Photo by Alex D'Addese

Vernon named OUA Female Athlete of the Year

By Ontario University Athletics (OUA)

KINGSTON – Ontario University Athletics (OUA) is pleased to announce the 2018-19 OUA Honour Award winners, recognizing the very best in the conference on the field of play, on the sidelines, and behind the scenes from this past season. 

This year’s award winners were honoured as part of the OUA’s annual awards banquet, and there was no shortage of top-tier talent to celebrate at the Holiday Inn Kingston-Waterfront, once again demonstrating the preeminent play and championship calibre the conference has to offer. 

Female Athlete of the Year – Theanna Vernon, Ryerson Rams

Theanna Vernon (Scarborough, Ont.), in her fifth and final season with the Rams women’s volleyball team, maintained her status as one of the most dominant middles across the country. After anchoring her team to a national title a year ago – the first ever for the Ryerson Rams Athletics Department – Vernon came back swinging to help her team continue to reach new heights on the court. 

Along the way to the team’s result as OUA and U SPORTS silver-medalists this season, Vernon helped buoy the team to the nation’s top rank; a feat that had not yet been accomplished by Ryerson to date. As one of the best in the country, it stands to reason that Vernon and company would see the best effort from teams game in and game out, but that didn’t stop the senior from putting up leading numbers at the net.

In both the OUA and U SPORTS, Vernon ranked first in blocks per set (1.56) and hitting percentage (.410). At the provincial level, Vernon’s marks put her more than 0.5 blocks ahead of the next highest-ranked player and eclipsed her closest competitor in hitting percentage by nearly 0.70. Highlighting this nation-leading line was a flawless weekend in January that saw her make zero attack errors in back-to-back matches. In those two matches, she finished with 40 points, 29 kills, and a 0.604 hitting percentage, to go along with 11 blocks; cementing her status as a true all-star.

To cap off her first team all-star campaign, which also included a fourth-ranked conference average in points per set (4.3) and 12th-ranked mark of 2.92 kills per set, Vernon was named the OUA East Division Player of the Year, as well as a first team All-Canadian. Sprinkled in to this award-winning campaign, the now two-time U SPORTS Athlete of the Year finalist also became Ryerson’s all-time leader in career points, blocks, hitting percentage, and service aces.

Male Athletes of the Year – Jace Kotsopoulos, Guelph Gryphons; Kadre Gray, Laurentian Voyageurs

Jace Kotsopoulos (Burlington, Ont.) has been one of the most dynamic and potent players to ever step onto the pitch for the Gryphons men’s soccer program, and after adding to his already impressive university resume this season, finds himself receiving a top conference honour. 

The fourth-year striker, who has been finding the back of the net throughout his now four years with Guelph, wasn’t only able to come back strong from a season-ending injury a year ago, but did so in a manner that put his name in the Gryphons record books. On September 9, the Burlington native found himself just one goal shy of the school’s all-time goal-scoring record, and after the dust settled on the match with McMaster, a two-goal output from the scintillating striker set him atop the pack with 50 career tallies; passing Robbie Murphy for the program honour. That match was just one of the memorable outings for Kotsopoulos during the month, as his 11 goals in seven matches parlayed him to U SPORTS Athlete of the Month recognition. 

The fourth-year player led the OUA in scoring during his sophomore campaign and earned second team All-Canadian honours in his third season – despite playing in just 10 games – but the offensively-gifted senior may have brought his best performance to 2018. Kotsopoulos was named the OUA West Division Most Valuable Player and went on to become just the second Gryphon ever to claim the Joe Johnson Memorial Trophy as the U SPORTS Player of the Year. 

Certainly, his 15 tallies made an impact on the scoreboard, as his total paced the OUA and ranked second in the country this season, but beyond the numbers, Kotsopoulos also consistently showcased a well-rounded ability that has been on display since his Gryphon career began.

Just like Kotsopoulos, the co-winner of the top male honour is no stranger to success, or even to this particular honour. Kadre Gray (Toronto, Ont.), the reigning OUA and U SPORTS Male Athlete of the Year, hit the hardwood with another impressive campaign in his third go-around, once again becoming the focal point for the Laurentian Voyageurs men’s basketball team and a force throughout U SPORTS hoops. 

To learn more about the decorated third-year guard’s résumé, his name can be found in and around the top of several key statistical categories, both in the province and the country as a whole. Gray’s 31.0 points per game paced the nation, even eclipsing his lofty totals from a year ago by almost seven points. He also ranked first in both field goals made per game (10.3) and free throws made (160), proving that he can make an impact from just about anywhere on the floor. He isn’t just a talented scorer; however, as the former OUA and U SPORTS Rookie of the Year also ranked second in assists with 6.2 per contest and pulled down 7.4 rebounds per game to put him in the top-15 in the conference.

With a well-rounded stat line like this, it comes as no surprise that Gray also picked up six double-doubles on the year, as well as one triple double (32 PTS, 11 REB, 13 AST), which came in a dominant opening weekend that saw him average 40 points, 10 boards, and nine assists in his return from a season-ending foot injury the year prior. While his season got off to a sizzling start, Gray’s most impactful performance may have come later in the season when his Voyageurs took the court against the then top-ranked Ryerson Rams. Gray’s 45-point outburst, which included 31 in Laurentian’s second-half surge, helped sink the country’s top seed and make a big statement heading into the postseason.

Beyond his efforts on the university scene, the first team OUA all-star and U SPORTS All-Canadian was also recognized by Canada Basketball on multiple occasions. After his otherworldly effort against the Rams, coupled with another productive performance against Toronto, Gray was named the Canada Basketball Male Player of the Week. Earlier in the season, meanwhile, Gray’s services were called into action when he joined the Senior Men’s National Team in their FIBA World Cup Qualifiers against Venezuela and Brazil; making him the only active U SPORTS player to suit up for Canada in this competition.

Female Teams of the Year – Guelph Gryphons, Hockey; McMaster Marauders, Basketball

Not only was one of the most impressive individual performances accomplished at the University of Guelph, but one of the best group efforts as well. The Guelph Gryphons women’s hockey team, who has earned a share of this year’s Female Team of the Year award, made history in 2018-19 by earning the program’s first national title.

The Gryphs finished first in the conference after a strong regular season, collecting 18 wins and 55 points (18-3-3). Somehow, the team found another gear in the postseason, going on an undefeated quest for the McCaw Cup; their third provincial title in the last four years. And despite their consistent conference success, which was largely sparked this year by the clutch play of McCaw Cup MVP Claire Merrick (Oakville, Ont.) and her eight postseason goals, they were determined to capture their first taste of victory on the national stage this time around. 

Like they did throughout their quest for the McCaw Cup, the OUA’s top seed battled at both ends of the ice to impose their will against the rest of the U SPORTS field, conquering several national powerhouses along the way. They defeated the defending U SPORTS champions, Manitoba, in the quarterfinals; knocked off the two-time champion Montréal Carabins in the semifinals; and capped off their first national title by shutting out the four-time champions from McGill in the gold medal game (1-0). Not only did the team as a whole thrive, but three players – Merrick, Valerie Lamenta (Montréal, Que.), and Mallory Young (Caistor Centre, Ont.) – captured U SPORTS Championship all-star accolades as well.

There was seemingly no stopping the Gryphons this season and they can thank a talented, veteran cast for their leading ways game in and game out. Guelph rolled out all-stars from the crease out. In net, fifth-year goalie Lamenta protected the blue paint in pristine fashion this season. The OUA Goaltender of the Year helped her side give up the fewest goals in the league (34), while posting stingy individual marks of a 1.24 GAA and .952 SV% along the way. Joining Lamenta as a first team all-star was captain Kaitlin Lowy (Toronto, Ont.), who led the team with 13 goals and 25 points, buoying the team’s top-ranked 79 goals scored. Laura Crowdis (Oakville, Ont.) represented Guelph as an all-star blue-liner, claiming a spot on the second team after her shut-down campaign. 

Like their fellow award winners, the McMaster Marauders women’s basketball team found themselves at the pinnacle of this year’s talent pool; translating their cohesive, all-around skill into a monumental achievement for the program. Led by a returning cast that guided the Marauders to the Critelli Cup final and U SPORTS Final 8 a season prior, McMaster built on their experience to win its fifth conference title and pave the way to a historic run at the national tournament. 

Throughout the year, Mac found themselves consistently ranked in the U SPORTS Top-10, including nine weeks at their peak No. 3 rank, demonstrating their will to win right from the season’s opening tip. The Marauders matched a program-record 21 wins, thanks in large part to a top-ranked 79.3 points per game and a fourth-best 59.0 points per game allowed during the year, and turned those marks into the West Division’s top seed. A seven-game winning streak to wrap up the year helped them secure their eighth straight playoff berth, but they weren’t done there.

Despite the high-end competition standing in their way en route to their second straight trip to the Critelli Cup final, including the then top-ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees against whom they battled in that championship affair, the Hamilton squad prevailed at every turn; a trend that continued into the national championship, in which the team entered as the No. 2 seed. McMaster took down Concordia and Saskatchewan to advance to their first ever national final and went on to defeat the Laval Rouge et Or, 70-58, to bring the Bronze Baby back to Hamilton for the first time.  

Among those who helped buoy the team’s lofty 2018-19 success were OUA first team all-stars Hilary Hanaka (Hamilton, Ont.) and Linnaea Harper (Newmarket, Ont.), along with second-teamer Sarah Gates (Newmarket, Ont.), who ranked second in conference scoring (17.1 PPG). While Gates shone bright in her sophomore year, it was the pair of fifth-year players that proved pivotal in their final seasons, as Hanaka also took home second team All-Canadian honours and Harper was named U SPORTS Tournament MVP. Christina Buttenham (Hamilton, Ont.) also stepped up in a big way during their title run to claim a spot on the championship all-star team.

Male Team of the Year – Carleton Ravens, Basketball

The Marauders weren’t the only success story from the hardwood; however, as this year’s OUA Male Team of the Year found themselves in familiar territory this season among the country’s basketball elite. The Carleton Ravens have long been setting the standard for men’s basketball across Canada and this year proved no different, as the black birds once again topped the nation. 

The Ravens amassed 23 wins on the year compared to just one loss and were able to avenge their lone defeat by returning the favour against the Ryerson Rams for a second straight year in the Wilson Cup final. With a provincial title in tow, Carleton then turned their attention to the national scene, hoping to better their bronze medal results from the year prior. The team was firing on all cylinders en route to their championship appearance, and even when facing off against the reigning champion Calgary Dinos, were able to prevail by a 34-point margin to claim their 14th title in the program’s illustrious history. 

Helping the Ravens all season to pick up leading marks in both offence (91.3 PPG) and defence (59.3 PPG) was a number of provincial and national award winners. Eddie Ekiyor (Ottawa, Ont.) earned an OUA first team all-star nod, while TJ Lall (Cambridge, Ont.) and Munis Tutu (Windsor, Ont.) secured spots on the second and third team, respectively. Ekiyor, who led the balanced Ravens attack in both scoring (13.9 PPG) and rebounding (6.2) this season and anchored the team’s Final 8 run with an MVP nod, also earned first team All-Canadian honours, while Marcus Anderson (Brampton, Ont.) picked up his second consecutive OUA and U SPORTS Defensive Player of the Year awards for the national champs. 

Male Coach of the Year – Dave Smart, Carleton Ravens

Leading these Ravens to their 14th national title was once again Dave Smart, who added yet another accolade to his lengthy coaching resume with the championship effort. Smart managed his team masterfully throughout the year, en route to a 22-win campaign during the regular season and a point-differential north of +800. 

Smart built on his already leading winning percentage against U SPORTS competition – now sitting at an unparalleled .924 – and did so with a team that once again paced the nation on both ends of the court. The veteran bench boss utilized the team’s impressive depth all season long, with no player averaging more than 25 minutes per game and all but two checking in with over 10 minutes of court time on average. Smart pulled all the right strings this season, and with all of the talent at his disposal and the culture that he has helped establish over the past 19 seasons with the black birds, Smart was able to capture his 11th Wilson Cup championship, 13th national title, and 10th U SPORTS Coach of the Year honour as the Carleton Ravens men’s basketball coach.

After the season, the long-time Ravens coach accepted a new role with Carleton as the Director, Basketball Operations, and will be tasked with the continued development of the men’s and women’s programs moving forward. He’ll provide operational support, mentorship, and technical leadership; all contributions that have already made him one of the best university basketball coaches of all time.

Female Coach of the Year – Rachel Flanagan, Guelph Gryphons

Like her male counterpart in this award, Rachel Flanagan has seen plenty of success behind the bench; efforts that also sparked peak results this year when she led her co-female team of the year to their first national title. 

Winner of five OUA Women’s Hockey Coach of the Year awards over the last seven years, Flanagan has proven to be a steady presence for one of the province’s powerhouse programs, and this year was no exception. In 2018-19, her guidance sparked the conference’s best offensive (3.29 goals per game) and defensive (1.37 goals-against per game) marks, secured the OUA’s top regular season seed, and made the team a staple in the U SPORTS Top-10, while seeing a trio of players earn OUA all-star honours. But as impressive as Flanagan and company were in the regular season, her influence didn’t stop there.

It’s one thing to get a team to navigate the regular season grind in top form – something Flanagan did throughout the 24-game schedule wherein only three times did the Gryphons fail to secure at least a point – but to then find ways to take it up a notch in the pressure-filled postseason against the best of the best takes a real knack for coaching. And even though Flanagan has guided the Gryphons to new heights over the 12 seasons behind the bench, the 2018-19 season went above and beyond to help her team reach the pinnacle of university athletics.

John McManus Award – Rick Osborne, Laurier Golden Hawks

From decorated coaches this season to one that capped off his career a year ago, this year’s John McManus Award, recognizing a retired OUA coach who exemplifies the highest ideals and qualities of sportsmanship and service while engaged in coaching in university sport, goes to Laurier’s Rick Osborne.

Since joining the Golden Hawks women’s hockey program as their head coach midway through the 2003-04 season, Osborne went on to enjoy one of Laurier’s finest coaching careers in any sport. He captured nine OUA championships and one national title during his tenure; a span that featured seven consecutive conference championships between 2004 and 2010. During his impressive stretch, he accumulated 412 wins across all regular season, playoff, and non-conference action, which ranks him fourth all-time on the U SPORTS career coaching wins list for women’s hockey.

Beyond the win column, Osborne also oversaw the recruitment and development of some of the best student-athletes to ever don the purple and gold, including five of the top seven scorers in program history. He also coached one of the top goaltenders to ever hit the university ice – Liz Knox – who is the only Laurier player to earn national Player of the Year recognition. In total, the Hawks saw a student-athlete earn provincial all-star recognition 42 times during Osborne’s tenure, along with 11 All-Canadians. Off the ice, Osborne’s impact was also evident, as he had 37 players named Academic All-Canadians over the course of his coaching career. 

The accolades go on and on for the talented coach, but with a career regular season win percentage of .774, a career goal-differential of +685, and five OUA Coach of the Year honours, it is clear that Osborne set a lofty bar behind the bench during his time with the Laurier Golden Hawks women’s hockey team.

J.P. Loosemore Award – Chuck Mathies, Western Mustangs

It is clear that individuals can make a difference on the field and behind the bench, but others have worked behind the scenes to impact their program and the university sport landscape overall. One such individual is Chuck Mathies, who has been a key figure for multiple institutions within the OUA for nearly 40 years en route to his 2018-19 J.P. Loosemore Award selection. 

After a three-year stint with Conestoga College, Mathies joined Ryerson in 1982 and remained with the Rams for 20 years. During his time with Ryerson, wherein he served as Instructional and Varsity Coordinator before moving to the Assistant Athletic Director role, Mathies was OUA Convenor for several sports; created schedules for hockey, soccer, and rugby; was an OUA Sport Committee member; and later moved to the position of Chair. Before the OWIAA merged with the OUAA, meanwhile, Mathies also served as Vice President, Sport for the OWIAA – the first male to hold this role.

In 2003, Mathies headed to London to join the Western Mustangs in the role of Manager of Interuniversity Athletics – now Associate Director, Interuniversity Athletics – and continues to be involved with several aspects of the OUA landscape. Beyond his continued involvement with the Sport Committee and his work as host convenor for multiple national championships, Mathies has played a leading role in eligibility, taking on the roles of OUA Eligibility Officer and U SPORTS Eligibility Committee member for the past eight years. Rounding out his efforts have been his contributions to facility development at Western University, including the Western Student Recreation Centre (WSRC), the turf project, the recent WSRC expansion, and currently the Alumni Hall revitalization for varsity sports. 

When celebrating major contributions to the development and growth of university athletics, the many hats that Mathies has worn and the leading positions he has held across multiple institutions are certainly celebratory achievements.

Media Award of Distinction – Rob Massey

While several individuals have helped make the university athletics scene thrive before our eyes, there are also those who have dedicated their efforts to placing a spotlight on these impeccable efforts, including this year’s OUA Media Award of Distinction winner, Rob Massey.

Massey has been a consistent contributor to the development and growth of university sport across the country, spending over 30 years as a sports reporter. Despite the Guelph Mercury, for which Massey served as both a writer and then sports editor, closing down, Massey’s passion for sport and the community, especially in the university realm with the Guelph Gryphons, kept his voice heard in the form of his own blog – Guelph Sports Journal.

Most recently, Massey covered the Gryphons women’s hockey team during their road to their national championship, but his contributions have been a mainstay in a variety of pieces over the past few decades. Covering everything from football, basketball, and hockey to swimming, cross country, and track and field, Massey has offered up previews, recaps, student-athlete features, and much more to spotlight not only the Gryphons, but university sport in general. 

The complete list of 2018-19 OUA Honour Award winners is below:

Female Athlete of the Year – Theanna Vernon, Ryerson
Male Athletes of the Year – Jace Kotsopoulos, Guelph; Kadre Gray, Laurentian
Female Teams of the Year – McMaster Marauders, Basketball; Guelph Gryphons, Hockey
Male Team of the Year – Carleton Ravens, Basketball
Female Coach of the Year – Rachel Flanagan, Guelph
Male Coach of the Year – Dave Smart, Carleton
J.P. Loosemore Award – Chuck Mathies, Western
John McManus Award – Rick Osborne, Laurier
Media Award of Distinction – Rob Massey

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