The results for the second annual Gazette Sports Students' Choice Awards are in. Nominees were selected by the Gazette's sports editors and the finalists were selected by you. Over 200 students cast their votes for this year's Mustangs Athletics best of the best.
Female Athlete of the Year and Rookie of the Year: Carmen Lasis (women's hockey)
She may not have been nominated for any of the Mustangs Athletics end-of-year awards, but the Gazette felt that the women’s hockey team’s rookie netminder was worthy of some recognition after an incredible season for the Mustangs. Western University students voted her both Female Athlete of the Year and Rookie of the Year, after she backstopped her team to a silver medal at the U Sports championship.
Lasis led the entire Ontario University Athletics in save percentage during the playoffs, posting a .963 with two shutouts. In the McCaw Cup final at Queen’s University, she held the top-ranked Gaels off the scoresheet to win the provincial championship for Western. Then, in the opening game of nationals, she shut out the Montreal Carabins as the Mustangs won the quarter-final 4–0.
After losing 2–0 to the Manitoba Bisons in the national gold medal game, Lasis was rightly recognized as the goaltender of the tournament.
During the regular season, Lasis posted a record of 13–4 and a goals-against average of 1.48. She was in net for every contest of Western’s 13-game winning streak, which ended with their gold medal loss to Manitoba.
The Mustangs goalie took Athlete of the Year with 41 per cent of the votes and Rookie of the Year with 48 per cent. For Athlete of the Year, Lasis beat out some strong contenders, including women’s rower and Mustangs Athletics Athlete of the Year Larissa Werbicki, OUA cross country silver medalist Kristina Popadich and second team All-Canadian volleyball player Kelsey Veltman.
Male Athlete of the Year: Chris Merchant (football)
Merchant, the Mustangs' starting quarterback, spearheaded the most dominant offensive attack in the nation. The Calgary native threw for 2,959 yards and 18 touchdowns and rushed for 691 yards and 10 touchdowns, leading his team to a perfect 12–0 season and Western’s first Vanier Cup title in 23 years.
It was in the post-season that Merchant made his mark as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the program's history. In four playoff games, Merchant accounted for 1,192 total yards of offence and 12 touchdowns, as the Mustangs put together one of the most dominant stretches of football in Canadian university history.
In the Vanier Cup, Merchant earned MVP honors in the Mustangs’ 39–17 win after throwing for 276 yards and rushing for 89 more while finding the endzone three times. Throughout the season, Merchant established himself both as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country and one of the team’s veteran leaders.
Honourable mentions include Daniel Gleason (men's track and field), Chris Newcombe (men's volleyball) and David Mills (men's squash).
Team of the Year: Football
While a number of Mustangs teams had memorable 2017–18 seasons, it was the football program that broke a 23-year curse in the pre-eminent university sport of the land. From their first win over the York Lions on a warm night on Aug. 27 to their final win on the grand stage of the Vanier Cup on Nov. 25, the Mustangs were perfect in every facet of the game.
The offence, under new coordinator Steve Snyder, obliterated defences through the air and on the ground, while the defence played with a ferocity and intensity that stopped opposing offences in their tracks.
The Mustangs' run through the playoffs was a feat of dominance: the team outscored their opponents 261–64 as they captured a Yates Cup, Uteck Bowl and the national championship. But among all the accolades the Mustangs made theirs in 2017; it was their annihilation of Laval in the Vanier Cup game that ranks as most impressive. The Mustangs, David to Laval’s Goliath, proved themselves the true giants in a 39–17 route of the nine-time national champion Rouge et Or.
Honourable mentions include Women's hockey, Women's rowing and Men's tennis.
Western Event of the Year: U Sports Women’s Hockey National Championship
In March, the top players in university hockey descended on London for the 2018 U Sports Women’s Hockey National Championships.
Seven teams joined the host Mustangs to duke it out for the McCaw Cup, as the Montreal Carabins, Concordia Stingers, Queen’s Gaels, Saskatchewan Huskies, St. Francis Xavier X-Women, Saint Mary’s Huskies and Manitoba Bisons competed at Thompson Arena for the title of national champion.
It was the Mustangs who went on a fantasy run through the tournament, taking down the Carabins in the quarter-finals and Huskies in the semifinals to set up a date with the Manitoba Bisons in the gold medal game.
While their season finished with a disappointing 2–0 loss, the Mustangs magical run captured the hearts of the campus and the London community, while the Bisons won their first national championship in program history.
Honourable mentions include the Yates Cup, OUA Swimming Championship and the Mustangs National Champions Parade.
Upset of the Year: Women's Hockey vs. Queen's Gaels, McCaw Cup
A lot of Western teams had some incredible moments this season. Early in the season, the men's basketball team trumped the eventual U Sports silver medalists, the Ryerson Rams. The women's soccer team won 1–0 in the national quarter-finals against the defending champions, the Laval Rouge et Or. In the student poll, though, the women's hockey team continued to clean up.
After sweeping the defending OUA champions, the Guelph Gryphons, in the OUA semifinals, the Mustangs set up a date with the Queen's Gaels in Kingston for the 2018 McCaw Cup. They knew it would be a big ask to beat the team that had been first in the league pretty much all season — especially in the Gaels' rink.
They did it, though. Western held the highest-shooting team in the league to just 28 shots, and they didn't let them score on a single one. A first-period power-play goal from Emma Pearson put them on the board first. Then Alyssa Chiarello's marker in the dying seconds of the second made it 2–0.
Amanda Pereira's empty-netter sealed the deal in the third period, and the Mustangs became provincial champions. A year removed from a first-round playoff exit, Western wasn't considered a heavyweight contender heading into the season. They certainly proved everyone there wrong.
Coach of the Year: Kelly Paton (women's hockey)
Think the women's hockey team is done? The awards wouldn't be complete without giving credit to Kelly Paton, who coached her team to the national gold medal game in only her second season behind the bench.
As Paton, herself, said on several occasions, the Mustangs this year were not a team with a wealth of starpower. Instead, they won more often by committee. Paton's team played disciplined, well-structured hockey, with excellent special teams. Western had the OUA's best power-play this season, as well as the second-best penalty kill.
This year, the Mustangs knew throughout that they were already guaranteed a spot at nationals by virtue of hosting the tournament. It's a testament to Paton, however, that they were able to stay focused on the games ahead of them and earn their qualification as OUA champions.
In some tense knockout games, Paton's team always seemed well-prepared and up to the challenge. They could never be blamed for not having done their homework.
Honourable mentions include Greg Marshall (football), Dan Bechard and Matt Waddell (rowing) and Peter Lemon (softball).