By Martin Cleary
When the University of Ottawa athletic staff reflect on the 2022-23 varsity sports campaign, they can rightfully label it a year of significant accomplishment.
In eight of the 10 sports, individual athletes or teams won the full array of OUA, RSEQ or U Sports medals, and earned singular awards for their play, academic and work in the community.
The greatest achievement was not from just one team, but from the combined results from four teams, which produced an unprecedented moment.
For the first-time in Gee-Gees athletic history, four teams reached the U Sports medal podium in a single season. The women’s rugby and soccer teams and the men’s swimming and basketball teams earned bronze medals at their national championships.
If you review the list of individual, team and coaching accomplishments, the Gee-Gees had a highly productive varsity season:
· Five individual medals at U Sports championships
· A gold medal at the Canadian university rowing championships
· 13 All-Canadians in a variety of sports
· 34 conference medals from the swimming, rowing and track and field teams
· Four conference major awards
· Two national award winners, including Dave Heinbuch as U Sports men’s swimming coach of the year
· OUA conference championships in women’s soccer and men’s basketball and conference silver medals in men’s and women’s swimming as well as men’s and women’s rugby
· Eight teams earned recognition in the weekly U Sports Top-10 rankings.
Women’s soccer forward Cassandra Provost, an accounting student from Acton Vale, PQ., and men’s athletics high jumper Thomas Sénéchal-Becker were the Gee-Gees’ most prominent athletes during the 2022-23 season.
Their respective achievements on the soccer field and in the high jump zone earned the second-year student-athletes the women’s and men’s Athlete of the Year awards.
Provost was truly successful on the pitch, which led to a number of off-field honours, including being named the OUA East Division Most Valuable Player and the U Sports Player of the Year.
By scoring 18 goals in 11 regular-season games, she set a Gee-Gees team record for most goals in a single season. Her offensive touch was unmatched across the U Sports women’s soccer platform.
An OUA first-team all-star and a U Sports first-team All-Canadian, Provost sparked the Gee-Gees to their 10th OUA championship, a U Sports bronze medal and a FISU Americas gold medal to qualify for the 2023 FISU University World Cup in Jinjiang, China, Oct. 21-31. The Gee-Gees won the inaugural World Cup in Jinjiang in 2019.
Sénéchal-Becker, a health sciences student from Ottawa, recorded a best-ever season as a high jumper, winning the men’s national university title at the U Sports championships despite being sick.
He also claimed the silver medal at the OUA championships and broke the Gee-Gees’ team record three times. At the OUA championships, he raised the university record and his personal-best mark to 2.17 metres, and won the U Sports title with a best clearance of 2.14 metres.
The holder of the school’s seven best high-jump results, Sénéchal-Becker was the first Gee-Gees athlete to win a national university medal in his discipline.
The Gee-Gees’ annual awards banquet also gave the President’s Award for outstanding athletic and academic achievement to women’s rugby player Claire Gallagher and men’s basketball player Cole Newton.
The rookies of the year were Olivia Allen in women’s soccer and Jacques-Melaine Guemeta in men’s basketball.
The Gee-Gees’ Community Engagement Award went to Ngozi Mosindi of the women’s rugby team. Master’s student Brigitte Lefebvre-Okankwu was honoured with the Career Achievement Award for her historic contributions to the women’s basketball program over the last six seasons.
Gallagher was the top scorer for the Gee-Gees women’s rugby team with 66 points and tied for third place on the RSEQ conference list. Her all-around talent earned the health sciences student from Caledon, ON., her second RSEQ all-star selection at centre and a berth on her second U Sports second All-Canadian team.
The 2018 RSEQ rookie of the year was named a U Sports tournament all-star, after the Gee-Gees earned the national championship bronze medal. Gallagher also is a three-time Academic All-Canadian and registered a fall-term GPA score of 9.5.
Newton, who also is a fourth-year health sciences student but from Fergus, ON., had a solid year on the basketball court. He finished second on the Gee-Gees men’s team in scoring with a 12.4-point-a-game average as well as 3.0 assists a game.
A two-time Academic All-Canadian with a fall GPA of 9.75, Newton played a significant role leading the Gee-Gees to the OUA title and a U Sports national championship bronze medal.
Allen scored six OUA regular-season goals and counted the game-winning marker for the Gee-Gees in the FISU Americas tournament final. The biomedical science student-athlete from Holland Landing, ON., was selected to the OUA and U Sports all-rookie teams and was a vital player as the Gee-Gees won the OUA championship.
A civil engineering student-athlete from Douala, Cameroon, Guemeta came off the bench and ranked third for the Gee-Gees in three-point shooting percentage (34.6) and sixth in minutes played (417). He also averaged 7.2 points a game and was selected to the OUA all-rookie squad.
Mosindi helped organize workshops for Grade 12 leadership students, played host to a Black Women in Sport speaker series and was a member of the women’s rugby team’s task force for equity and diversity. The 2022 RSEQ Leadership and Community Engagement Award winner is “active in multiple initiatives, making an impact with different groups both through rugby and through leadership more generally,” says the university athletic department press release.
One of 12 graduating Gee-Gees from the first-year class of 2017, Lefebvre-Okankwu stepped off the basketball court as the team’s second leading scorer (1,361 points) and rebounder (704) in women’s program history.
A U Sports All-Canadian selection for the second time, Lefebvre-Okankwu was the Gee-Gees’ top scorer in four of her five seasons, paced them to an 82-22 career OUA win-loss record and helped uOttawa earn the No. 1 U Sports weekly ranking earlier this season.
Lefebvre-Okankwu has been a multiple individual award winner for her talents on and off the court, including the inaugural OUA Women’s Basketball Equity, Diversity and Inclusion award for 2022-23. The Gatineau resident also is a five-time Academic All-Canadian.
Trinity Lusan (women’s volleyball), Jade Todd (women’s hockey), Anthony Poulin (men’s hockey) and Alex McClure (men’s rugby) received a True Sport Award.
At the Gee-Gees’ competitive sport club team banquet, biathlete Shilo Rousseau and cross-country skier Aidan Kirkham were named the respective female and male Athletes of the Year. Rousseau won the same honour in 2022.
A fourth-year biology student-athlete, Rousseau made Canadian FISU Winter University Games history in Lake Placid, New York, as the first Canadian to win a biathlon medal at the international event for university students. She captured two gold medals and one silver and became one of three Canadians to earn two gold medals at a single Winter University Games. Rousseau, who is from Thessalon, ON., was named Canada’s flag-bearer for the closing ceremony.
Kirkham, who anchored Canada to a ninth-place finish in the men’s relay at the FISU Winter University Games, was a double silver medallist at the OUA nordic ski championships and helped the Gee-Gees to a bronze medal in the men’s team standings. He also was the top university skier at the Eastern Canadian cross-country skiing championships.
The Awards of Merit for academic and athletic achievements were presented to Zoe Pekos (nordic and biathlon skiing) and Ben Dodek (baseball). The Leadership and Initiative Award went to Erin Moore (equestrian), while Jackson Pallandi (baseball) earned the True Sport Award.
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 OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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