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Jonathan Senecal, Audrey Leduc named Canada's top university sport athletes

Audrey Leduc, right, a sprinter from Universite Laval, and Jonathan Senecal, a football player from the Universite de Montreal, accept the awards for female and male U Sports Athletes of the Year for the 2023-24 season in Calgary, Alta., Monday, June 10, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — Sprinter Audrey Leduc has Paris in her sights and football player Jonathan Senecal wants to follow other Canadian quarterbacks into pro football.

The University of Laval's Leduc and University of Montreal's Senecal were named Canada's U Sports athletes of the year Monday.

They were chosen from eight nominees, four of each gender, from each of the four university conferences.

In addition to leading the Carabins to a 2023 Vanier Cup title, Senecal was named MVP of that game and earned the Hec Crighton Trophy as the top football player in Canadian university sport.

The 24-year-old from Mirabel, Que., was just the second player to claim all three football trophies after Calgary's Don Blair in 1995.

"What I'm most proud of is our Vanier Cup championship this year," Senecal said. "It's been a while since the Carabins had a Vanier Cup win. I think the last one was in 2014."

The third-year student in business administration has two years of U Sports eligibility remaining, and is eligible for the CFL draft in 2025.

"There's some Canadian quarterbacks that are paving the way, Tre Ford, Nathan Rourke, Michael O'Connor are the quarterbacks that are making a statement," Senecal said.

Leduc was the fastest Canadian woman in the 60 metres and went unbeaten in that distance en route to a national U Sports title in March.

The 25-year-old from Gatineau, Que., went on to set Canadian records and reach Olympic qualifying standards in both the women's 100 and 200 metres in the last two months.

"Starting this indoor season with my Quebec record at the 60 metres, to do a tenth of a second PB and just continuing that to the outdoor season, making two Olympic qualification standards and two Canadian records, the season isn't even over yet, so it's very exciting," Leduc said.

The fourth-year masters of business administration student erased the women's 100-metre record that had stood for 37 years with a time of 10.96 seconds.

"Everything we worked on in the past years, just came together this year," Leduc said. "Everything happened at the right moment."

Her goal is to win the 100 and 200 metres at Canada's Olympic track and field trials June 26-20 in Montreal and officially punch her ticket to Paris this summer.

University of New Brunswick hockey player Austen Keating, Guelph runner Max Davies and Alberta volleyball player Isaac Heslinga joined Senecal as finalists for male athlete of the year.

Other finalists for the female award were UNB basketball player Jayda Veinot, Brock volleyball player Sara Rohr and University of British Columbia soccer player Katalin Tolnai.

The winners were announced at the Lois and Doug Mitchell U Sports Athlete of the Year Awards.

The top university sport athletes have been recognized since 1993 when former CFL player and commissioner and UBC football alum Doug Mitchell founded the awards. Mitchell died in 2022 at the age of 83.

His wife Lois, who was Alberta's lieutenant-governor from 2015 to 2020, has continued their joint sponsorship of the honours previously called the Howard Mackie Awards, BLG Awards and Lieutenant Governor Athletics Awards.

The 2023 winners were University of Toronto swimmer Gabriel Mastromatteo and McMaster basketball player Sarah Gates.

The 2022 recipients were Edmonton Elks quarterback Ford (Waterloo) and Canadian women's team rugby player Sophie de Goede (Queen's).

Previous winners also include CFL players Blair, Jesse Lumsden and Andrew Buckley as well as Olympic swimmer Kylie Masse, heptathlete Jessica Zelinka and hockey player Kim St. Pierre.

The trustees of the Canadian Athletic Foundation, a not-for-profit board founded 31 years ago by Doug Mitchell, vote for the winners.

U Sports is one of the largest sports leagues in Canada with 15,000 student-athletes playing varsity sports in 57 Canadian universities from Victoria to St. John's, N.L.

Leduc and Senecal were presented with trophies and a $5,000 scholarship for postgraduate studies at a Canadian university.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2024.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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