BURLINGTON, Ont. – Ontario University Athletics (OUA) announced Thursday that Queen’s Gaels cross country standout Claire Sumner (Calgary, Alta.) and York Lions midfielder Jonathan Lao (Unionville, Ont.) have been recognized as the top OUA female and male athletes of the year for the 2016-17 season.
Sumner, a fourth-year life sciences major, opened her season with a historic victory at the Queen’s Invitational, crossing the line in a time of 27:50.91. Her victory also helped propel the Gaels to a first place team finish at the event. The identical 8km runs for both women and men was believed to be the first collegiate cross-country meet in North America where both the men and women contested identical race distances.
“The biggest thing this sport has taught me is that perseverance and consistent hard work will always pay off,” said Sumner. “I strongly believe the life lessons I have learned from cross country will be extremely valuable in my future endeavours.
The Calgary, Alta. native followed that up two weeks later with a gold medal winning performance at the OUA championship, finishing the 6km race in a time of 20:16.7. Sumner, who also earned OUA MVP and first-team all-star honours, was a crucial member of the Gaels silver medal winning team.
On the Plains of Abraham a couple weeks later at the U SPORTS Cross Country national championship, thanks to a late push with under a kilometre remaining in the race, Sumner claimed individual gold after crossing the finish line in a time of 21:09.3. As a result of her first place finish, Sumner was also named the U SPORTS MVP and a first-team All-Canadian.
Following a successful 2016 collegiate season, Sumner went on to claim bronze at the Canadian senior championships in late November, finish fourth at the NACAC championships in early March in Florida, before rounding out her season, placing 52nd in a field of 104 runners in her IAAF world championships debut in Uganda, on March 26.
Lao, a fourth-year economics student-athlete, had tremendous success on the pitch this season as he led the Lions to an undefeated regular season and a first place finish in the OUA West Division.
“I have played soccer my whole life and being involved in the sport has shaped who I am today,” said Lao. “I’m fortunate to have been able to continue to play for the Lions while also getting an education at York.
The Unionville, Ont. native was named OUA West Division MVP and a first-team all-star after he scored four goals and added three assists in 12 games this season for York. It was the fourth consecutive OUA all-star nod for Lao and the second time in his career he captured OUA West Division MVP honours after previously earning the award back in 2013.
He was also recognized for his strong season at the national level, as Lao became just the second player in program history to win the Joe Johnson Memorial Trophy as the U SPORTS Player of the Year, following Francesco Bruno in 2008. Lao was also named a U SPORTS All-Canadian the fourth time in his career, becoming the first player in program history to accomplish the feat.
Led by Lao, the Lions finished the season second in the OUA before placing sixth at the U SPORTS national championship.
Since joining the Lions back in 2013, Lao has been one of the most dominant players in the country and helped the Lions win three straight OUA championships (2013-2015) and back-to-back national titles (2014-15).
Both Sumner and Lao will represent the OUA as nominees for the BLG Awards
The BLG Awards were established in 1993 to recognize the top female and male athletes from universities affiliated with U SPORTS.
On Monday, May 1, the eight national nominees will be honoured at the Martha Cohen Theatre in Calgary. The female and male winners will receive a $10,000 post-graduate scholarship, while all finalists will return home with a commemorative gold ring from Jostens.
This year’s event will mark the 22nd presentation of the awards gala in Calgary. Over the years, the event has also held been held in Toronto (2009, 2013) and Vancouver (2011). The 2017 ceremony will air nationally later in May on Sportsnet.