Alberta’s Austin Cole, York’s Peirce Lepage and Brittany Crew and Saskatchewan’s Julianne Labach were honoured Thursday morning as the U SPORTS track and field Athletes of the Year, as the national season award winners were celebrated at the annual awards luncheon.
On the women’s side, Labach was named the outstanding performer in track events, Crew captured field MVP honours, Regina’s Joely Welburn earned the Rookie of the Year and Western’s Shaelyn Laurie took home the Student-Athlete Community Service Award.
In men’s competition, the recipients included Cole (Track MVP), Lepage (field MVP), Matthew MacNeill of Guelph (Rookie of the Year) and Alberta’s Spencer Allen (Student-Athlete Community Service Award).
ATHLETE OF THE YEAR (TRACK EVENTS): Julianne Labach, Saskatchewan
Julianne Labach of the Saskatchewan Huskies has once again been recognized as one of the top athletes in in the nation, as she was named the 2018-19 Female Track Athlete of the Year ahead of the U SPORTS Championships in Winnipeg, Man.
A law student from Saskatoon, Labach had a dominant season, beginning with a pair of first place finishes in the 600m and 1000m races at the Sled Dog Open back in early January. From there, Labach only found more speed as the season went on. Running across the border in Boston, Labach set a pair of Saskatchewan provincial records in the 800m and 1000m distances.
At the Canada West Championships Labach was named female track athlete of the year for the second season in a row after earning two gold (600m, 1000m) and two silver medals (1500m, 4x400m relay)
Entering the national championships, Labach holds Huskie all-time records in a pair of distances and is also ranked first in U SPORTS over 600-metres and second in both the 1000- and 1500-metre races.
“Julie has built upon last year’s stellar season with personal bests, records and victories,” said Huskies head coach Jason Reindl. “Her motivation to be the best athlete and teammate that she can be has helped her achieve so much which has translated into improved results for our program. We are all extremely proud of her and know that there is still tons of untapped potential in her.”
- OUA: Olivia Romaniw, Guelph
- RSEQ: Audrey Jackson, Montreal
- AUS: Bailey Smith, UPEI
ATHLETE OF THE YEAR (FIELD EVENTS): Brittany Crew, York
Crew is one of the most decorated athletes in the history of the women’s track & field team. She has won a total of four U SPORTS gold medals, one silver medal and one team bronze medal as well as seven OUA gold medals during her time with the Lions. She has been named the U SPORTS field events most valuable performer twice and OUA field events most valuable performer three times and won the Wendy Jerome OUA Outstanding Performer trophy for the first time this year. She was also named the York female athlete of the year for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.
Crew, who is from East York, Ont., competed in the shot put at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games where she finished in ninth place and won a bronze medal in shot put at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. She returned to the Lions this season after spending two years away from university competition and is graduating this year with a degree in kinesiology and health science.
“Brittany Crew is the most decorated athlete male or female athlete at York University. Not only is she a 2016 Olympian, she also placed sixth at the 2017 World Championships and won the gold medal at the 2017 World University Championships,” said Lions head coach Raymond Rudder. “She is also the indoor (18.20m) and outdoor (18.60m) Canadian record holder for shot put, she holds the school records for both shot put and weight throw. Brittany, who has won seven OUA golds and four U SPORTS golds thus far, also holds the OUA record in her events and the U SPORTS record for shot put. We are grateful Brittany was able to return for her final year at York after competing and dominating the international scene for two years.”
- CW: Niki Oudenaarden, Calgary
- RESQ: Ariane Dubois, Sherbrooke
- AUS: Lexie Shannon, UNB
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Joely Welburn, Regina
In her first season with the program, Welburn won three medals and was individually responsible for 22 of the team's 75 points at the 2019 Canada West Track and Field Championships. She won gold in the high jump (1.70m), claimed silver in the long jump (5.79m), and finished off the meet by helping the 4x400m relay team take bronze in the last race of the weekend. She also scored four points with a fifth-place finish in the 60-metre hurdles (8.68).
"This is a tremendous honour for Joely and very well deserved considering what she's accomplished in her first year with us,” said Cougars head coach Wade Huber. “She's already at a point where she can contend for a medal at the U SPORTS level in multiple events, and I can't wait to see what she can accomplish over her next four years with the Cougars."
- OUA: Jasmine Lew, Toronto
- RSEQ: Catherine Beauchemin, Laval
- AUS: Erin McCavour, UNB
STUDENT-ATHLETE COMMUNITY SERVICE AWARD: Shaelyn Laurie, Western
Laurie turned in a 1.61m high jump effort at the OUA Championships, good for a fourth-place finish. While she has jumped to a No. 5 ranking across the country, she has shone even brighter with what she has done in the community.
The fourth-year student-athlete, who has earned Academic All-Canadian and Dean's Honour List recognition each year, has been part of the United Way Young Leaders program, serving as a youth board member for the Learning Disabilities Association of London; has been a campus ambassador at her high school; raises funds and awareness for Autism Ontario as a volunteer; and contributes annually to the school's Indigenous track and field days.
She is viewed as a leader in all that she does, offers support to those on and off the team, and continues to provide her time and effort to a wide range of initiatives, which makes her a deserving recipient of this year's Community Service Award.
“Shaelyn has set the standard for what it means to be a complete champion in all areas represented by this award – in training and competition, in the classroom, in the community as well as during life issues with her teammates and in volunteer situations,” said Mustangs head coach Vickie Croley. She strives for excellence in so many areas of her life – from sport to academics to service – all without fanfare and with a genuine smile. She makes our team environment better because of the example she sets and what she contributes while at the track and off.”
- CW: Tegan Turner, Manitoba
- RSEQ: Camille Bélanger, Sherbrooke
- AUS: Bhreagh Burke, Saint Mary's
ATHLETE OF THE YEAR (TRACK EVENTS): Austin Cole, Alberta
In his short time at the University of Alberta, Cole has already established himself as one of the best short-distance runners in program history. Both at a conference and national level, the Sherwood Park, Alta., native has been recognized as one of the best track athletes in Canada. At the 2019 Canada West Championships, Cole won his second consecutive Canada West gold in the 300m race (33.44), and in the process also bested the record that was set by Canadian Olympian Cyprian Enweani in 1985. Enweani competed for Canada at the 1988 Summer Olympics, and previously held three conference records (60m, 200m & 300m).
Cole also added gold medals in the 4x200m and 4x400m relays, earning both the Performance of the Meet, and Track Athlete of the Year. At the 2018 National Championships in Windsor, Cole also set a new national 300m record with a time of 33.37, earning the Co-Athlete of the Meet.
“Austin is arguably the best sprinter we have at the U of A, and one of the best athletes I have ever coached,” said Golden Bears head coach Wes Moerman. “He is incredibly powerful and athletic and has the confidence and ability to break every record he sets his mind to. He is a leader for our track team, and I’m thrilled he was honoured with this award.”
- OUA: Jack Sheffar, Western
- RSEQ: Jean-Simon Desgagnés, Laval
- AUS: Matthew Coolen, Dalhousie
ATHLETE OF THE YEAR (FIELD EVENTS): Pierce Lepage, York
Pierce is currently competing in his first season with the Lions. He had an outstanding performance at the OUA Track and Field championships, bringing home three gold medals on home turf for York. He started his weekend on Day 1 of the championships by smashing the competition in the 60m hurdles, winning in a time of 7.96 seconds. Shortly after that feat he won another gold in the long jump, as he out leaped his nearest competitor by 31 cm with a 7.51m jump.
The versatile Lepage then completed his trio of gold medals on Day 2 of the competition with a first-place finish in the high jump, clearing the bar at 2.01 m for the win. He also competed in the shot put on Day 2 and finished in sixth-place with a throw of 13.49m.
Lepage is competing in his first year with the Lions track & field team, but is a well-accomplished athlete internationally, winning the gold medal in the decathlon at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. He hails from Toronto, Ont., and is studying Interdisciplinary Social Science
“In his first year on the team, Pierce Lepage has shown to be a dynamic athlete, winning OUA gold for men’s long jump, 60m hurdles and men’s high jump,” said Lions head coach Raymond Rudder. “Pierce, who is the 2018 Commonwealth Games decathlete silver medalist and is currently ranked among the best decathletes in the world, was also named Hec Phillips OUA Outstanding Performer, OUA Athlete of the Week and York Male Athlete of the week this year. He leads by example and his international experience, 2016 Décaster bronze medalist and the 2017 Canadian Track and Field Championships/Pan Am Cup gold medallist, are very much reflected in his dominant performances this season.”
- CW: Kieran Johnston, Saskatchewan
- RSEQ: Émile Ollivier, Montreal
- AUS: Jean-Luc Bastarache, Moncton
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Matthew MacNeill, Guelph
MacNeill has quickly forged his own path as a Gryphon and he performed like an athlete well beyond his years throughout the season and especially at the OUA Track and Field Championships. The rookie from London, Ont., showed flashes of his potential with a gold medal sweep at the York Open earlier this season, winning both the 60m hurdles and long jump events. At the provincial meet, MacNeill ran the hurdles in 8.27 seconds to take the OUA silver medal. That was impressive on its own but more so when considering that at the time, he was running back and forth between the hurdles and the long jump. MacNeill ultimately finished fifth in the latter event, posting his best jump (6.97m) on his final attempt of the day.
"There is this sort of undefinable thing you call 'it' and Matthew's got it,” said Gryphons head coach Dave Scott-Thomas. “You can just see the confidence with him, the skill set. He knows what he's capable of doing and then he's just going to do it. He's an 18-year-old who came in and his communication and social skills are fantastic. He carries himself like a veteran in his first year. Matthew has quickly embraced the fact that he will be supported here regardless of the outcome and that's allowed him to swing for the fences."
- CW: Kenny Blackman Jr., Trinity Western
- RSEQ: Jack Crosby, McGill
- AUS: Eric Hughes, UNB
STUDENT-ATHLETE COMMUNITY SERVICE AWARD: Spencer Allen, Alberta
Early in his post-secondary journey Allen was diagnosed with testicular cancer. After initial surgery the cancer returned. He completed multiple rounds of chemotherapy in attempts to fight off the disease. He was diagnosed a third time and received surgery.
Without any signs of cancer returning over the last couple of years, it appears the disease is in remission. As a way to contribute back, Allen is very active in the Cross-Cancer Institute, giving back to the Behavioral Medicine lab that is conducting world leading research and work in the fight against cancer. It is important to Allen to help others, and he is doing so in a very impactful and exemplary way. Allen is active in all elements of the lab and often interacts with patients encouraging them and helping build exercise programs. He spends a majority of his day every week in that environment.
In addition to his role at the lab Spencer, as team captain, plays an active role in promoting all community activates within the varsity community and team. He has been formative in shaping a contributing team culture. He promotes literacy formation through read in weeks, community health initiatives, equipment to underprivileged schools and various mental health initiatives. He truly pursues those around him, engaging in meaningful conversation and putting the interests of others always ahead of his own on a daily basis regardless of their perceived level in society. He creates and lives out an attitude of “Bell Let’ Talk.”
In addition to his broader community contributions he is quite active in supporting local track and field events at all levels, always willing to volunteer hours at the track through coaching, clinics or helping run competitive opportunities for kids.
"Spencer is the best pole vaulter in school history, and he continues to increase his athletic goals each season. He is one of the leaders for our program, both on the track and off, and this award shows exactly that,” said Golden Bears head coach Wes Moerman. His work with the Cross Cancer Institute is incredible, and his story of perseverance is remarkable. The way he has been able to turn a personal struggle into motivation to help others is inspiring. He is everything that embodies what it means to be a student-athlete, and I'm thrilled he's being honoured with this award."
- OUA: Craig Klomp, Toronto
- RSEQ: Julien Pinsonneault, Sherbrooke
- AUS: Jonathan Peverill, Saint Mary's