USPORTS is proud to announce the eight nominees for the 2018 BLG Awards celebrating the U SPORTS Athletes of the Year for the 2017-18 season.
The 2018 nominees for the Doug Mitchell Trophy presented to the U SPORTS Male Athlete of the year are Alberta Golden Bears football player Ed Ilnicki, Laurentian Voyageurs basketball player Kadre Gray, Concordia Stingers wrestler Francis Carter and UNB Varsity Reds basketball player Javon Masters.
On the women’s side, the finalists for the Jim Thompson Trophy presented to the U SPORTS Female Athlete of the Year are Calgary Dinos rugby player / wrestler Temitope Ogunjimi, volleyball players Theanna Vernon of the Ryerson Rams and Marie-Alex Bélanger of the Montréal Carabins and Acadia Axewomen basketball player Paloma Anderson.
2017-18 Female BLG Award Nominees (Jim Thompson Trophy)
- Acadia University
- Sport: Basketball
- Year of Eligibility: 5
- Academic Program: Sociology
- Hometown: Phoenix, Ariz.
As an unheralded transfer from the NCAA, Paloma Anderson joined the Axewomen in the fall of 2014 and left a unmistakable impact on AUS and U SPORTS women’s basketball
In her final year of eligibility, the 5-foot-1 guard shattered several Acadia records including most points in a career of 1,446 in only 73 games, as well as most career free throws and assist. The sociology major finished the season second in conference scoring and sixth nationally with 18.9 points per game, while also leading the conference in assists, steals and field goals as Acadia posted an 18-2 record.
For her effort, Anderson was named the AUS and U SPORTS Player of the Year, helping lead her Axewomen to a conference championship title and U SPORTS Final 8 appearance. Averaging 16.0 points in two AUS championship playoff games, the Phoenix, Ariz., native also took home AUS championship tournament most valuable player.
No stranger to the BLG Awards, Anderson is back as a finalist for U SPORTS Female Athlete of the Year for the second time in three seasons, after being nominated in 2015-16 when she was also named AUS Player of the Year. She is also a three-time U SPORTS First Team All-Canadian and three-time AUS All-Star.
“The best part about basketball is not the awards or championships, it’s the relationships you build along the way,” said Anderson. “I have met so many people that have impacted my life because of basketball. I have learned that it is not all about being the MVP, rather it’s about being the best teammate on your best or worst games.
“One of my most memorable experiences of the BLG Awards I attended in 2016 was being surrounded by the best athletes that Canada has to offer - national Players of the Year within their respective sports, including Olympians, is a humbling atmosphere.”
“Paloma was our Atlantic University Sport conference BLG nominee two years ago, and her athletic and personal growth since that time has been impressive,” said Axewomen head coach Len Harvey. “She has always been an exceptional talent on the basketball court, but she needed to learn how to control and harness her athleticism and expand her fundamental skillset to develop past the level where she currently was. Paloma has revolutionized her game, becoming more efficient offensively, more focused defensively, and sharing the ball with her teammates in ways to allow them to develop and shine as well.”
- Université de Montréal
- Sport: Volleyball
- Year of Eligibility: 5
- Academic program: Public Relations
- Hometown: Joliette, Que.
After dominating for five seasons as a Carabin, Marie-Alex Bélanger finished her university career as U SPORTS Player of the Year.
This year, the public relations major led the nation with 3.98 kills per set to lead the nation, the fourth time she has recorded the top average in five seasons in U SPORTS women’s volleyball.
On top of being a three-time RSEQ MVP, Bélanger landed a spot as a conference First Team All-Star and U First Team SPORTS All-Canadian in each of the last two years. She also competed in the 2015 Summer Universiade in South Korea.
Bélanger will now pursue her sports career full-time using her national training to compete at the 2018 World Cup in Japan. The 6-foot-1 hitter has been part of the senior national team since 2016, and her ultimate goal is to compete in the Olympic Games.
“I’m lucky to be part of a sports team that enabled me to bond with people who will always be there for me,” said Bélanger. “Sports allowed me to forge a new family, and I am very grateful for that. The BLG Awards are an incredibly positive way to recognize the efforts we’ve made. It’s encouraging to know that we are supported. My priority is always my team’s success, but it’s nice to know that our work is recognized.”
“Marie-Alex is an international athlete. Now that her university career has finished, she will have enormous success,” said Carabins head coach Olivier Trudel. “She was the most dominant athlete in the country and is probably the one who gives the most credit to her teammates! She is always very humble and extremely hardworking. In my 13 years as a Université de Montréal coach, she is the best athlete I’ve seen!”
- Ryerson University
- Sport: Volleyball
- Year of eligibility: 4
- Academic Program: Social Work
- Hometown: Scarborough, Ont.
Theanna Vernon has become one of the most dominant middle blockers in OUA and U SPORTS volleyball during her four years with the Ryerson University Rams.
This past season, the Scarborough, Ont., product became the first-ever Ryerson women’s volleyball player to be named a U SPORTS All-Canadian. Vernon’s U SPORTS-leading hitting percentage (.482) made her a force offensively, while her blocking ability (1.29 - first in OUA, third in U SPORTS) single-handedly shut down opponents’ offences.
Vernon led the Rams to the program’s first conference title, a perfect 25-0 season and Ryerson’s first ever national championship in any sport. At the U SPORTS national championship tournament, the team captain was nearly unstoppable at the net, totaling 18.0 blocks in three matches. She also added 31 kills and was named championship MVP.
In her first year at Ryerson, Vernon red-shirted as she completed a course called Spanning the Gaps to help improve her academics. After finishing that year, she entered the social work program and her performance on and off the court has taken off. She is a three-time OUA all-star and former OUA Rookie of the Year.
“It means a lot to me to know that my hard work and dedication to this sport, my team and Ryerson is being recognized. Volleyball is a passion of mine that will always be ignited,” said Vernon. “Although in the far future I would like to be working full time as a social worker in the youth sector with student-athletes being my main interest, my near-future goal is to explore a professional volleyball career. My decade-long relationship with the sport is something I will always cherish. Through good times and bad, volleyball always gave me a way to express myself.”
“Theanna is an intense competitor who is always in control of her emotions. The combination of her size, athleticism, skill and will to win make her a truly dominant volleyball player,” said Rams head coach Dustin Reid. “These abilities are only surpassed by her grace and determination off the court. Her growth as a student, teammate and member of the community are what make me most proud of her as a coach.”
- University of Calgary
- Sport: Rugby/Wrestling
- Year of eligibility: 5
- Academic Program: Arts
- Hometown: Calgary, Alta.
Temitope Ogunjimi finishes her career as one of the most decorated student-athletes in University of Calgary Dinos history. Now, she’ll look to make history as the first in her sports to capture the BLG Award.
Neither wrestling nor rugby have ever captured the BLG Award, male or female, in the honour’s 25-year history – something the 22-year-old Calgarian and aspiring lawyer could rectify with a win June 4 in Vancouver.
After immigrating to Canada from Nigeria at age 10, sport was a way in to the community for Ogunjimi. She took up wrestling in junior high school at the suggestion of a teacher and found it was a good way to make friends, and she enjoyed the sport. She added rugby in high school, having always enjoyed running.
After graduating from Calgary’s Centennial High School, she enrolled at the University of Calgary in September 2013 initially intending to pursue an engineering degree before settling on a law and society major, setting her up for her long-time dream of attending law school. Athletically, she focused on wrestling and captured her first of five consecutive Canada West gold medals in 2014, earning conference Rookie of the Year honours after her win at 59 kg. She jumped up to 63 kg a year later, winning the conference title in that weight class for three consecutive years.
Ogunjimi added varsity rugby to her plate in the fall of 2016, joining the Dinos program and helping them capture their first-ever Canada West title and a trip to the U SPORTS championship, where they won the bronze medal. She was named an All-Canadian along with a conference all-star after scoring five tries in the Canada West semifinal. Back on the wrestling mat, she won a third straight CW gold medal at 63 kg.
Heading into her last season of varsity competition, Ogunjimi was back on the rugby pitch where she again earned All-Canadian status as the Dinos won their second straight conference title and finished fourth at the national championship. With her focus back to wrestling in 2018, she moved up to 67 kg and won a fifth straight Canada West title and headed to the U SPORTS championships in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., in search of that elusive national title. In the final bout of her university career, Ogunjimi climbed the mountain to take home U SPORTS gold, then added Outstanding Wrestler of the Year honours as well as the national Student-Athlete Community Service Award to her portfolio.
She added another gold medal to her collection at the Wrestling Canada senior national championships in March, winning the 68 kg weight class. On Apr. 3, Ogunjimi was named the University of Calgary’s female athlete of the year.
“For sports like wrestling and rugby, this kind of recognition is important – these are sports where athletes at the varsity level go on to represent Canada, and recognition like this helps them continue to grow in prominence. Personally, this makes me feel like the work I’ve put in over five years is being recognized," said Ogunjimi. "It hasn’t always been easy, battling through injuries and trying to get to the top, and it makes me happy because people can see that the work I have put in is being recognized, especially because everyone thought I was crazy for trying to attempt both sports! Finally, this will help show my parents and my family that being a competitive athlete hasn’t been a waste of time – I’ve learned to make connections, be part of a team, to deal with adversity, and other valuable lessons that will help me for the rest of my life.”
“Temitope Ogunjimi has been a dedicated member of our Dinos wrestling team for five years,” said Dinos wrestling head coach Mitch Ostberg. “She has grown into a leadership role with the team and has been a performance leader this season. Her volunteer activities and warm personality add a counterpoint to her fierce competitive nature. Temi always adds some energetic whoops to any team celebration.”
2017-18 Male BLG Award Nominees (Doug Mitchell Trophy):
- University of New Brunswick
- Sport: Basketball
- Year of eligibility: 5
- Academic Program: Sociology
- Hometown: Kitchener, Ont.
Javon Masters is a five-year member of the UNB Varsity Reds men’s basketball team, who leaves the U SPORTS ranks as the all-time leading scorer in Canadian men’s university basketball history.
Masters re-wrote the U SPORTS and Atlantic University Sport (AUS) record books over his five-year career, scoring 2407 points. He improved the AUS career mark by 338 points and added 125 points to the U SPORTS mark.
During his career, Masters was named an All-Canadian five times – three times on the first team and another two times on the second team. He was also a five-time AUS First Team All-Star, three-time AUS MVP, along with U SPORTS and AUS Rookie of the Year and all-rookie team honours in 2014.
Along with the national and conference career scoring records, Masters holds the AUS career record for free throws made (772), the AUS record for free throws made in a single season (215), and the UNB record for career assists (439).
He was the U SPORTS and AUS scoring champion in 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2017-18.
In 2018, Masters was named MVP of the AUS championship tournament, and a tournament all-star, helping the Varsity Reds to their first Atlantic conference title since 1967. He was also named the Varsity Reds male athlete of the year for 2017-18, beating out nominees from the men’s soccer and volleyball teams.
“I’ve learned, through basketball, to never give up and that anything is possible once you put your mind to it,” said Masters. Coming from behind in games, when losing seemed inevitable, has inspired me off the court in many circumstances. I hope to be able to continue to play basketball, maybe even on a professional level. Off the court, I’d like to be able to take my degree and use it to benefit me and others. The BLG Awards mean a great deal to me. The prestige associated with the awards is incredible. As a nominee, they mark a culmination of all my hard work and dedication to my sport and education. To be recognized at a national level is humbling.”
“Javon has been a ‘man of the moment.’ Throughout his career, he’s been a person who embraces and seizes the moment like no other, whether it’s career accomplishments, which are many, or on game day, where he has had rarely an off day,” said UNB head coach Brent Baker. “On a night when he needed 34 points to break the AUS record, he scored 37 points. On a night when he needed 37 points to break the U SPORTS record, he scored 39 points. Both record-breaking accomplishments were in victories for the Varsity Reds. Hitting clutch free throws for UNB to win the AUS title just added to his legacy of clutch moments.”
- Concordia University
- Sport: Wrestling
- Year of eligibility: 3
- Academic Program: Psychology
- Hometown: Montreal, Que.
Capturing his first U SPORTS individual title in 2018, Francis Carter was named the outstanding male Wrestler of the Year at the 2018 national championship held at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
At the national meet, the third-year psychology major from Montreal won three preliminary matches in the 68 kg weight class. In the gold medal match, Carter defeated defending champion Matt Jagas of the powerhouse Brock Badgers in a hard-fought 3-2 decision, helping Concordia secure a second-place team finish for the Stingers.
It was Carter’s third appearance at the national championship, but his first individual medal, after finishing in fifth place in 2016 and fourth in 2017. Carter also won the 65 kg division at the team’s Concordia Invitational home meet on Oct. 29, and finished second in the same weight class at the York Invitational on Nov. 18. Carter also finished third in the 70 kg division in his debut at the senior national championships in March.
A talented multi-sport athlete who competed in football, soccer, track and field and skiing, Carter specialized in wrestling in Grade 9 at the Montreal Wrestling Club. The premier wrestling training centre in Quebec boasts several Olympians and UFC’s Georges St-Pierre.
With a serious commitment to elite wrestling and academics, Carter also volunteers his time with a pair of initiatives – in neuroscience research at Concordia University, as well as the Montreal General Hospital in the Intensive Care Unit. Once a week for four hours, Carter shadows doctors and helps the families of patients in the ICU, assisting with information and providing emotional support.
“I’m definitely honoured to be a BLG nominee. I don’t think anyone who starts off wrestling does it for the spotlight,” said Carter. “I’m excited and I think it’s great for the sport of wrestling. Although wrestling is an individual sport, a lot of people are involved in developing an athlete. Coaches, teammates and other people who have been supportive throughout my career have my gratitude and they all deserve to share in this recognition.”
“At Concordia, we are honoured to have such an exceptional young man represent us in U SPORTS competitions and beyond,” said Concordia Director of Athletics and Recreation D’Arcy Ryan. “Francis is an inspiration, and the BLG nomination is a fitting tribute to someone who has excelled in both his sport and his studies. He has set the bar exceptionally high for the generations of Stingers who will follow.”
- Laurentian University
- Sport: Basketball
- Year of eligibility: 2
- Academic Program: Health Promotion
- Hometown: Toronto, Ont.
In just two short seasons, Kadre Gray has become one of the most dangerous players in U SPORTS basketball with the Laurentian Voyageurs.
After leading the country in points per game and earning the OUA and U SPORTS Rookie of the Year last season, Gray followed that up by earning the OUA MVP and the Mike Moser Memorial Trophy, given to the U SPORTS Men’s Basketball Player of the Year.
After leading the country in assists (141), finishing second in the country in total points (488), points per game (24.4) and free throws made (140), top 10 in field goals made (152) and minutes played per game (34.4), top 20 in three point percentage (43.1 per cent) and defensive rebounds (132) and 21st in rebounds per game (8.0), one of Gray’s biggest achievements was helping his team to a seven-win improvement over last season.
Off the court, Gray is constantly giving back to community youth. Whether it is working with children one on one, teaching them the foundation of basketball as well as some life skills, running children’s camps in the summer time or visiting schools around Sudbury with his teammates, talking about the importance of education as well as providing literacy programming, Gray is always looking to give back to the next generation.
Prior to joining the Voyageurs, Gray attended Toronto’s famed Eastern Commerce until it shuttered its doors in June of 2015. He wrapped up his high school days at Oakwood Collegiate Institute, earning an Ontario provincial silver medal.
“I have learned a number of life lessons through athletics as a whole,” said Gray. “I competed at high levels in basketball and track and field and it gave me a greater perspective on how valuable teamwork, leadership and dedication were. Through my experiences I've grown as person, always knowing that there are people in my neighbourhood that are looking up to me and that I have inspired to do great things. My aspirations for the future are to graduate with my bachelor degree, hopefully represent my country in basketball and make a change in kids’ lives for the better. The BLG Award would give me an opportunity to pursue further and greater education beyond my undergrad when nobody thought I could.”
“Kadre shows a desire and willingness to do whatever it takes to improve on and off the court,” said Laurentian head coach Shawn Swords. “He makes everyone around him better again both on and off the court. His maturity goes well beyond his years. His desire for team success and winning a championship has motivated him to improve in all aspects. I believe his greatest attributes are humbleness and inclusiveness.”
- University of Alberta
- Sport: Football
- Year of eligibility: 5
- Academic Program: Business
- Hometown: Spruce Grove, Alta.
After completing one of the most dominant seasons in University of Alberta and Canada West football history, senior running back Ed Ilnicki’s accolades continue to pile up.
Ilnicki broke the Canada West single-season rushing record with 1,468 rushing yards in 2017, leading the Golden Bears back to the Canada West playoffs for the first time since 2010. Ilnicki also added 151 receiving yards in 2017, breaking a 42-year old program record for single-season all-purpose yards with 1,619. The Spruce Grove, Alta., product also led U SPORTS in carries and rushing touchdowns this past season, winning the prestigious Hec Crighton Trophy as the top football player in Canada.
His rushing total was tops in the country by more than 300 yards and the fifth most all-time nationally. Ilnicki concluded his five-year career as Alberta's all-time rushing leader with 4,145 yards – the second most all-time in Canada West history. He also ends his career as the Golden Bears’ all-time leader in all-purpose yards (4,978), carries (691), and rushing touchdowns (28).
While his on the field accomplishments speak for themselves, what also set Ilnicki apart from his peers was his work both in the classroom and in the community. A four-time Academic All-Canadian, Ilnicki also spent his fifth season as the University Athletics Board President, the University’s student-athlete led community service group.
He volunteered with both the Stollery Children’s Hospital and KidSport Edmonton, while also leading campus initiatives such as Bear Pause, Bears and Pandas Bike-a-thons, and the student-athlete blood drive. Because of this, Ilnicki was named the 2017 Canada West football Student-Athlete Community Service Award winner and a nominee for the U SPORTS Russ Jackson Award.
“This award would be a culmination of my experience as a university athlete, and it would represent the hard work that those around me have put in to help me achieve excellence as a student-athlete.” said Ilnicki. “In the future, it would remind me of the effort put in by those contributors, and motivate me to have the same impact on everyone around me every day possible.”
“Ed, by pure strength of will and hard work, has turned himself into one of the best football players in the country,” said Golden Bears head coach Chris Morris. “I think that’s what makes him special; he understands how hard you have to work. He respects the game and he respects the process. He is a young man of impeccable character who tirelessly serves his team and community. Ed embodies everything that is good about university athletics, and that's what this award is about. "