Jonathan Lao, Holly Pitters named York athletes of the year

York University Lions soccer player Jonathan Lao and track and field athlete Holly Pitters were named the male and female athletes of the year, respectively, at the 49th annual Varsity Athletics Banquet on Thursday night.

Lao is the third straight men’s soccer player to receive the honour and the fifth since 2009, while Pitters makes it five straight years a female track and field athlete has won the award.

Also receiving major awards at the event were Muad Issa from the men’s cross country and track and field team and Marilyn Grammenopoulos from the women’s socer team, who took home the Outstanding Male Graduate Award and the Bryce M. Taylor Award, respectively. Matt Arnone and Nour Ghoneim from the soccer teams were named the co-recipients of the Charles Saundercook Memorial Trophy. Mack Shields from men’s hockey and Claudia Poluga from women’s tennis were named the top rookies of the year, and men’s hockey coach Chris Dennis received the coach of the year award.

Male Athlete of the Year: Jonathan Lao, Soccer
Lao, from Unionville, Ont., became York’s second ever men’s soccer national player of the year when he received the Joe Johnson Memorial Trophy in the fall. The fourth-year midfielder led the Lions to an undefeated regular season and first place in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) West Division, and the squad went on to win the conference silver medal and finish sixth at the U SPORTS championships. He was named the OUA West most valuable player as well as a first-team OUA all-star and U SPORTS all-Canadian. He is the first four-time all-Canadian in program history.

Female Athlete of the Year: Holly Pitters, Track & Field
Pitters, from Mississauga, Ont., became York’s first long jump national champion since 1999 when she leapt to first place in the event at the U SPORTS championships, winning her first national medal. She also successfully defended her OUA title in the event and was named a first-team OUA all-star and U SPORTS all-Canadian. She went undefeated in the regular season and twice set a school record in the long jump, breaking a record that had previously stood for 32 years.

Outstanding Male Graduate Award: Muad Issa, Cross Country / Track & Field
Issa, of Mississauga, Ont., came to York as an unheralded middle distance runner and has since inserted himself into all aspects of varsity life. He has represented York at the OUA championships in cross country and track and field and was part of the national title-winning team in 2014. He has become a leader on the team while also serving as co-president of the York Sport Council and as a mentor-in-training in the PAWS program. He is also a regular at varsity events cheering on his fellow Lions and has worked as a varsity photographer and a soccer statistician in his years at York.

Bryce M. Taylor Award: Marilyn Grammenopoulos, Soccer
Grammenopoulous, from Whitby, Ont., is the first women’s soccer player to win the award since former teammate Felicia Turone took home the trophy in 2013. She has been an extremely engaged student-athlete in her five years with the Lions. On the pitch, she is a three-time OUA West first-team all-star and earned U SPORTS second-team all-Canadian honours this season. She is also an academic all-Canadian and earned her returning athletic financial award in all five years, one of only four athletes in her class to achieve that honour. She is also a PAWS mentor and an active member of the York Sport Council, as well as a peer mentor at Shoreham Public School and a regular volunteer with Athletes in Action. Last summer she went to Ethiopia to run soccer programs for kids and will be a full-time coach for AIA summer camps this summer.

Charles Saundercook Memorial Trophy: Matt Arnone and Nour Ghoneim, Soccer
Arnone, of Woodbridge, Ont., and Ghoneim, from Aurora, Ont., have both overcome numerous obstacles to reach the pinnacle of their sports throughout their careers at York.

Arnone struggled with challenging family circumstances throughout his childhood and used soccer as an outlet, ultimately signing a contract with Toronto FC Academy. His older brother passed away in a car accident in 2010, and shortly after he was released by the academy. After quitting soccer for six months, he came to York and saw brief playing time as a forward. He eventually switched to defence and became a regular starter, earning OUA West second-team all-stars in his final season. During his career Arnone won three OUA championships and two U SPORTS banners, and in 2014 he scored the extra time goal in the national quarter-final game as part of the title run. He also started Jason’s Wish a charity event that honours his older brother with proceeds going to Sunnybrook Hospital.

Ghoneim is one of the most accomplished student-athletes ever to compete for York. She also struggled with challenging family circumstances throughout her life but still excelled in soccer and was selected for the national program as a teenager. She was offered a scholarship to an NCAA Division I school but had to turn it down when her sister was hospitalized the summer before her first year, and she instead came to York. In her five-year career she has earned four OUA all-star awards and three U SPORTS all-Canadian honours, was the national player of the year last season and is a two-time OUA West most valuable player, and was the OUA and U SPORTS rookie of the year in 2013. Ghoneim was diagnosed with a learning disability since coming to York but is on track to graduate with her degree in psychology next year. She has also battled multiple mental health problems but is still known as one of the most positive Lions in our community.

Coach of the Year: Chris Dennis, Men’s Hockey
Dennis is the first men’s hockey coach to win York’s coach of the year award since its inception in 2011. One year after engineering a worst-to-first turnaround as a rookie bench boss, he led the Lions to their first Queen’s Cup title and berth at the U SPORTS championships since 2004. He was named the OUA West coach of the year for a second year in a row after leading the Lions to an 18-6-4 record, and the team’s defence was the best in the conference allowing only two goals per game.

Male Rookie of the Year: Mack Shields, Hockey
Shields, from Saskatoon, Sask., had one of the greatest seasons between the pipes in program history. He earned the OUA West rookie of the year award, as well as first-team all-star and all-rookie team honours, after leading the conference with a 1.78 goals against average and finishing second in save percentage and wins. In the playoffs he played every minute of the team’s run to the Queen’s Cup title and earned player of the game honours in the U SPORTS quarter-finals. He was the OUA’s nominee for the U SPORTS goaltender of the year award and earned second-team all-Canadian and all-rookie team honours, becoming York’s first men’s hockey all-Canadian since 2001.

Female Rookie of the Year: Claudia Poluga
Poluga, from Toronto, went undefeated in singles and doubles while playing out of the second spot at the OUA championships to lead the Lions to the OUA silver medal. She was named a conference all-star for her strong play throughout the regular season, where the Lions went 6-0 and finished in first place.

Lions Legacy Awards: Marilyn Grammenopoulos, Muad Issa, Rianna Langford, Amy Locke

Men’s Basketball – Jayden Frederick
Women’s Basketball – Ishanaa Seupersadsingh
Men’s Cross Country – Suraj Sharma
Women’s Cross Country – Vaishnavy Yogarajah
Field Hockey – Rebecca Titus
Football – Colton Hunchak
Men’s Hockey – Derek Sheppard
Women’s Hockey – Amy Locke
Rugby – Petra Woods
Men’s Soccer – Jonathan Lao
Women’s Soccer – Nour Ghoneim
Men’s Tennis – Filip Obucina
Women’s Tennis – Nikki Carnovale
Men’s Track and Field – Nicholas Fyffe
Women’s Track and Field – Holly Pitters
Men’s Volleyball – Alex Duncan-Thibault
Women’s Volleyball – Kirsten Dillon
Men’s Wrestling – Shady El-Nahas
Women’s Wrestling – Danica Pedrick

Most Improved Team: Men’s Volleyball

Sport Council Award: Duan Parchment, Men’s Track & Field

Roar Cup: Men’s Volleyball

Senior Student Athletic Therapist of the Year: Thomas Nicholls

Spirit Cup Award: Janet Morrison