Mwasalla, Abel named athletes of the year at annual MacEwan Athletics banquet

Grace Mwasalla, left, and Ashton Abel pose with MacEwan University President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Annette Trimbee after being named the MacEwan Athletes of the Year on Saturday night (Joel Kingston photo).
Grace Mwasalla, left, and Ashton Abel pose with MacEwan University President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Annette Trimbee after being named the MacEwan Athletes of the Year on Saturday night (Joel Kingston photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Women's soccer and men's hockey split the major awards at the annual MacEwan Athletics' Awards Banquet on Saturday night, held at the Sandman Signature Hotel Downtown Edmonton.

Grace Mwasalla (women's soccer) and Ashton Abel (men's hockey) were named the Female and Male Athlete of the Year award winners, respectively, while Amelia Russo (women's soccer) and Ethan Strang (men's hockey) captured rookie of the year honours.

Women's soccer was also named the Murray Orvis Team of the Year for the second-straight season.

Women's basketball captured the prestigious Cathryn Heslep Academic Team of the Year – presented to the team with the highest combined GPA – also winning it for the second-straight season.

It's the fourth-straight year that a women's soccer player has won the Griffins' Female Athlete of the Year award and Mwasalla was most deserving. In leading Canada West with 15 goals in 2022 (second in U SPORTS), she broke a 27-year-old program record for the most in a single season by a Griffins women's soccer player across all eras of play.

Mwasalla was named to both the U SPORTS and Canada West first all-star teams.

"I'm pretty proud to keep it in the soccer family, for sure," said Mwasalla. "I'm feeling honoured and grateful to have received this recognition from MacEwan.

"100% it was my incredible teammates and this coaching staff," she added of how her prolific season happened. "I don't think I'd be the person or player that I am without them. They're all class players both on and off the pitch. They made my job 100 times easier this season. To be surrounded by exceptional players, it just motivated me all season to be a better player in order to inspire them."

In his first season with the Griffins after transferring from Boston University (NCAA), Abel brought an elite level to MacEwan, breaking the program record for the most saves and most minutes in a Canada West season, while setting new standards for goals against average, save percentage and wins.

"It's an awesome program to play for," said Abel. "I think you have to give a lot of credit to the guys. They played a lot of great games in front of me, and we beat some awesome hockey clubs, so it's just a great season overall. I had a lot of fun."

Amelia Russo, left, and Ethan Strang pose with MacEwan Vice-President Academic Dr. Craig Monk after receiving the Griffins' rookie of the year awards on Saturday (Joel Kingston photo).

Russo became the fifth-straight women's soccer player to win the MacEwan Female Rookie of the Year award after a promising first-year campaign where she started 13 games at defensive midfield or centre-back, consistently keeping the best players in the conference in check. She was named to the Canada West All-Rookie team for her efforts.

"It feels really special," said Russo. "I definitely couldn't have done it without my teammates and coaches pushing me.

"I definitely sort of surprised myself. I always wanted to push myself to get to that level and coming in I was able to be pushed my teammates to get to where I am."

After leading the Griffins in goal-scoring with nine in his first season, Strang won the Male Rookie of the Year award, becoming the third men's hockey player to do so. He broke three program rookie records and tied five others.

"It was obviously exciting," said Strang of his incredible season. "I can't take this award without thanking the boys and the coaching staff of the team for everything they've done for me. It means a lot to me as a first year coming in. I'm just glad to win."

The women's soccer team saw its 2022 season end in the boardroom with a U SPORTS ruling that they would have to forfeit their first 11 games due to an ineligible player. Before that, though, they finished with the best record since joining Canada West in 2014 (12-2), led the conference in scoring (46 goals) and had the second-best goals against in CW (11 allowed in 14 games).

"It's a special group of amazing student-athletes that I'm privileged and honoured to work with every single day," said head coach Dean Cordeiro. "What they've been able to accomplish over these past couple years has been truly remarkable. This season, going 12-2 and setting a lot of new standards and program-bests, it speaks volumes of how much this group has accomplished and we're only getting started. It's a young team. It's a very motivated group and I'm excited about the future."

Women's basketball topped a list of five MacEwan teams with a combined GPA of 3.0 or higher to claim its second-straight Cathryn Heslep Academic Team of the Year trophy. The 13 student-athletes on the roster combined for an impressive 3.58 GPA in 2022-23. That topped the 3.508 they had to win the award in 2021-22.

"It's incredible. They're so studious and so disciplined. They've really made it a part of our identity and who we are. They're really, really proud of the efforts they put in. It's something they strive to achieve every year. Incredible group of young women and it's well-deserved recognition."

Individual team awards – Most Outstanding (MOP) and Most Improved (MIP) – were also presented on Saturday night. Here are the winners by team:

Women's Basketball

MOP – Mackenzie Farmer

MIP – Toki Tsuzuki

 Toki Tsuzuki, left, and Mackenzie Farmer flank head coach Katherine Adams.

Men's Basketball

MOP – Matthew Osunde

MIP – Job Janda

 Job Janda, left, and Matthew Osunde flank head coach Mike Connolly.

Women's Hockey

MOP – Brianna Sank

MIP – Rian Santos

Brianna Sank, left, Rian Santos flank head coach Chris Leeming. 

Men's Hockey

MOP – Ashton Abel

MIP – Jordan Taupert

 Jordan Taupert, left, and Ashton Abel flank head coach Zack Dailey.

Women's Soccer

MOP – Grace Mwasalla

MIP – Alyx Henderson

 Grace Mwasalla, left, and Alyx Henderson flank head coach Dean Cordeiro.

Men's Soccer

MOP – Josh Stayko

MIP – Ali Blaybel

 Ali Blaybel, left, and Josh Stayko flank assistant coach Paul Hamilton and head coach Adam Loga.

Women's Volleyball

MOP – Mariah Bereziuk

MIP – Danielle Jodoin

 Danielle Jodoin, left, and Mariah Bereziuk flank head coach Dusty Freimark.

Men's Volleyball

MOP – Alexei Walisser

MIP – Seth Birkholz

 Alexei Walisser, left, and Seth Birkholz flank head coach Brad Poplawski.