Olympic gold medallist, top swimmer up for a university sport award

$10,000 award goes to top female and male athletes from Canadian universities

An Olympic gold medallist and a world-record swimmer are among this year’s nominees for the top honours in Canadian university athletics.

McGill goaltender Charline Labonte, who helped the Canadian women’s hockey team to gold at the 2006 Olympics, and UBC’s Annamay Pierse, who broke a short-course world record in the women’s 200-metre breaststroke last month, are the BLG award female nominees from their respective conferences.

The BLG awards recognize the top female and male athletes from Canadian universities. They will be handed out in Toronto on April 27. Each winner will receive a $10,000 post-secondary grant.

Other female nominees announced Tuesday are Ghislaine Landry of the St. Francis Xavier women’s rugby team and University of Guelph runner Lindsay Carson.

Marc Rancourt of the Saint Marys hockey team, Laval football lineman Etienne Legare, York soccer player Francesco Bruno and Joel Schmuland of the Alberta volleyball team were nominated on the men’s side.

Labonte led her team to its second straight Canadian university hockey title as well as a 36-0 record against CIS opponents this season.

It’s already been a busy year for Labonte, who is currently in Finland playing at the women’s world championship as Canada continues its preparation for the 2010 Olympics.

The physical education student from Boisbriand, Que., says McGill has always accommodated her national team commitments.

“McGill is a very understanding school,” Labonte said during a conference call. “Our athletic program is really supportive. They understood the situation.”

She’ll be away for a month in the middle of exam time.

“It’s not easy,” she said. “It’s really not an easy thing for them as well but they’re really helping me to be successful at school.”

She says her national team experience is among the assets she brings to the Martlets.

“Being on the national team obviously gives me a lot of experiences that are extremely enjoyable as a hockey player and as a person,” she said. “That’s the kind of confidence I’m trying to provide to my teammates.”

Pierse has also had a few balls in the air this season. She swept all the breaststroke events at the 2009 CIS swimming championships, setting Canadian records in the 100-and 200-metre races. A few weeks later, the Edmonton native broke the short-course world record in the 200 at the Canadian spring nationals.

Having an understanding university behind her has made all the difference, says Pierse.

“It’s great being part of a university program that understands not only that you want to represent your university but you do have the higher goals at representing yourself and your country at the international level,” she said. “It’s a balance that you do with your coaches and with your school.”

Landry, from Toronto, is a the reigning two-time CIS women’s rugby MVP while Cambridge, Ont., native Carson was named the CIS female track athlete of the year after winning three gold medals at the nationals. She also captured bronze at the national cross-country championships.

Schmuland was named CIS men’s volleyball player of the year as the Golden Bears claimed their third title in five seasons.

“I’m riding an unbelievable high right now,” said the Calgary native. “I don’t think I actually fully understand what has all happened so far. Hopefully over the summer I’ll be able to reflect and think about what a great team season that I was able to be a part of.”

Rancourt, the reigning CIS men’s hockey MVP and scoring champion from Ottawa, led the Huskies to their first University Cup championship appearance since 2002.

Legare, a St-Raymond, Que., native who was named CIS lineman of the year, guided the Rouge et Or to their second Vanier Cup victory in three years and is one of the top prospects going into the 2009 CFL Canadian college draft.

Bruno, a Toronto native, was named the CIS men’s soccer MVP after leading led the Lions to their first national title since 1977.

The BLG awards are based on athletic accomplishments, outstanding sportsmanship and leadership. Each of 52 CIS schools selects one female and one male athlete of the year. From these nominees, one female and one male athlete are chosen within each of the four regional associations.

The awards have traditionally been handed out in Calgary but the ceremony has been moved to Toronto this year.

“It was felt that it was a great national award and we should give it national exposure,” said Doug Mitchell, national co-chairman of BLG LLP, the law firm that sponsors the awards. “We’re having it in Toronto this year, it will be back in Calgary next year and then the following year it will be in Vancouver.”

– The Canadian Press