2023 has been an excellent year for Simon Fraser Red Leafs forward Michael Hennessy and he’s not finished yet.
The Vancouver Whitecaps academy alumni has had a stellar first season in the college ranks, leading the Red Leafs in scoring with 13 goals and contributing three assists in his 17 matches played, all of which he started, as SFU claimed their first Great Northwest Athletics Conference (GNAC) championship since 2018.
Amongst those numbers was an incredible five goal haul in the October 19 game at Saint Martin’s in Lacey, Washington. It was those kind of performances that unsurprisingly saw 18-year-old Hennessy named the GNAC Freshman of the Year and secure a Conference All-Star First Team nod this week, capping off a fantastic rookie season so far, with more to come.
“It’s been a great season,” Hennessy enthused to AFTN after the Red Leafs wrapped up the GNAC title on Saturday. “We won it, the boys are happy. We were undefeated, but then at the end of the season it was rocky and got a little bit shaky. But we took it home at the end of the day. We’re all boys. We all get along. We’re all tight. So it works very well.”
With a League1 BC championship already under his belt with the Whitecaps this past summer and a GNAC title to add to that, Hennessy’s attention now turns to the national stage as SFU begin their latest run at the NCAA Division 2 tournament on Thursday with a trip to Los Angeles to take on Point Loma Nazarene in their first round match-up.
Hennessy, who is studying criminology, had interest from a number off schools, both in Canada and the US, but ultimately chose SFU as his home for the next few years because he wanted to stay local. A decision that SFU head coach Clint Schneider is very glad that he made.
Schneider is fully aware of the mercurial talent he has in Hennessey, but he also knows he’s far from being the finished article. And that in itself excites him.
“Michael, because of his personality, some people look at him as a person that maybe he doesn’t care as much about his football as somebody else,” Schneider told AFTN. “He’s very chill, but that chillness is exactly what you need in front of the box. You need to be able to be calm in the moment to finish chances. Michael has that in spades. Michael is a fantastic footballer on the turn and running at players. He can finish either foot, he’s got excellent movement, he’s got excellent understanding in possession.
“Michael knows he’s got areas of growth in other areas. It’s up to us to try and get it out of him and credit to him, he’s done well defensively. A lot of people might say he’s not good defensively, he’s a liability, and I disagree with that. Michael has the ability to be an excellent defensive player, it’s whether or not he wants to do it on the day, and that’s the coach’s responsibility to try and drive that out of him. He’s a special player.”
Hennessy has taken to the college game like a duck to water.
The young striker joined the Whitecaps academy in 2019 after impressing in the BCSPL with Mountain United. Rising through the ranks up to U19 level, Hennessy had a breakout season with the ‘Caps in League1 BC this past summer, leading the team with seven goals.
Heading to Norway for a preseason trip with SFU meant Hennessy unfortunately missed August’s L1BC championship game at BC Place. His goals were a big factor in the Whitecaps getting to the final and lifting the trophy, and the experience he gained with the team set him up perfectly for the college campaign to come.
“League1 helped me a lot,” Hennessy feels. “Playing with a lot of the older guys. A lot of the uni guys came down to play for the Whitecaps, so that prepped me well for the college season and I think I played very good with them.”
Every side wants that proven goalscorer, but when you’re young the challenge is always can you still perform as you move up through the higher age groups and get into the adult game. Some players do, some don’t, and so far, Hennessy has risen to the challenge.
We’ve seen both sides of that come through the Whitecaps academy over the years, but it’s felt an age since a striker has come through the ‘Caps system that you can watch the progress of and genuinely feel that a move to MLS may be on the cards if his trajectory continues.
You never want to heap too much of that pressure on a young player, but Hennessy wants a pro career and the ‘Caps are watching
“Ultimately, that’s the main goal,” Hennessy told us. “It has to be. I keep in touch with the Whitecaps and I’ll probably go back to them at the end of the season.”
That’s the future. The present for Hennessy and the Red Leafs is SFU’s latest run at claiming what would be a historic first NCAA national title for a Canadian school.
With SFU still unable to host any postseason matches in Canada, getting to this year’s Final Four in East Ridge, Tennessee will take a lot of resilience for the grind ahead.
But its a battle Hennessy and his teammates are more than ready for and they feel they can go and make some history.
“I want to win it all,” Hennessy said. “I think we can win it all. Go all the way. So we go game by game and get it done.”