Theanna Vernon, Volleyball, Ryerson

Theanna Vernon, Volleyball, Ryerson

Burlington, Ont. – The talent across Ontario University Athletics (OUA) shone bright once again during the 2018-19 season, and among the droves of top-tier performances, a trio of standouts rose the ranks to earn the conference’s top annual honours. The OUA is pleased to announce that Theanna Vernon (Scarborough, Ont.) from the Ryerson Rams is the 2018-19 Female Athlete of the Year, while the co-winners for the conference’s Male Athlete of the Year are Guelph Gryphons’ Jace Kotsopoulos (Burlington, Ont.) and, for a second straight season, Laurentian Voyageurs’ Kadre Gray (Toronto, Ont.).

Vernon, for a second straight season, will advance as the conference’s female nominee at the Lieutenant Governor Athletic Awards Presented by Makadiff SPORTS at the U SPORTS level, while Kotsopoulos will represent the OUA as the male nominee for the national honour.

OUA Female Athlete of the Year – Theanna Vernon, Ryerson Rams Women’s Volleyball

Theanna Vernon, in her fifth and final season with the Rams women’s volleyball team, maintained her status as one of the most dominant middles across the country. After anchoring her team to a national title a year ago – the first ever for the Ryerson Rams Athletics Department – Vernon came back swinging to help her team continue to reach new heights on the court.

Along the way to the team’s result as OUA and U SPORTS silver-medalists this season, Vernon helped buoy the team to the nation’s top rank; a feat that had not yet been accomplished by Ryerson to date. As one of the best in the country, it stands to reason that Vernon and company would see the best effort from teams game in and game out, but that didn’t stop the senior from putting up leading numbers at the net.

In both the OUA and U SPORTS, Vernon ranked first in blocks per set (1.56) and hitting percentage (.410). At the provincial level, Vernon’s marks put her more than 0.5 blocks ahead of the next highest-ranked player and eclipsed her closest competitor in hitting percentage by nearly 0.70. Highlighting this nation-leading line was a flawless weekend in January that saw her make zero attack errors in back-to-back matches. In those two matches, she finished with 40 points, 29 kills, and a 0.604 hitting percentage, to go along with 11 blocks; cementing her status as a true all-star.

To cap off her first team all-star campaign, which also included a fourth-ranked conference average in points per set (4.3) and 12th-ranked mark of 2.92 kills per set, Vernon was named the OUA East Division Player of the Year, as well as a first team All-Canadian. Sprinkled in to this award-winning campaign, last year’s BLG Award nominee also became Ryerson’s all-time leader in career points, blocks, hitting percentage, and service aces, so it comes as no surprise that she has earned the respect of all those around her, including her coach, who praises both her on and off-court qualities.

“Theanna is an intense competitor who is always in control of her emotions,” said Rams head coach Dustin Reid. “The combination of her size, athleticism, skill, and will to win makes her a truly dominant volleyball player. 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.”

OUA Co-Male Athlete of the Year – Jace Kotsopoulos, Guelph Gryphons Men’s Soccer

Jace Kotsopoulos has been one of the most dynamic and potent players to ever step onto the pitch for the Gryphons men’s soccer program, and after adding to his already impressive university resume this season, finds himself receiving the conference’s top honour. The fourth-year striker, who has been finding the back of the net throughout his now four years with Guelph, wasn’t only able to come back strong from a season-ending injury a year ago, but did so in a manner that put his name in the Gryphons record books.

On September 9, the Burlington native found himself just one goal shy of the school’s all-time goal-scoring record, and after the dust settled on the match with McMaster, a two-goal output from the scintillating striker set him atop the pack with 50 career tallies; passing Robbie Murphy for the program honour. That match was just one of the memorable outings for Kotsopoulos during the month, as his 11 goals in seven matches parlayed him to U SPORTS Athlete of the Month recognition.

The fourth-year player led the OUA in scoring during his sophomore campaign and earned second team All-Canadian honours in his third season – despite playing in just 10 games – but the offensively-gifted senior may have brought his best performance to 2018. Kotsopoulos was named the OUA West Division Most Valuable Player and went on to become just the second Gryphon ever to claim the Joe Johnson Memorial Trophy as the U SPORTS Player of the Year.

Certainly, his 15 tallies made an impact on the scoreboard, as his total paced the OUA and ranked second in the country this season, but beyond the numbers, Kotsopoulos consistently showcased a well-rounded ability that has been on display since his Gryphon career began. “Jace had an amazing season,” said Gryphons head coach Keith Mason, “but above all this, [he] is a tremendous individual, humble, talented, hardworking, and a leader.

This impressive description speaks volumes about Kotsopoulos, who was also selected third overall in the inaugural Canadian Premier League draft by the Hamilton-based Forge FC, and beyond that, Mason concluded that “it is a pleasure to coach such a player with these qualities day in and day out.”

OUA Co-Male Athlete of the Year – Kadre Gray, Laurentian Voyageurs

Just like Kotsopoulos, the co-winner of the top male honour is no stranger to success, or even to this particular honour. Kadre Gray, the reigning OUA and U SPORTS Male Athlete of the Year, hit the hardwood with another impressive campaign in his third go-around, once again becoming the focal point for the Laurentian Voyageurs men’s basketball team and a force throughout U SPORTS hoops.

To learn more about the decorated third-year guard’s résumé, his name can be found in and around the top of several key statistical categories, both in the province and the country as a whole. Gray’s 31.0 points per game paced the nation, even eclipsing his lofty totals from a year ago by almost seven points. He also ranked first in both field goals made per game (10.3) and free throws made (160), proving that he can make an impact from just about anywhere on the floor. He isn’t just a talented scorer; however, as the former OUA and U SPORTS Rookie of the Year also ranked second in assists with 6.2 per contest and pulled down 7.4 rebounds per game to put him in the top-15 in the conference.

With a well-rounded stat line like this, it comes as no surprise that Gray also picked up six double-doubles on the year, as well as one triple double (32 PTS, 11 REB, 13 AST), which came in a dominant opening weekend that saw him average 40 points, 10 boards, and nine assists in his return from a season-ending foot injury the year prior. While his season got off to a sizzling start, Gray’s most impactful performance may have come later in the season when his Voyageurs took the court against the then top-ranked Ryerson Rams. Gray’s 45-point outburst, which included 31 in Laurentian’s second-half surge, helped sink the country’s top seed and make a big statement heading into the postseason.

Beyond his efforts on the university scene, the first team OUA all-star and U SPORTS All-Canadian was also recognized by Canada Basketball on multiple occasions. After his otherworldly effort against the Rams, coupled with another productive performance against Toronto, Gray was named the Canada Basketball Male Player of the Week. Earlier in the season, meanwhile, Gray’s services were called into action when he joined the Senior Men’s National Team in their FIBA World Cup Qualifiers against Venezuela and Brazil; making him the only active U SPORTS player to suit up for Canada in this competition.

According to head coach Shawn Swords, Gray’s ability to be consistently recognized “is a testament to his ability”. Continued Swords, “to be a two-time OUA Athlete of the Year is quite the accomplishment. It does not come as a surprise to me because his work ethic and dedication keeps his potential growing and growing.”

While Gray was honoured as the top male U SPORTS athlete a year ago, this season will see Vernon and Kotsopoulos represent the conference at the upcoming Lieutenant Governor Athletic Awards Presented by Makadiff SPORTS in Calgary on May 7, 2019, as the pair will be joined by the top female and male athletes from the remaining three conferences vying to become the U SPORTS Athletes of the Year.