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HIGH ACHIEVERS: uOttawa honours its best student-athletes

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By Martin Cleary

Alexandra Ondo, Nicolas Mattinen, Evan Symons and Shilo Rousseau play vastly different sports, but they all share two things in common.

Not only are they student-athletes in the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees’ sports community, but also they have earned the elite titles of Athletes of the Year for the 2021-22 season.

Ondo, a fifth-year women’s rugby player for the Canadian university championships silver-medal winning team, and Mattinen, the U Sports Defenceman of the Year in his second men’s hockey season, were named the respective female and male Athletes of the Year in the varsity sports program.

Record-breaking baseball player Evan Symons and medal-winning cross-country skier Shilo Rousseau, who also represents Canada at the international biathlon level, were selected Athletes of the Year in the Gee-Gees’ competitive sport club category.

The university held its annual athletic award ceremonies on two fronts last week to honour varsity and competitive club sport athletes, teams and coaches as well as more than 60 student-athletes, who have concluded their varsity careers. That later group included one dozen student-athletes who started in 2016 and took six years to play five years because of the COVID-19-pandemic cancelled 2020-21 season.

The Gee-Gees also remembered and reflected on many significant achievements: women’s rugby U Sports silver medal, U Sports swimming bronze medallists Alexandre Perreault and Hugo Lemesle, nine All-Canadians and 43 conference medals won in swimming, rowing and track and field, 15 conference major award winners and five national award winners.

Ondo was a prominent figure at the U Sports women’s rugby championship, playing a key role in the semifinals and final, being named a first-team All-Canadian and presented as a finalist for the Leadership and Community Engagement Award as the RSEQ winner. She was the top try scorer in the RSEQ with nine in six regular-season games and was selected a conference all-star for the fourth time.

An imposing defenceman, Mattinen was one of the key, all-around players for the Gee-Gees men’s hockey team. He tied for the team lead in goals scored at six and his 13 points in 18 games was second on the team. Mattinen played many roles for the Gee-Gees, logged many minutes and his accomplished play was recognized, when he was named the U Sports Top Defenceman, a first-team All-Canadian and the OUA East Division MVP, which also made him a finalist for the U Sports honour.

Coming off a summer where he helped the Lethbridge Bulls win the Western Canada Baseball League title for collegiate players in 2021, Symons had a smashing season for the Gee-Gees, setting regular-season team records for batting average (.340), hits (16 in 47 at-bats) and doubles (six). In the playoffs, he was No. 1 in hits and doubles. He was the first Gee-Gees player since the early 2000s to play in the WCBL, which fielded only five of its 11 teams in 2021 because of the pandemic.

Rousseau was a busy winter athlete in two sports. She helped the Gee-Gees place second overall at the Canadian colleges and universities championship with a bronze medal in the team sprint and several other top-10 results. At the Eastern Canada Cup, she had a fifth- and sixth-place result for the Gee-Gees. As a biathlete, she won three gold medals at the Canadian championships and represented Canada at the world junior championships.

At the varsity sport awards night, Perreault and women’s basketball forward Brigitte Lefebvre-Okankwu were winners of the President’s Award for student-athletes best combining athletic and academic excellence.

Captain of the swimming team, Perreault broke the Gee-Gees’ team record in the men’s 50-metre butterfly with a bronze-medal performance at the U Sports championships, which contributed to the men’s team finishing fifth overall. He also won four medals at the RSEQ championships, including a gold in the 4×100-metre medley relay. The 2020-21 Academic All-Canadian is pursuing a health sciences master’s degree in physiotherapy.

Lefebvre-Okankwu was named the OUA East Division women’s basketball MVP as she posted career-highs in points and rebounds at 16.7 and 9.7 per game respectively. She also was named a first-team All-Canadian and was the top scorer in her division. She was the Faculty of Science Valedictorian at her June 2020 convocation, where she received her Honours Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical science. She is now chasing an Honours Bachelor of Science degree in psychology.

Soccer midfielder Sadie Sider-Echenberg, who scored two goals and had four assists and was named an OUA East Division all-star, and Lemesle, who won five medals at the RSEQ swimming championships as well as the 50-metre breaststroke bronze in record time at the U Sports nationals, were named respective female and male Rookies of the Year.

A member of the women’s swim team, Malorie Kanaan won the Gee-Gees’ Community Engagement Award for her research and published work on homelessness, poverty, racial profiling in the justice system and feminism in the health care field. She also won the Student-Athlete Community Service Award at the 2022 U Sports championships.

Emma Lefebvre and Ondo shared the Career Achievement Award for their five stellar years in women’s soccer and women’s rugby respectively.

Lefebvre was a prolific goal scorer and paced the Gee-Gees in the fall of 2021 with 12 goals in 10 OUA regular-season games to give her a career and program second-best 36 goals. In 2018, she helped the Gee-Gees win the OUA and U Sports championships and qualified for the FISU University World Cup, which the university won a year later.

Ondo was one of three Gee-Gees student-athletes across all team sports to be selected an All-Canadian on four occasions, which included three first-team honours. She played on four RSEQ championship teams and won a medal at all five U Sports nationals, a gold in 2017, silver in 2016 and 2021 and bronze in 2018 and 2019.

She also helped develop the team’s Recruitment Relations and Diversity Liaison work-study positions, the Task Force for Equity and Diversity, and the Gender Equity Committee.

The True Sport Awards for student-athletes reflecting the program’s principles through their attitude and actions in sport went to Ritaj Abdoulla of the women’s rugby team and the executive committee of the Black Student-Athletes Advocacy Council for varsity sports, and Aidan Kirkham in cross-country skiing, Maddie MacMillan in golf, Samuel Wells in baseball and Serena Kueni in dance for competitive club sports.

Michael Kanter and Bridie Hamilton won the Award of Merit at the competitive club sport awards ceremony for their combined academics and athletics.

Besides being a top baseball pitcher, the team president and playing an impact role in fund raising and sponsorship, Kanter was vice-president of the University of Ottawa debate society, where he represented his school at the Debate World University Championships, and also sits on the Toronto Foundation for Youth in Politics board of directors.

Co-captain of the equestrian team, Hamilton topped the team points list in her first season and made a significant contribution to the team’s core values of respect and inclusivity. She was a student representative on the Undergraduate Philosophy Student Association and is on the executive of the uOttawa Friends of Ausome. After graduating in the fall with an Honours BA majoring in ethics and political philosophy with a minor in communication, she is now pursuing a master’s in bio/tech ethics and science policy at Duke University.

Vanessa Tinlin was selected winner of the Leadership and Engagement Award for her excellence in team administration and contributions to the wider sport and student experience. She also was president of the Gee-Gees women’s softball team.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at

Martin can be reached by e-mail at and on Twitter @martincleary.

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