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Mastromatteo, Gates named U Sports Athletes of the Year

Gabe Mastromatteo UofT Gabe Mastromatteo - UofT Varsity Blues on Twitter

CALGARY — Gabriel Mastromatteo persevered in the pool after illness and Sarah Gates applied her on-court leadership off the court in Canadian university sports.

The University of Toronto's Mastromatteo and McMaster's Gates were named the Doug and Lois Mitchell Awards winners Wednesday as this year's top U Sports athletes.

Mastromatteo broke U Sports records en route to national titles in the men's 50-metre and 100-metre breaststroke a year after a long and heavy bout of COVID-19.

The 21-year-old from Kenora, Ont., lost three months of training in early 2022. The lost pool reps cost the Varsity Blues commerce student a spot on Canada's Commonwealth Games team.

He didn't feel like himself in the pool until September.

"It's very nice to be seen for the hard work even in the hard times," Mastromatteo said.

"I feel like it's pretty easy to get rewarded when everything's going well, but it's nice to see that there's light at the end of a very dark tunnel."

Gates of Newmarket, Ont., concluded a decorated Marauders hoops career by leading the country in scoring with 27.3 points per game.

She shot 48.3 per cent from the field and 37.7 per cent from three-point range while averaging 30 minutes a game.

"My teammates, my coaches, my family, they're the best support system," Gates said. "They've pushed me to be the best I can be. Coming out of a COVID year and a few weird years, I just didn't want to leave any unfinished business."

During the 2020-21 U Sports season nearly wiped out by the pandemic, Gates founded the Women's Athletic Leadership Committee at McMaster.

The group started a coaching apprenticeship to give women the chance to coach at a varsity level at the school.

"We can grow so much," Gates said. "This is only the beginning."

Mastromatteo and Gates each received their trophies and a $5,000 scholarship to pursue post-graduate studies at Wednesday's ceremony in Calgary.

The top U Sports male and female athletes have been recognized since 1993 when former CFL player and commissioner and UBC football alum Doug Mitchell founded the awards.

Mitchell died last year at the age of 83.

His wife Lois Mitchell, 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.

No winners were announced in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

Previous winners also include CFL players Jesse Lumsden, Don Blair 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, voted for the winners.

One finalist of each gender from each of the four conferences — Atlantic, Ontario, Quebec and Canada West — are chosen annually.

Alberta volleyball player Jordan Canham and Mount Royal hockey player Tatum Amy represented Canada West.

McGill swimmer Pablo Collin and Laval track and field and cross-country runner Jessy Lacourse were the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec finalists.

Saint Mary's cross-country and track runner Andrew Peverill and University of New Brunswick hockey player Kendra Woodland were the Atlantic conference nominees.

U Sports is one of the largest sports leagues in Canada with 4,000 student-athletes playing varsity sports in 56 Canadian universities from Victoria to St. John's, N.L.

Ontario athletes swept the male and female awards a second straight year and for the fifth time overall.

"Canadian sports don't always get the recognition I feel it deserves sometimes," Mastromatteo said.

"There's a lot of great athletes here. Everyone I was competing against was outstanding. To come out on top of that, I still don't quite understand it fully, but it is very cool. I feel very appreciated for the work I put in."

He's the first University of Toronto athlete to win the male athlete of the year. He has three more years of U Sports eligibility remaining.

“Gabe is a world class swimmer and showed that with his two meet records at the national championships this season," Varsity Blues swimming coach Byron Macdonald said in a statement.

"But there are potholes in any adventure and Gabe hit a huge one last year with a heavy COVID hit that kept him out of serious training for several months.

"With that comes doubt and lots of challenges, so it's a strong support staff and personal drive that has gotten Gabe back to his previous form.”

Mastromatteo has been named to Canada's Pan American Games swim team that will compete in Santiago, Chile later this year.

Gates has completed her honours degree in human behaviour with a double minor in health addictions in society and sociology. She hopes to play professional basketball in Europe.

“Her ability not only to score but to influence the game in so many ways has been phenomenal," Marauders head coach Theresa Burns said in a statement.

"Equally wonderful has been her growth as a person and as a leader who has learned to use her voice to promote change, especially for female athletes."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2023.