Grant’s back-to-back top player honour highlights 2018-19 award winners and all-stars

Photo by Superior Images
Photo by Superior Images

Burlington, Ont. – The depth of talent across the conference was at the forefront this season and the best of the best are being recognized for their efforts. Ontario University Athletics (OUA) is pleased to announce the 2018-19 women’s basketball major award winners and all-stars, headlined by a now two-time Player of the Year winner from the Lakehead Thunderwolves.  

After taking the OUA by storm a year ago, Leashja Grant (Nassau, Bahamas) took to the court for another dominant season with the Thunderwolves en route to her second straight Player of the Year selection. In her final year of eligibility, the forward left her mark on the program and the conference as a whole with another potent year of unmatched production.

Grant led the league in both points (20.6) and rebounds (12.5) – including a league-high 4.4 per game on the offensive glass – for a second straight season and was the focal point of the 20-4 Lakehead squad that finished second in the West Division. Moreover, Grant was among the best in the business when it came to steals, racking up a top-10 rank on the year to showcase her presence on the defensive end as well. With such gaudy numbers, it’s no surprise that consistency was at the forefront of her dominant totals, as she picked up 18 double-doubles in 24 games to wrap up the 2018-19 campaign as the conference’s lone player to average such a result.

To rack up a 20-win season, however, a team must also possess some additional pieces to the puzzle, which is exactly what the Thunderwolves have in Nikki Ylagan (Mississauga, Ont.) and Sofia Lluch (Mahon, Baleres, Spain). The former, a third-team all-star, was the team’s third-leading scorer (20th in OUA) and was dynamic from deep. She ranked fifth in the conference in 3PT%, while making just under three per game for Lakehead. The third-year guard also ranked in the top-10 in steals with 50; good for over two per game. The latter, meanwhile, has been named to the all-rookie team after stepping immediately into a big role for a contending T’Wolves team and showcasing her dynamic distributive and defensive skillset along the way.

Lakehead’s second-seeded counterpart in the East Division, the Carleton Ravens, are also home to plenty of award winners and all-stars, and at the forefront is a force on offence, and certainly, defence. After seeing much of their championship roster graduate after last year’s run, the team needed someone to step up, which is exactly what Nicole Gilmore (Hamilton, Ont.) did in her fifth year with the black birds en route to her Defensive Player of the Year nod. The first-team all-star, who also led the team on the offensive end with 14.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG, and 2.7 APG, was a focal point for the best defensive team in the province, allowing just 54.0 points against per contest.

Another veteran two-way threat made her mark on the court, earning a second-team all-star selection after her 12.4 PPG and 5.8 RPG, is Alyssa Cerino (Stoney Creek, Ont.). She made an immediate impact after transferring to the nation’s capital ahead of the 2017-18 championship campaign and with an increased role this season, she becomes an OUA all-star for the first time in her university career.

Just down the road in Ottawa, the Gee-Gees were the lone team to top the Ravens in the East Division standings, doing so under the guidance of the Coach of the Year. Following a 21-2 season, Andy Sparks earns the OUA’s top coaching honour for the fifth time since taking over the Ottawa program in 2008-09. Ranked second in the country, the team is entering their semifinal clash with the highest national ranking in program history, and to get to where they are now, earned high-profile wins over each of their fellow top-10 squads in Ontario.

As a team, the Gee-Gees ranked atop the OUA in five key statistical categories this season, and beyond the influence of Sparks, that strong play is a testament to their trio of all-stars on the court. Representing them on the first team is guard Brooklynn McAlear-Fanus (Ottawa, Ont.), who was just one of several Gee-Gees to elevate their play from a season ago. A reigning third-team all-star, McAlear-Fanus averaged 10.3 points, five rebounds, and an OUA-leading 4.9 assists per game this season thanks to her ability to wreak havoc at the helm of the offence with her dynamic speed and relentless pace of play.

After missing a season due to injury, Sarah Besselink (Kingston, Ont.) returned to her all-star form for her fifth and final year with Ottawa. After claiming a spot on the second-team in 2016-17, she returned to the floor with averages of 11.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, and 2.0 APG, with efficiency at the forefront of her play (3rd in 3PT%; 8th in FG%). Staking a spot as a third-team all-star, finally, is Brigitte Lefebvre-Okankwu (Gatineau, Que.), who continues to shine early in her career. After picking up provincial and national all-rookie honours last year, the second-year forward continues to showcase her skill as one of the most dominant post players in the conference, leading the team in scoring (14.0 PPG), pulling down over six boards per game, and sitting third in the OUA in field goal percentage (51.9).

The last of the Garnet and Grey’s award-winning roster comes in the form of all-rookie team member Alana Renon (Ottawa, Ont.) who carved out an important role for the conference’s top regular season team in over 12 minutes of playing time per game.

From the top team in one division to the top team in the other, the McMaster Marauders also boast a roster loaded with three all-star players; one of which shone both on and off the court. Hilary Hanaka (Hamilton, Ont.) has been a leading figure for the Hamilton squad since she stepped onto the court five years ago. The co-captain and starting guard was among the conference leaders in points per game (14.5; 6th in OUA), assists per game (4.1; 4th in OUA), and shooting percentage (5th in 3PT%; 6th in FG%), but her impact goes well beyond the numbers and even the court.

Hanaka has been recognized on multiple occasions by the university and city for her generous volunteer work, which included the Ray Lewis Award for Community Service for the City of Hamilton. The geography major also took on roles as a Team Rep for McMaster Athletes Care and Varsity Leadership Council, as a member of the McMaster Women’s Athletic Leadership Council, and as a presenter for Marauders in the Classroom. The Academic All-Canadian has also actively participated in organizations like the Neighbourhood Hoops Program, Flamborough Fire, and St. Mary’s Catholic High School.

Alongside Hanaka, another senior stood tall in her fifth season, as Linnaea Harper (Newmarket, Ont.) maintained her productive play across several facets of the game. Chief among the forward’s accomplishments this year was eclipsing the 1,000-point plateau – something Hanaka did earlier in the season (1,136 career points) – achieving the feat in her final game with the maroon machine. More than just the offence, however, for which she finishes seventh all-time in McMaster history, Harper also finishes third in career rebounds (621), sixth in career assists (236), and tied for sixth in career steals (130).

Rounding out the Marauders’ all-star contingent is second-teamer Sarah Gates (Newmarket, Ont.). The offensively-gifted guard has been a sparkplug for one of the top teams in the country, ranking second in the conference with 17.1 points per game, while also seeing similar ranks in points per 40 minutes (25.2). After previously earning all-rookie honours a year ago, Gates continues to demonstrate that the future, much like the present, looks bright for Mac.

From a reigning rookie standout to the top of the current first-year class, Waterloo Warriors Kaitlyn Overeem (Brantford, Ont.) claims the 2018-19 Rookie of the Year award. After the black and gold saw major injuries to their top three returning players, Overeem was quickly thrust into the spotlight and proved to be more than up to the challenge. The rookie guard was the team’s best player at both ends of the floor, with opponents focusing their game plans around the kinesiology major for that very reason. Her defensive assignments pit her against some of the top players in the conference on a nightly basis, but it didn’t stop her from also ranking in a tie for first among OUA rookie scorers as well (13.2 PPG).

Overeem’s career started off the on the right foot, but that isn’t always the case for student-athletes as they make their way to university, and someone who understands that well is this year’s Tracy MacLeod Award recipient, Mackenzie Robinson (Collingwood, Ont.).

The fourth-year guard has been a steady presence on the court for the Voyageurs (10.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG) and much of that presence comes from the strength she has accrued off of it after feeling the effects of a major personal loss. Before joining Laurentian, Robinson’s mother had taken her own life, leaving her with a wide range of emotions and decisions to deal with in both the short and long-term. Since that time, and throughout her journey at Laurentian, Robinson has continued to take steps to learn and grow as a person, both on and off the court. And after dealing with the things she did, it is clear that the Laurentian guard epitomizes the determination, perseverance, and unwavering spirit that this award represents.

While a pair of Marauders joined the 1,000-point club this season, they weren’t the only ones to accomplish the feat. Marianne Alarie (Kingston, Ont.), a member of the second-team all-stars, also surpassed the mark this season and wrapped up her career with the Queen’s Gaels with a total of 1,088 points. The fifth-year guard was one of the offensive bright spots across the conference, finishing in the OUA’s top-five therein (15.8 PPG), but also proved valuable on defence, sharing the team lead in steals (1.7) on the season.

Another of the conference’s top two-way performers also churned out a productive final season, as Ryerson’s Sofia Paska (Etobicoke, Ont.) added another all-star selection to her lengthy university resume. The three-time first-team all-star, two-time second-team All-Canada, and former all-rookie selection has wrapped up her university career with a second-team selection. The Rams’ all-time leader in both points and rebounds held true to her career monikers this year, racking up averages of 13.1 points and 7.8 boards to pace the team in both categories once again.

Fellow Ram Jama Bin-Edward (Waterloo, Ont.) joins Paska as a 2018-19 all-star – her first such selection – representing the national championship hosts on the OUA’s third team with 10.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 1.5 SPG on the year.

Earning the final spots on the second and third-team all-stars, respectively, are a pair of top-five scorers in the province – Melissa Tatti (Ancaster, Ont.) and Burke Bechard (Dover Centre, Ont.).

The former, a starring member of the Brock Badgers, wasn’t only among the conference’s best point-producers, but was also one of the top distributors all season long. The stat-stuffing guard wrapped up her season ranked third in points per game (16.2) and second in assists per contest (4.5). Bechard was similarly productive for the Gryphons, as last year’s all-rookie squad selection finished fourth in scoring (15.8 PPG) and third in rebounding (8.5 RPG), while also chipping in 2.6 assists per game from the Guelph backcourt. Both players were also among the best at forcing turnovers via the theft, with Bechard ranking ninth (2.1 SPG) and Tatti topping the pack with an unparalleled 4.1 steals per contest.

The final spots on the all-rookie team, meanwhile, were earned by Angeline Campbell (Brampton, Ont.) and Jessica Muha (Beaconsfield, Que.). Campbell made an immediate impact for the Nipissing Lakers this season and ended the year as the team’s top scorer. Her 13.3 points, to go along with her average of nearly five rebounds per contest, proved that she is well-suited for the university game and will be a focal point for the northern squad for years to come. Muha, meanwhile, started in 14 of the 19 games she played in this season for the Toronto Varsity Blues, averaging 8.0 points and 4.4 rebounds during her time on the floor.

The complete list of 2018-19 OUA women’s basketball major award winners and all-stars is below:

Major Award Winners

Player of the Year Leashja Grant, Lakehead
Defensive Player of the Year – Nicole Gilmore, Carleton
Rookie of the Year – Kaitlyn Overeem, Waterloo
Coach of the Year – Andy Sparks, Ottawa
Joy Bellinger Award – Hilary Hanaka, McMaster
Tracy MacLeod Award – Mackenzie Robinson, Laurentian

First Team All-Stars
Leashja Grant, Lakehead
Nicole Gilmore, Carleton
Hilary Hanaka, McMaster
Linnaea Harper, McMaster
Brooklynn McAlear-Fanus, Ottawa

Second Team All-Stars
Marianne Alarie, Queen’s
Sarah Besselink, Ottawa
Sarah Gates, McMaster
Sofia Paska, Ryerson
Melissa Tatti, Brock

Third Team All-Stars
Burke Bechard, Guelph
Jama Bin-Edward, Ryerson
Alyssa Cerino, Carleton
Brigitte Lefebvre-Okankwu, Ottawa
Nikki Ylagan, Lakehead

All-Rookie Team
Kaitlyn Overeem, Waterloo
Angeline Campbell, Nipissing
Sofia Lluch, Lakehead
Jessica Muha, Toronto
Alana Renon, Ottawa