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SLIDESHOW: Alphonso and Julien-Grant take home top awards at St. F.X. athletics gala

Oliver Smith and President MacDonald also honoured during event


A great season on the turf last fall for two of St. F.X.’s most accomplished student-athletes was further celebrated and recognized during the school athletics department’s annual Awards Gala, April 4.

St. F.X. X-Women rugby player Joanna Alphonso was named female student-athlete of the year and X-Men football player Kaion Julien-Grant male student-athlete of the year, during the ceremony at the Keating Centre.

“To end my career like this is amazing,” Alphonso, a prop who won an astounding three national U Sports gold medals during her five-year career with the X-Women, said.

“It has been everything I hoped for and more,” she continued.

“People come here expecting, maybe, to win a couple of championships - AUS championships. But I had the chance to win three U Sports titles which is half of St. F.X.’s rugby [national] championships. That’s a pleasure all in of itself; I couldn’t imagine it being any better in any way,” the Ajax, Ontario native said.

Her overall career accomplishments for the Blue and White include those three U Sports national gold medals plus a bronze, four AUS championships, and three AUS most valuable player awards (2017, 2016 and 2015). She also earned U Sports tournament all-star status for the second time this past fall and finishes her career sixth on the AUS’ all-time career scoring list with 195 points.

To receive her award, Alphonso walked just the few feet from where she was standing on stage, as one of the evening’s emcees.

“It was fun; I hope everyone had a fun time and has a good night as well,” she said about the gig.

Julien-Grant said he was “surprised” to be named male student-athlete of the year.

“I had no idea,” he said, paying tribute to the other student-athletes in the running.

As for his strong year, and career, as a wide-receiver and kick-returner for the X-Men, the Toronto native said it comes down to trust.

“Just trusting in the coaching staff and my teammates really,” he said. “We feed off of each other; working hard in practice, challenging each other in practice.”

Julien-Grant’s career totals were listed as he walked up to the stage to receive his award. The numbers have him ranked in exclusive company and include; sixth in the AUS record books in career all-purpose yards with 4,563, more than any player in St. F.X. school history, and tied for fifth in AUS history in career receiving touchdowns with 22.

“I found out at the end of the year; I focus more on our team’s success and playing games,” he said about the statistics, noting, as well, he is now in the “waiting game” as far as pro aspirations, with the CFL draft coming up.

“Just keep training hard and hope my name gets called on draft day,” he said, adding his career at X was everything he hoped for “and then some.”

“Originally I just wanted to one-up my dad; he went to Acadia so I decided to come to St. F.X. He received All-Canadian so I had to get two more on him,” he said with a chuckle.

Community awards

The female and male Community X-Cellence Awards went to X-Women soccer player Kelsey Ellis and X-Men track and field athlete Riley Jennings.

“There is a huge connection here at St. F.X. to the community of Antigonish, which is very important. It’s a big part of being of student here,” Ellis, an Ottawa native and most valuable player of her team, said.

A St. F.X. athletics release talks about her extensive contributions.

“[Ellis] was the co-president of the St. F.X. chapter of Obesity Canada where she designed the ‘One Team’' program that involved pairing varsity athletes with local athletes with a disability to provide active peer mentorship. She also volunteered weekly at L’Arche Antigonish, designing and providing individualized physical activity for adults with intellectual disabilities, in group home settings. Ellis lent her time as a volunteer with the St. F.X. Fit 4 Life program, and was a rehabilitation assistant with the Motor Activities at X program, providing physical activity and therapeutic programming for an adult with newly acquired lower motor neuron disease.”

Other community services she participated in included; “being a volunteer at Saint Martha’s Regional Hospital in both the emergency room and as an art therapy volunteer, coaching boys and girls in U-6 soccer, and being a peer buddy with the Best Buddies program; providing social mentoring for an individual with an intellectual disability.”

“Getting to know people here in the community was very rewarding,” Ellis said, and when asked about her favourite part of being an X-Women soccer player, gave a similar response.

“My team; they’ve become family for me. St. F.X. has been an amazing choice, I wouldn’t change a thing,” she said.

Jennings said St. F.X. was “the best decision I ever made.”

His community involvement included; “[working] with the Motor Activities at X program, volunteering weekly with individuals with disabilities in a wide variety of physical activity programs. He lent his time to the autism learn to skate/swim program and was a St. F.X. Fit 4 Life/Fit 4 Tots volunteer.

“Riley coached throwing to local high school aged athletes with the Antigonish Track and Field Club, was a facilitator with the Antigonish Multisport program, and assisted with the design of the inclusive sledge hockey program at St. F.X.,” the release stated.

“For me growing up and playing sports, there were a lot of people involved, who helped develop me as an athlete and as a person,” Jennings, from Masstown, Colchester County, said.

“So, for me, I had the opportunity to work with a couple of different programs, working in para-sports and people with disabilities. It really is very important to give everyone an opportunity to be physically active … that was a big thing for me.

“Providing a place where people can come and enjoy being part of a team … that’s what built me as a person,” he said.

Coach of the year

X-Women rugby coach Mike Cavanaugh who, once again, led his team to a national title, was named coach of the year.

“It has been an amazing year; from day one the girls were on a mission and they never gave up, so it’s nice we received our just award,” he said.

Asked about his coaching colleagues at X, the veteran talked about “inspiring” one another.

“You can learn something from all the coaches; especially, for me, from the football department who are always full of new ideas,” he said “If you’re standing still, you’ll never find success as a coach.”

X-Ceptional Awards

St. F.X. outgoing President Kent MacDonald was one of the two recipients of the department’s X-Ceptional Award.

“An incredible supporter of St. F.X. athletics and our X-Men and X-Women student-athletes, Kent cares deeply for all St. F.X. students and has an amazing ability to personally connect and communicate with them,” the release stated about MacDonald, who will conclude his five years in the role of university president this July.

The awarding of the other recipient was probably the most-heartfelt moment of the night, especially when a video of Antigonish’s own Oliver Smith, announcing the starting line-up and delivering a few motivational words in the locker room of the X-Men hockey team at the nationals in Lethbridge, Alberta was played.

“[Oliver] has served as an inspiration to not only our X-Men and X-Women student-athletes but to the greater community as well,” the release noted of the 11-year-old.

“Diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma two years ago and still fighting this childhood cancer disease, Oliver has shown our athletes that there is something out there bigger than sport to fight for.

“A fan of all St. F.X. sports, but particularly hockey as he is a hockey player himself, Oliver and his family started a fundraiser where they make ‘Ollie Bots.’ So far, they have raised over $20,000 for the Ewings Cancer Foundation of Canada through the sale of more than 1,500 Ollie Bots; a unique wooden robot created with blocks and skate laces and personalized stickers.”

Ellis and Jennings were, appropriately, presented with Ollie Bots, as well as their plaques, when accepting their community involvement awards.

Following is a list of all the winners:


Rookie of the Year – Lucia MacKay (New Glasgow, NS)
Coach's Award – Jamie McCarron (New Glasgow, NS)
Most Valuable Player – Kim Kingsbury (Nepean, ON)

Rookie of the Year – Breanna Sandluck (Thorburn, NS)
Coach's Award – Zoe Johnston (Pembroke, ON)
Runner of the Year – Hana Marmura (Antigonish, NS)

Rookie of the Year – Tyra Meropoulis (Edson, AB)
Coach's Award – Lydia Schurman (Summerside, PE)
Most Valuable Player – Lindsey Donovan (Mirimichi, NB)

Rachel Duffley Memorial Rookie of the Year – Maddie Harroun (Halifax, NS)
Michelle Birks Memorial Coaches Award – Lucy Killacky (Wolfville, NS)
Most Valuable Player – Joanna Alphonso (Ajax, ON)

Rookie of the Year – Amanda Smith (Ottawa, ON)
Coaches Award – Rachle Hawkins (Calgary, AB)
Most Valuable Player – Kelsey Ellis (Ottawa, ON)

Rookie of the Year – Olivia Crewe (Ottawa, ON)
Coach's Award – Lani Deakin (Dubai, UAE)
Track Athlete of the Year – Allie Flower (Lunenberg, NS) & Jane Hergett (Port Williams, NS)

Rookie of the Year – Atik Gilao (Brampton, ON)
Most Improved Player – Justin Andrew (Hamilton, ON)
Most Valuable Player – Daniel Passley (Mississauga, ON)

Rookie of the Year – Aidan Doherty (Vancouver, BC)
Coach's Award – Patrick Marlow (Antigonish, NS)
Runner of the Year – Angus Rawling (Calgary, AB)

Joe Stewart Memorial Rookie of the Year – Gregor MacKellar (Tmberlea, NS)
Offensive Player of the Year –Jordan Socholotiuk (Waterford, ON)
Defensive Player of the Year – Tyler Cordeiro (Oakville, ON)
Special Teams Player of the Year – Keiran Burnham (Cambridge, ON)
Lineman of the Year – Jacob Czaja (Sudbury, ON)
Most Valuable Player – Kaion Julien-Grant (Toronto, ON)

Rookie of the Year – Adam Holwell (St. John's, NF)
Melanson Top Scorer Award – Holden Cook (Whitby, ON)
Wayne Mattie Memorial Unsung Hero Award – Adam Stevens (Bedford, NS)
Most Valuable Player – Mark Tremaine (Dartmouth, NS)

Rookie of the Year – Ayoub Al-Arabi (Halifax, NS)
Coaches Award – Ben Herringer (Calgary, AB)
Most Valuable Player – Josh Read (Bath, England)

Rookie of the Year – Aidan McMann (Ottawa, ON)
Coach's Award – Angus Rawling (Calgary, AB) & Riley Jennings (Debert, NS)
Track Athlete of the Year – Tim Brennan (Beechville, NB)

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