On Friday, Washington Mystics forward Emma Meesseman won Belgium’s Female Athlete of the Year Award at the country’s Sportgala (Dutch) or Gala du Sport (French). Meesseman was not present for the award (link in Dutch).
A team of Belgian journalists voted on who would win the award. Meesseman received 826 points to beat out Indiana Fever guard Julie Allemand who had 578 points, and cyclist Lotte (pronounced Loh-tuh, not Loh-teh like the DMV Korean supermarket chain) Kopecky, who had 477 points.
The love for Belgian basketball didn’t stop there. The women’s national basketball team as won the Team of the Year award, where they won 465 points. The runner up was the women’s national soccer team (aka The Belgian Red Flames, regardless of language), who had 245 points.
And finally, Philip Mestdagh, the head coach of the Belgium women’s national basketball team, won the Coach of the Year with 405 points, beating out Philippe Clement (293 points), the head coach of Club Brugge, the top professional soccer team in Belgium and Roberto Martinez (220 points), the head coach of the men’s national soccer team.
In short, Belgian women’s basketball won three awards this year in their own country. This is big because, I’m not sure when they’ve had a moment like this before!
So happy to finally be able to receive BELGIAN TEAM OF THE YEAR! On to the next @TheBelgianCats— Emma Meesseman (@EmmaMeesseman) December 18, 2020
Why did Meesseman win the award?
In short, it’s because she led the Belgian Cats (the nickname of the women’s basketball team) to their first Olympic berth last February in Oostende. The 2020 Olympic Games will be held in Tokyo, Japan in July 2021 following a one-year delay from the coronavirus pandemic.
Also, she has consistently been a finalist for this award in each of the last several years but lost, time and time again. First, it was heptathlete Nafi Thiam. And for the last two years, gymnast Nina Derwael won. I was especially upset with the result last year — and I am not Belgian!
So maybe it’s fitting that they finally had a chance to do it this year after sealing the deal for a ticket to Tokyo.
But wasn’t Meesseman’s season with Washington underwhelming?
Yes. I said Meesseman’s 2020 WNBA season campaign was a disappointment, mostly due to her lower efficiency. And she suffered a shoulder injury midseason which may have been a factor. But also, Meesseman was in the WNBA’s Florida bubble in a country where she couldn’t have friends or family nearby at any time due to the pandemic and non-essential travel bans on non-Americans in the the European Union’s Schengen Area, which Belgium is part of.
But I’m not surprised that she won the award. The Belgian journalists who determine these awards aren’t going to just look at Meesseman’s Mystics resume. They will look at what she’s doing for UMMC in the Russian PBL and EuroLeague Women. And most importantly from their perspective, they will look at what she’s doing for the Belgian Cats. She is the face of the Cats, plain and simple. And after getting them to Tokyo ... I’d say Meesseman deserves this award more than anyone!
Congratulations Emma and to all of our Belgian basketball fans who read this site daily!