Aboubacar Sissoko heads into a pro soccer career and Kelsey Wog pursues her Olympic dreams riding the momentum of a standout university season.
Montreal Carabins midfielder Sissoko and Manitoba Bisons swimmer Wog were named the U Sports athletes of the year for 2020 on Thursday.
The ceremony was held virtually and televised on CBC Sports because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sissoko captained the Carabins to a silver medal at the national men’s championship. The 24-year-old has signed a pro contract with the Canadian Premier League’s Halifax Wanderers.
Wog won four gold medals at the university swim championship and posted this year’s fastest time in the world in the 200-metre breaststroke.
The 21-year-old is preparing for Canada’s Olympic swim trials, which have been postponed until 2021 along with the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“Sport has taught me so much,” Wog said. “It has taught me about trust, patience and persistence and has helped me become the person that I am today.
“Thanks to the organizing committee for making this event possible during these unprecedented times.”
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Sissoko and Wog will each received post-graduate scholarships of $10,000.
Canadian university sport honours have been presented since 1993 first as the Howard Mackie Awards and then the BLG Awards named for the law firm Borden Ladner Gervais.
The brand was relaunched in 2019 by Alberta’s lieutenant-governor Lois Mitchell and husband Doug Mitchell, a BLG co-chair and former CFL player and commissioner.
Previous winners include CFL players Jesse Lumsden, Don Blair and Andrew Buckley as well as world champion swimmer Kylie Masse, Olympic heptathlete Jessica Zelinka and Hockey Hall of Famer Kim St-Pierre.
“These awards recognize the essential role that university sports play in shaping Canada’s future leaders,” Lois Mitchell said in a statement.
“Young people who compete at this elite level develop the integrity, resilience, teamwork and communication skills they need to excel no matter what challenges come their way, and to inspire others to do the same.”
Eight athletes — a male and female from each of the four conferences in Canadian university sport — were nominated for the Doug and Lois Mitchell Trophies.
Toronto runner Lucia Stafford, Laval rugby player Fabiola Forteza and Prince Edward Island basketball player Jenna Mae Ellsworth were finalists for the women’s award.
The male finalists were hockey players Taran Kozun and David Thompson from Saskatchewan and Toronto respectively and Dalhousie basketball player Keevan Veinot.
Many cancellations due to pandemic
U Sports has been hit hard by the pandemic.
Many conferences and schools are halting varsity sport for either part or all of the 2020-21 season because of both health concerns and financial hardship caused by the pandemic.
Some athletes were unable to complete their 2019-20 seasons. The national volleyball and hockey championship were called off in March when the sports world ground to a halt.
Sissoko and Wog were chosen by the Canadian Athletic Foundation chaired by Mitchell with a public poll counting 25 per cent towards the final selection, according to U Sports.
Sissoko was born in Mali and has played a pair of international matches with that country’s junior team.
The fifth-year arts and sciences student led the Carabins to the school’s first national men’s title in 2018.
“Aboubacar is simply an extraordinary player and man. On the field, it’s amazing the number of times he manages to get us out of difficult situations without us noticing, because of his intensity,” Carabins head coach Pat Raimondo said.
“He is always in the right place and always makes the right decisions. Despite his great talent, he is very humble. He knows what he has to do to win and he does not hesitate to shine the light on others for the good of the team. “
Winnipeg’s Wog set U Sports records in the 200-metre breaststroke and individual medley.
The fourth-year agriculture student has already stood on the international podium with a silver at the 2016 world short-course championship in Windsor, Ont.
“Kelsey’s success comes from simple approach to improvement,” Bisons head coach Vlastik Cerny said.
“She sets goals, works hard to improve every day and competes. When she reaches her goal, she sets a new one and repeats the process again.
“But one of her biggest strengths as a competitor is her resilience in times of struggle. She looks at stumbles as opportunities to improve which ultimately make her a champion.”