Toronto / Calgary (via U SPORTS) – U SPORTS proudly announced Thursday the eight finalists for the 2020 Lieutenant Governor Athletic Awards Presented by Makadiff SPORTS, honouring the Athletes of the Year for the 2019-20 season.
The 2020 nominees for U SPORTS Male Athlete of the Year are hockey players Taran Kozun from the Saskatchewan Huskies and David Thomson of the Toronto Varsity Blues, Montreal Carabins soccer player Aboubacar Sissoko, and Dalhousie Tigers basketball player Keevan Veinot.
On the women’s side, the finalists for the U SPORTS Female Athlete of the Year are Manitoba Bisons swimmer Kelsey Wog, Toronto Varsity Blues cross country runner and track and field athlete Lucia Stafford, Laval Rouge et Or rugby player Fabiola Forteza and UPEI Panthers basketball player Jenna Mae Ellsworth.
Each of the eight nominees have been chosen to represent their respective conferences - Canada West (CW), Ontario University Athletics (OUA), Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) and Atlantic University Sport (AUS) – as Athletes of the Year or national finalists.
Celebrating their 28th year, the awards are championed once again by His Honour Doug Mitchell and Her Honour, the Honourable Lois Mitchell, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta.
The winners will be determined by a combined vote of the Canadian Athletic Foundation – a not-for-profit board, chaired by His Honour Doug Mitchell – and the public on USPORTS.ca. Voting opens on June 9 and closes on June 20, with results announced on June 25 at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT.
Leading up to the announcement, U SPORTS is set to run a national campaign, including special features and the second annual leadership development seminar in virtual format.
Profiles of each nominee are available below. For the all-time Lieutenant Governor Athletic Award nominees and winners, click here.
2019-20 NOMINEES: U SPORTS LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR ATHLETIC AWARDS PRESENTED BY MAKADIFF SPORTS
ONTARIO UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS (OUA)
Toronto Varsity Blues
Psychology / Criminology
The Toronto Varsity Blues are the most prolific hockey program in OUA history and they came back to prominence this past season, thanks in part to the talented David Thomson.
The second-year forward and psychology/criminology major had an incredible season on the ice, lifting the Blues to their best conference finish in almost 40 years after topping the OUA’s West division. Thomson gave opponents fits, finishing second in conference scoring with 40 points (17 goals, good for third in the OUA, with 23 assists, fifth in the league). He topped his team in each of those categories and showed a particularly special touch on the power play, scoring an OUA-best seven goals with the man advantage.
Thomson’s scoring, which include multi-point efforts in 12 games, was critical to Toronto’s success. They went 21-5-2 during the regular season to match the program’s best-ever win total, led the league with 125 goals, produced an incredible 14-game win streak, and reached as high as No. 3 in the U SPORTS rankings. Those seven power-play goals buoyed a unit that led the entire country with a 30.8 per cent success rate. And by the end of the season, Thomson began to rack up the accolades that he had earned with his stellar play. He was named the OUA West Most Valuable Player, became the first Varsity Blues player to earn First Team All-Canadian honours since the 1992-93 season, and is also the first OUA Male Athlete of the Year from U of T since Kevin Hamlin won the award in 1985-86. In addition, Thomson is the first men’s Toronto hockey nominee for the Lieutenant Governor Athletic Awards since its founding in 1993, and hopes to become the Varsity Blues’ fifth recipient, following Olympian swimmer and former world record holder Kylie Masse in 2016.
Thomson had a similar influence on his Canadian teammates when he donned the red and white at the 2019 FISU Winter Universiade in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. He scored four goals and added two assists at the tournament, helping Canada to a bronze medal.
“We have so many great athletes around the OUA that it truly is an honour to be chosen as a nominee for the Lieutenant Governor Athletic Award,” said Thomson. “I also wanted to thank everybody involved with the Varsity Blues, right from the athletic department down to my teammates and coaches. They made this year unforgettable and I’m truly grateful for that. Finally, I just wanted to thank my family for all the support they’ve shown me over my career. It’s really brought me to where I am today in my life and I’m very thankful.”
Toronto Varsity Blues
Cross Country / Track & Field, Middle Distance
It can be tough to follow in the footsteps of successful family members, but Lucia Stafford has earned her place among the greats of the Toronto Varsity Blues track and field program.
Like her sister Gabriela, her father James, and aunt Sara Gardner, Stafford has proudly worn the Blues’ colours, as well as the red and white for Canada. It was on international duty at the 2019 FISU Universiade in Naples, Italy last summer where Stafford offered a glimpse of what lay ahead during the OUA and U SPORTS seasons. The fourth-year engineering student had fifth-place finishes in the 1500m race and 4x400m relay against the best collegiate athletes in the world – and she brought that momentum home with her.
Stafford had some great results during both the cross country and track and field seasons, including producing two Canadian U23 records in BU’s Bruce Lehande Scarlet & White Invitational (1500m) and the David Hemery Valentine Invitational (1000m). Like all of the greats, she saved her best for championship season. Stafford stood out amongst all Canadian cross country runners, winning individual gold in both the OUA and U SPORTS Championships by six and 14 seconds, respectively, en route to earning MVP and All-Star honours at both levels. She also excelled on the track, sweeping gold in the U SPORTS 1000m and 1500m events, adding a silver as part of Toronto’s 4x800m relay team, and a bronze with the 4x400m quartet.
Stafford hopes to become only the second female cross country and track winner of national Athlete of the Year honours since Linda Thyer, McGill - 1995). In doing so, she would be the Varsity Blues’ fifth overall recipient, following Olympian swimmer and former world record holder Kylie Masse – who won the award in 2016.
These are incredible accomplishments for any athlete, but they are that much more inspiring given that Stafford suffers from Graves Disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes an overactive thyroid. It hasn’t stopped her from becoming a champion runner, as well as a pillar of the community. Stafford puts the same relentless effort into volunteering with Light the Night (a cancer fundraiser), serving breakfast at the Lawyers Feed the Hungry event, and her work with Free the Children, where she organizes food and toy drives.
“I’m so incredibly honoured and grateful,” Stafford said. “The 2019-20 season was an amazing year for so many outstanding athletes in all sports. I feel very lucky that I was able to go out there and compete at my best, have a blast, and do what I love, both on the track and on the course. None of that would have been possible without the amazing support system behind me – my incredible coaches, who always encourage me to be my best on and off the track, my amazing teammates, who are always inspiring and are like my family, and the amazing resources at U of T.”
CANADA WEST (CW)
Arts & Science
It was another dominant season for Saskatchewan Huskie Taran Kozun, who was a dual award winner, claiming the nation’s Player and Goalie of the Year awards.
Kozun is the first player in U SPORTS history to claim both awards in the same season, since the goaltending honour was introduced in 2009-10. It also marks his second straight Goaltender of the Year award, and he is just the second Huskie to win Player of the Year, joining 2002 winner Jon Barkman. In addition, Kozun is a two-time First Team All-Canadian and Canada West First Team All-Star.
The former Seattle Thunderbird led the conference in every major goaltending category, posting a 1.87 goals-against average, .931 save percentage, five shutouts, and 17 wins. Along with those sparkling numbers, the third-year arts and sciences major from Nipawin, Sask., also became just the second goalie in CW history to score when he found the net in January against the Calgary Dinos.
"He was goalie of the year in the WHL before he came to us (in 2015) and all he has done is continue to get better," said Huskies head coach Dave Adolph. "With the hard work he puts in it's not surprising to me that he would be nominated for such a prestigious award."
Thanks in large part to Kozun's stellar season, the Huskies finished second in the conference standings, as the program's all-time leader in shutouts (11) posted a third consecutive season with a save percentage north of .920.
Prior to suiting up for the Huskies, Kozun stood between the pipes for the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies in the 2015-16 season following the conclusion of his junior career.
Kozun is the sixth Huskie to be named a finalist for the Lieutenant Governor Athletic Awards and first men’s hockey player Derek Hulak in 2014. He will look become the program’s second winner following volleyball player Adam Ens (2004).
Swimming, Breastroke Specialist
Agricultural & Food Sciences
By the time Kelsey Wog's record-setting career at the University of Manitoba is complete, the hometown product's athletic résumé will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest in school history.
The fourth-year women's swimmer continued to shine in the pool this season, winning four national gold medals (50m, 100m, 200m breaststroke & 200m individual medley), with her 200m breaststroke and 200m IM golds coming in U SPORTS record fashion. Wog’s 2:22.42 in the 200 breast is the fastest time in the world in 2020, while her 100m breaststroke time of 1.06.44 was among the fastest in the last calendar year.
Thanks to her stellar national championship, Wog was named the U SPORTS Female Swimmer of the Year, following four-time winner, former world record holder and 2016 Canadian Olympian Kylie Masse – who captured the Lieutenant Governor Athletic Award two months before competing in Rio.
“Kelsey’s success comes from simple approach to improvement,” said Bisons head coach Vlastik Cerny. “She sets goals, works hard to improve every day and competes. When she reaches her goal, she sets a new one and repeats the process again. But one of her biggest strengths as a competitor is her resilience in times of struggle. She looks at stumbles as opportunities to improve which ultimately make her a champion.”
Speaking of the Olympics, those are a likely next step for Wog, who had her sights squarely set on the Canadian Olympic Trials prior to their cancellation due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Heading into 2021, her sights remain set on qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, which are now scheduled for July of next year.
Internationally, Wog won a silver medal in the 200m breastroke at the 2016 FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) held in Windsor, Ont. She has also represented Canada at the 2019 FINA World Championships, the 2018 Pan Pacific and 2016 Junior Pan Pacific Championships, and the 2017 FISU Summer Universiade.
Prior to dominating at the U SPORTS Championships, Wog earned four gold medals (50m, 100m & 200m breastroke,100m freestyle, and a relay bronze (4x100m medley) at the CW Championships in November of last year, with two of her golds coming in CW record times.
In addition, Wog competed last fall for the Cali Condors in the inaugural season of the International Swimming League (ISL), a new professional circuit featuring over 100 Olympians spread across eight teams. Wog touched the wall in second in the 200m breastroke (2:18.06) at the ISLGrande Finale in Las Vegas, helping the Condors claim second overall.
Wog is set to compete for the new Toronto Titans franchise in the next ISL season, after signing with the expansion club this spring.
She is the sixth Bison to be nominated for U SPORTS Athlete of the Year, and first since Louise Wlock in 1998. Manitoba’s only winner is Terri-Lee Johannesson in 1997.
RÉSEAU DU SPORT ÉTUDIANT DU QUÉBEC (RSEQ)
Arts and Sciences
After helping the program achieve its first national title in school history in 2018, Carabins men’s soccer star Aboubacar Sissoko picked up right where he left off.
The defensive midfielder and captain was effective at both ends of the pitch this season, scoring one goal and adding three assists, leading the team to a 9-1-2 campaign, and its third straight RSEQ title. To cap off his outstanding season, Sissoko was named RSEQ and U SPORTS Player of the Year.
Then at the U SPORTS Championship, Montreal nearly earned to back-to-back national banners on their home field. Following Nike Player of the Match honours in Montreal’s 2-0 quarterfinal win, Sissoko and the Carabins defeated the Cape Breton Capers in the semifinals – the third straight encounter between the two sides after a pair of consecutive championship final contests – before capturing the U SPORTS silver medal.
"Aboubacar is simply an extraordinary player and man. On the field, it's amazing the number of times he manages to get us out of difficult situations without us noticing, because of his intensity,” said Montreal head coach Pat Raimondo. “He is always in the right place and always makes the right decisions. Despite his great talent, he is very humble. He knows what he has to do to win and he does not hesitate to shine the light on others for the good of the team. "
Sissoko’s performance earned him a free agent contract with the Canadian Premier League’s HFX Wanderers, a year after being initially selected as a development player by Hamilton’s Forge FC in the inaugural CPL-U SPORTS Draft. The arts and sciences major was also invited to Vancouver Whitecaps Training camp ahead of the Major League Soccer (MLS) season. Internationally, Sissoko capped twice during his junior career for the Mali national under-20 team.
In five seasons with the Carabins, Sissoko was selected twice as both an RSEQ First Team and Second Team All-Star. He also earned a spot on the U SPORTS Championship All-Star Team in 2017.
Sissoko is the second Montreal nominee for U SPORTS Athlete of the Year in three seasons, and eighth overall, after women’s volleyball star and Canadian national team member Marie-Alex Bélanger took home the Lieutenant Governor Athletic Award in 2018. He is the first men’s soccer player to be nominated from Université de Montreal, following former Carabins women’s soccer stars Véronique Maranda (2010) and Véronique Laverdière (2011).
Laval Rouge et Or
Rugby, Back Row
Masters in Nutrition
A back row on Université Laval women’s rugby team, Fabiola Forteza is the third Rouge et Or student-athlete in four years to become a finalist for the Lieutenant Governor Athletic Awards, after Sarah-Jane Marois (basketball) last year and the 2017 winner, Arielle Roy-Petitclerc (soccer). She could become the fourth Laval representative to win top honors, after Petitclerc, Mathieu Betts (football) in 2019 and Marylène Laplante (volleyball) in 2006. Fabiola Forteza is also the first RSEQ rugby player to carve herself a place among the finalists for this prestigious award.
In 2019, Forteza became the first member in the history of the Rouge et Or to be named U SPORTS Player of the Year. The Masters in Nutrition student had also received the same honor in the RSEQ at the end of the 2016 season.
This season, Forteza had three tries and was chosen Laval player of the match once in the regular season, and again in the national championship final – leading the Rouge et Or to their first U SPORTS title in program history. She was also named to the Championship all-star team.
Her natural talent also caught the attention of Rugby Canada’s national team, first with the development training program (Las Vegas Sevens Invitational, Canada’s Maple Leafs to England) and then with the senior squad (Super Series, November Series).
"She’s very intelligent. Fabiola has been extremely efficient both on offence and defence. She is always ultra efficient with the ball in hand," said Laval head coach Kévin Rouet. "She is probably my player who has touched the ball most often and crossed the most ground this season. Defensively, she misses very few tackles. Moreover, in her fifth year, she has taken a lot of leadership on the team.”
Forteza doesn’t hesitate to attribute that leadership to the people around her.
“Kévin is an exceptional coach. He was able to integrate a winning mindset into the whole team and led us to act accordingly. We also had a very good captain who’s always positive in Justine Pelletier, and excellent leaders like Anne-Charlotte Beaulieu and Andréanne Valois. The collective group spirit was very strong this season."
The Montreal native believes her experience has served her well this year after missing the entire previous season due to mononucleosis.
"Basically, it was my sixth year with the team! I stayed close to the Rouge et Or, even though I was away from the field. And this year, unlike the previous ones where we experienced disappointments, we had no doubts that we could go all the way. We were all on the same page.
“To become the first student-athlete in rugby to win this honour would be extraordinary, in terms of visibility for my sport. I am proud to be the first member of the Rouge et Or and the RSEQ to aspire to such recognition. "
ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY SPORT (AUS)
Port Williams, N.S.
Keevan Veinot, a third-year guard with the U SPORTS silver medallist Dalhousie Tigers, was honoured as both a U SPORTS First Team All-Canadian and the AUS most valuable player this season.
Veinot is the first-ever Dalhousie player to earn conference MVP honours in men's basketball.
He was also named an AUS first team all-star for the first time in his career this season. He was named to the AUS all-rookie team in his freshman season in 2017-18.
This season, the commerce student from Port Williams, N.S. led the Tigers to a 19-1 regular season record and a first-place finish in the AUS standings.
Veinot led the conference in steals, averaging 2.3 per game, and in assists, averaging 5.5 per game.
He led Dalhousie in both points per game (15.6) and rebounds per game (5.2).
At the 2020 Subway AUS Basketball Championship, he was named Subway Player of the Game in the championship final as the Tigers claimed their fifth conference title in six seasons (Veinot’s second). He was named an AUS tournament all-star.
On the national stage, Veinot led the Tigers to U SPORTS silver – marking Dalhousie’s best performance in program history. Veinot was named the Player of the Game in the Tigers’ quarterfinal win and earned a place on the championship all-star team.
He is the second straight Tiger and 13th overall to be nominated for the national award after women’s volleyball star Courtney Baker last season. Veinot will looking to become Dalhousie second-ever winner, following track and field’s Adrienne Power in 2005.
Jenna Mae Ellsworth
Jenna Mae Ellsworth, a five-foot-10 guard with the U SPORTS bronze medallist UPEI Panthers, was the recipient of the 2019-20 Nann Copp Award as U SPORTS Player of the Year.
With the honour, Ellsworth became the final member of the Top 100 players of the century, in celebration of the centennial anniversary of U SPORTS women's basketball.
In addition to being named U SPORTS MVP, she also earned a place on the U SPORTS First All-Canadian squad for the first time in her career. She is just the third Atlantic conference player to ever be honoured as the national MVP in women's basketball.
At the conference level, Ellsworth was honoured as the Atlantic University Sport most valuable player, the AUS defensive player of the year. and as an AUS first team all-star. She is a three-time AUS second team all-star and also earned rookie of the year nods and a place on the AUS all-rookie team in her inaugural season with the Panthers in 2016-17.
A fourth-year science student from Charlottetown, P.E.I., Ellsworth led the Panthers with 20.5 points per game in the regular season. She averaged 5.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.1 steals per game, while also averaging 5.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.1 steals per game as the Panthers finished in first place in the regular season standings with a 17-3 record.
With 1,231 career points scored in four seasons, Ellsworth sits tied for second in UPEI school history with a year of eligibility remaining.
At the 2020 Subway AUS Women’s Basketball Championship, Ellsworth was named Subway Player of the Game in UPEI’s semifinal win and then a tournament all-star as the Panthers earned the program’s first conference title since 1998.
UPEI entered the U SPORTS championship seeded sixth. Ellsworth earned player of the game honours in the national quarterfinals as the Panthers upset the No. 3-seeded Ryerson Rams. She was named UPEI’s Player of the Game in the national semifinals as the Panthers fell to Brock.
She then led her team to U SPORTS bronze with a game-high 24 points to go along with nine rebounds in the 57-50 win over Laval and was named a championship all-star.
Mae Ellsworth is just UPEI’s fourth-ever nominee for the Lieutenant Governor Athletic Awards, and hoping to become the first winner, with the last finalist being basketball standout Curtis Robinson in 1996.