Multi-sport athlete from Sanford takes top female honours
It was a 48-hour whirlwind for Gwen Bestland.
The 17-year-old graduated from Sanford Collegiate on Monday and thought she was going for lunch with her parents to celebrate on Wednesday.
That was until they made a pit stop at downtown’s Sport Manitoba, where a host of other secondary-school athletes and their families from across the province were gathered for the 2022 Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association (MHSAA) Athlete of the Year ceremony.
Bestland, surprised at the banquet by her hockey coach and two teammates, was a nominee for the award from the “AAA” girls category but had been kept in the dark about her nomination by her family and friends.
Moments later, the Sanford teen accepted the trophy as winner of the MHSAA Female Athlete of the Year.
“I was really confused. I felt underprepared,” Bestland said while laughing.
Bestland’s resume speaks for itself.
A standout in seven sports, she captained the Sanford Sabres’ hockey team en route to a Winnipeg Women’s High School Hockey League championship and all-star honours, won at provincials for varsity girls A-AAA cross country, was a tournament all-star in basketball and aggregate champion in Zone 4 in badminton.
All while holding a 95 per cent academic average.
She was also named varsity girls Athlete of the Year at Sanford Collegiate and a bronze medal Scholar Athlete Award winner.
Despite a plethora of personal awards now stacking her trophy case, Bestland said her fondest memory this year came on the ice with her teammates, winning the WWHSHL championship.
“That was a really big deal because we had never won that before,” the centre said. “All the girls on my team were fantastic and hard working.”
The Sabres hockey team returned just four players this season, all in grade 12, while the remainder of the team was in grade nine, Bestland explained.
“It was kind of a weird dynamic on the team but everyone worked really hard.”
Bestland wore a grin while thinking about what has kept her coming back to sports her whole life, especially hockey, which she’s played since she was five.
“The competitiveness, for sure. I love competition and also teammates. I’m a team sport player, so the team dynamic is something that keeps me coming back.”
Sports will to continue be a big part of Bestland’s life as she prepares for her next chapter.
The new graduate is off to Alberta in the fall to pursue a bachelor of nursing degree and is adamant about finding a rec league to keep her involved in sport.
“My year, I’m just so glad it happened, and that I got to play my sports again. It’s such a big part of my life. It was super busy, but I love it.”
This year’s MHSAA Athlete of the Year Award ceremony served as a monumental moment for high school sports in Manitoba.
Wednesday’s ceremony ended a two-year hiatus for the event, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, that kept the awards in storage while secondary school sports were cancelled.
Chad Falk, executive director for MHSAA said presenting the awards again was “an incredible moment.”
“It was fantastic to get back. This is one of my favourite events of the year,” he said.
“All the different sports they play, their accomplishments are through the roof, their academic averages are sky-high. They’re all incredible students, incredible athletes and it was just really great to have them all back here in person again.”
Sam Ludwig, like Bestland, was already having a week worth celebrating prior to Wednesday’s event.
Ludwig graduated from Westgate Mennonite Collegiate Tuesday afternoon.
Nearly 24 hours later, he was announced as the winner of the high school Male Athlete of the Year.
“I wasn’t really sure if I was going to win because I heard all the other bits about the other (nominees) and they all excelled in a lot of different sports. To win is pretty awesome. I’m pretty lucky.”
A four-sport athlete, Ludwig saw success in school and club sports this year, winning bronze at provincials in cross country, a national championship as a member of the Junior Bisons volleyball club and was ranked as the top male student-athlete for volleyball in Manitoba.
He maintained a 93 per cent academic average in the process.
But the 17-year-old’s most memorable moment came in the MHSAA AAAA provincial championship, when his school capped off an undefeated season, finishing 31-0. It was just the second time Westgate Mennonite Collegiate had won a AAAA provincial championship in volleyball.
“I mean, that was just awesome. We only had nine players on our team and you need seven guys to play games, so it was just crazy. Awesome season.”
Ludwig said he will focus on volleyball in the future, a sport he’s played since he was 13.
The son of two national-level volleyball players, his dad, Lupo, represented Germany and his mom Canada at the heights of their respective careers.
A coach’s son through and through, Ludwig will be coached by his dad, for the first time in his life, next year at the U of M.
Ludwig said he aspires to play professional volleyball after university and eventually represent Canada like his mom once did.
The teen said the goal in his senior year of high school was to take advantage of his last year and play as much as he could.
“The past year, it’s probably been the best year of my life.”