veteran
Contrary to most teams in university athletics, the women’s volleyball team at MacEwan does not assign a team captain. Although this approach to leadership is unconventional, Hailey Cornelis, a fourth-year psychology major and outside hitter for the team, preaches that their team structure has been solid and consistent over the time she has spent as a Griffin.
“All the veterans on the team take on a leadership role,” Cornelis says. “All of our fourth and fifth years are responsible for leading.”
When seen through Cornelis’s eyes, the role of captain can be seen as a fusion of the six players in their fourth or fifth year: Janna Ogle, Haley Gilfillan, Zoe Cronin, McKenna Stevenson, Lauren Holmes, and Cornelis herself. The unified nature of the team’s structure reflects strongly in Cornelis’s attitude as she consistently noted the admiration she holds for her teammates such as former Griffin Cassidy Kinsella.
Cornelis grew up in Morinville, Alberta, where she played multiple sports at Morinville Community High School. Although she enjoyed playing several different sports Cornelis was powerfully drawn to volleyball as she grew older.
“Volleyball was my passion. I really took to it, and I had some relatives who played so it feels good to keep that tradition going,” Cornelis says.
Her brother Kellan, who played in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, made a monumental impact on Cornelis.
“Seeing (Kellan) go places with his hockey was a bit of a driving force for me to work hard for a university opportunity,” she says.
This passion to succeed has not faded in Cornelis, and she underscores a good work ethic as the most important quality in a young athlete.
“It is the most important thing when it comes to anything in life. The amount of work you put in is what you are going to get out of it.”
Cornelis’ work ethic can be seen on display on game days, where she encourages students to come out and support her team.
Men’s Volleyball Captain
Growing up in Barrhead, Alberta, a small town north of Edmonton, Max Vriend was no stranger to trying new things. Vriend played basketball, hockey, ran track, and even took part in hip-hop dance classes. However, it was volleyball that gave Vriend the opportunity to both excel as an athlete and grow as a person.
“Everyone at my junior high played volleyball, so that’s kind of where it started,” Vriend says. “(Coach Poplawski) saw me play for Team Alberta when I was in Grade 11, and he was super excited about me and wanted me to come play for him here at MacEwan.”
Five years later and Vriend has become a vital asset to the volleyball team, as well as a successful student. Vriend was named one of the two team captains at the beginning of last season and continues to lead the team as a more experienced leader this year. Although Vriend is one of the team’s official captains, he feels that leadership comes from many other sources within the team.
“Every veteran is a bit of a captain. Whatever I do reflects on the whole team and whatever the team does reflects on the whole school, which is not something that I take lightly or anyone on our team takes lightly,” he says.
A combination of intelligence and effort shapes Vriend’s philosophy on success and leadership. As opposed to working hard, Vriend prefers the term “working smart.” To him, working smart means minimizing wasteful effort to maximize production.
“You can be the hardest working guy in the gym or on the ice, but if you keep making the same mistake because you’re not thinking, then not much is going to get accomplished,” Vriend says.
Vriend’s curiosity to always try new things led him to volleyball and, ultimately, to MacEwan. This is why he preaches to, “put yourself out there,” and not be afraid to fail, because the reward far outweighs the risk.
These four leaders offer a unique perspective on the life of a MacEwan student-athlete. While all of them portray sturdy leadership qualities, each one sheds light on different approaches to the role. Gotaas’s friendly confidence, Cornelis’s competitive edge, Reimer’s modest understanding, and Vriend’s versatile nature earn them the respect and faith of their teammates, and will most likely continue to bring them success throughout the remainder of their careers.