By Martin Cleary
Aiden Warnholtz was one of the original student-athletes at the Canada Topflight Academy, a prep school devoted to keeping talented Ottawa basketball players at home to prepare them athletically and academically for university.
A transfer from A.Y. Jackson Secondary School to the inaugural preparatory program based at Notre Dame High School, Warnholtz was a calm and confident point guard playing against high-level players across Canada and the United States.
His all-round offensive and defensive skills played significant roles as Canada Topflight Academy won back-to-back National Preparatory League championships in 2017 and 2018. As he approached graduation, U Sports coaches showed keen interest, but Carleton University’s Dave Smart had the inside track as he had been recruiting him since Grade 9.
“Aiden is a big family guy,” said Tony House, who coached the academically-gifted and humble Warnholtz at Canada Topflight Academy. “He liked what they (Carleton University Ravens) had accomplished and wanted to be a part of it. It was in his backyard.
“I tried to promote him to Ivy League, Patriot League or Division I schools. But I felt Carleton University was a great fit, too.”
When Warnholtz joined the Ravens for the 2018-19 season, he was the new kid on the block, running the court with a powerful and highly successful team. In his first two seasons, he played in 21 OUA games each year, but was never on the starting five, and averaged 10.7 and 15.9 minutes a game respectively.
He was learning the Carleton way of basketball and that was heightened during the canceled 2020-21 OUA season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“He wasn’t red-shirted (sat-out) his first year,” House added. “Carleton had some veteran guys and you must do your time. You’re not going to play a lot in your first year. He was very mature, and emotionally and academically ready. But athletically, he was not the strongest out there. He was only 18.
“He was ready for Carleton, but he was going to the best program in Canada. I don’t think his expectations were ‘I’m going to take the program over.’ He’s so humble, very mature and knew his time would come. He didn’t shy away from the moment, but embraced it. Look what happened.”
When OUA men’s basketball returned with a reduced 14-game schedule for the 2021-22 season, he was ready to play a much bigger team role in his third year of athletic eligibility, but his fourth year as a Health Sciences student.
Warnholtz started all 14 games and averaged 27.1 minutes, 12.9 points, 4.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals a game. After two seasons of coming off the bench, Warnholtz was named the Ravens men’s basketball MVP.
He saved the best for last as his continued development led to more floor time, increased individual stats and his fourth-straight U Sports national championship. Warnholtz finished his high school and university career with an amazing six consecutive national championships.
The 2022-23 season saw Warnholtz start all 22 OUA league games, shoot 51 per cent from the field and the three-point range, and 85.7 per cent from the free-throw line as well as averaging 17.0 points, 6.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds a game.
While Warnholtz played various roles to help the Ravens win four straight national university titles during his career (17 titles over the past 20 championship seasons), the 2022-23 season was his one and only season for conference individual awards.
His overall leadership led him to be named an OUA first all-star and a U Sports first-team All-Canadian as well as the OUA Ken Shields Award winner for his overall athletic, academic and community achievements. At the U Sports Final 8 national championship in Halifax, he won the Jack Donohue Trophy as the tournament MVP and was selected to the tournament all-star team.
Warnholtz’s numbers in his three national championship games were eye-popping: 38.3 minutes a game, 24.3 points a game, while shooting 59.1 per cent from the field and 53.3 per cent beyond the three-point arc as well as 7.3 assists a game and 5.3 rebounds a game.
“He does what you need him to do. He’s unselfish. Carleton graduated (key) players and he needed to be the go-to guy. For Carleton to win, he needed to score 20 to 25 points a game. He knew this year was his and he had to step up. I’m definitely not surprised,” House explained.
When the Carleton University athletics department played host last week to its annual awards banquet, Warnholtz was front and centre, winning two major awards – Graduating Male Athlete of the Year and Male Athlete of the Year.
His star-studded season also included setting Ravens single-season records for total minutes played (731) and total assists (145).
Meanwhile, rugby player Lauryn Walker was selected the Carleton women’s Graduating Female Athlete of the year. Her determined play earned her multiple honours as the Ravens’ and RSEQ conference player of the week. She also was instrumental in leading Carleton to two consecutive RSEQ championship bronze medals.
Walker also is the captain of the Jamaica national women’s rugby team, which has qualified for its first Pan Am Games in Santiago, Chile, this fall.
Five-foot, three-inch guard Kali Pocrnic, who sparked the Ravens women’s basketball team to its first U Sports national title since 2018, was Carleton’s Female Athlete of the Year.
Pocrnic was the MVP at both the U Sports Final 8 national championship tournament and the OUA’s Critelli Cup playoffs. She also earned U Sports second-team All-Canadian honours and was selected an OUA first-team all-star.
Her 2022-23 season produced some impressive numbers, which placed her high on the Ravens’ stats charts – second most points in a single season (359), second most assists (210) and third most field goals (249) in Carleton’s history.
Dani Sinclair received the Pat O’Brien Award as the Ravens’ Coach of the Year for leading the women’s basketball team to the OUA provincial and U Sports national championships. She guided the Ravens to a second-place finish in the OUA East Division at 19-3 and an overall record of 29-6.
Her list of 2022-23 accomplishments also included a 12-game winning streak and a win over the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees in the Capital Hoops Classic.
The Varsity Council Volunteer Award was presented to Mackenzie Holliday, the Ravens football linebacker coach.
“Holliday played a key role in the success of the Ravens, helping the new coaching staff to settle into their roles, while maintaining the standards of what it means to be a Raven at Carleton,” says the Carleton University athletics department press release.
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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 “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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