SARNIA, ON — The Fall sports season may be all but a distant memory, but it’s time to take a look back at a handful of student-athletes that had themselves a season to remember.
With the return to sport in 2021, there was bound to be a new level of excitement across the country. There was a buzz going around that was missing for some time, and just seeing the student-athletes back in competition from coast to coast was a beautiful sight.
Over the course of the Fall seasons, there was plenty of memorable moments to take in. From convincing runs to National Championships to record-breaking performances, there were headlines aplenty over the course of the season.
In Part Two of our Best Kept Secrets series, we stay with the CCAA to take a look at eight student-athletes who excelled in their respective sports during the Fall competition season.
Disclaimer: there were plenty of student-athletes who excelled in their respective sports this season, but we had to cut the list somewhere. This is our somewhere … we took the opportunity to spotlight different conferences and various sports that only compete as one-semester sports.
Latifah Abdu, Vanier Cheetahs Women’s Soccer
Latifah Abdu knows a thing or two about winning, and the 2021 season was no exception.
In Vanier’s first season competing at the top-level in the RSEQ, Abdu and the Cheetahs rolled to a 9-0-1 record in the regular season to finish atop the league standings. That comes on the heels of a 2019 season that saw the Cheetahs claim the RSEQ Division 2 title without losing a game.
Fast forward to the 2021 season, where Abdu and the Cheetahs weren’t intimated with the jump to Division 1. Abdu scored 10 goals in just seven regular season games to lead the league, finishing a goal ahead of teammate Laurie-Ann Moise and Jordane Pinette of the Dynamiques de Sainte-Foy.
After dropping the RSEQ Championship Game to Sainte-Foy, the Cheetahs came into the National Championship Tournament with extra motivation. Despite Abdu’s absence in the tournament, the Cheetahs rolled to the CCAA title without conceding a single goal in regulation time.
Prior to the start of Nationals, Abdu was named the CCAA Women’s Soccer Player of the Year, adding to her trophy case.
During her first season at the Division 1 level, Abdu showed that she’s a force to be reckoned with. The second-year striker continued her winning ways by achieving both individual and team success, and is a name to watch heading into the 2022 season.
Dennis Dei Baning, Humber Hawks Men’s Baseball
You may be asking why the OCAA Player of the Year is on the ‘Best Kept Secrets’ list. Across the OCAA, it’s no secret that Humber Hawks outfielder Dennis Dei Baning is as talented as they come on the diamond, which is confirmed by said Player of the Year Award.
This is to give him the respect he deserves for his entire body of work during his career at Humber.
The 2021 season was Dei Baning’s best in a Hawks uniform. He led the OCAA in home runs (5), RBIs (27), and total bases (41), while hitting .429 for the year. His .976 slugging percentage also led the league, as he had six doubles and one triple to go along with his aforementioned five home runs.
In total, Dei Baning racked up 18 hits, and his power was on full display with 12 of those hits going for extra bases.
To top off his MVP season at the plate, Dei Baning picked up more walks (10) than he had strikeouts (5). Add in his perfect 1.00 fielding percentage, and it’s easy to see why he was named the league’s Player of the Year.
Across the OCAA, it’s no secret that Dei Baning is one of the best the league has ever seen. He has a total of nine home runs and 78 RBIs over his four-year career, and his numbers improved with each passing season. It’s outside of the OCAA where Dei Baning and his career deserve more attention, love, and respect, which is why he’s on this list.
Kailey Harder, NAIT Ooks Women’s Soccer
Ooks keeper Kailey Harder had herself quite the season in 2021 for the ACAC Silver Medalists.
Through six regular season games, there wasn’t anyone better than Harder in net in the conference over the course of the year. NAIT finished atop the North Division with a 4-1-1 record (13 points), and Harder was a key factor each time out.
Harder was the only keeper in the ACAC to have a goals per game average under one, finishing the year with a 0.67 goals against average. She picked up three clean sheets over the course of the season, while two of the four goals she allowed game in a 2-1 loss against the CUE Thunder.
In addition to leading the league in goals against average and tying for the league lead in shutouts, Harder also ranked inside the top 10 in several key categories. She was tied for second in goals against (4), tied for second in wins (4), second in save percentage (.879), and ninth in saves (29).
Harder continued her strong play in the post-season, helping the Ooks reach the ACAC Championship Game. In the North Division Final, Harder recorded a 10-save shutout over the Thunder, helping NAIT avenge their lone regular season defeat. Then, against SAIT in the Championship Game, a well-placed header from the Trojans was the difference in that contest.
The third-year keeper was named to the All-Conference Team as a result of her stellar season in the net for the Ooks, a season that deserved more hype than it got.
Leonard Chesoo, CUE Thunder Men’s Cross Country
CUE Thunder third-year runner Leonard Chesoo was on a different level in 2021, and it ultimately led to a successful CCAA Championship defense and a third straight medal on the biggest stage of them all.
Chesoo, who hails from Iten, Kenya, racked up the hardware during the 2021 season. During the regular season portion of the schedule Chesoo finished in first place in all three ACAC Grand Prix meets on the Men’s Side. In fact, just to showcase how dominant he was during the meets this season, Chesoo finished at least 44 seconds ahead of the second place finisher in all three races.
Cruising into the ACAC Championships, Chesoo continued his winning ways with another convincing win for his second straight conference championship. Chesoo finished more than a minute ahead of teammate Brandon Toal on the 8km course. Still, the pair helped the Thunder qualify for the CCAA National Championships.
To the surprise of nobody, Chesoo was named the ACAC Men’s Runner of the Year, and was named to the ACAC Men’s Cross Country All-Conference Team.
Coming in as the defending CCAA Men’s Individual National Champion, and with two CCAA medals to his credit already, Chesoo was looking to complete his perfect season. At Nationals, Chesoo completed his perfect season, topping Nolan Turgeon of the Vulkins de Victoriaville to successfully defend his CCAA Gold Medal.
The win at Nationals marks the third CCAA medal to Chesoo’s name, adding to his Silver Medal from 2018 and Gold Medal from 2019. He was named a CCAA All-Canadian at the conclusion of the season, capping off a season for the ages.
Anne-Sophie Belanger, Champlain St. Lawrence Lions Women’s Golf
The 2021 season was, quite literally, a banner year for Ann-Sophie Belanger and the Champlain St. Lawrence Lions Women’s Golf program.
Belanger capped off her successful 2021 season with a CCAA National Championship Gold Medal after three rounds of competition at the Ambassador Golf Club in Windsor, Ontario. Belanger shot 79-75-72 (+10) over the three-day event to claim the Gold Medal by one stroke over Hayley McCallum and Madison Ouellette of the Humber Hawks.
Belanger’s National Championship Gold Medal was the exclamation point on what was a stellar 2021 season. Across five total events, which includes the RSEQ Championship and the CCAA National Championship, Belanger finished atop the leaderboard four times.
The lone tournament that saw Belanger finish outside of the top spot was the season-opening event at Terrebonne Golf Club. Belanger fired a 79 (+7) to finish in fourth place, three strokes behind the leader.
From there, Belanger was on a mission the rest of the season. She finished in a tie for first after shooting 72 (+3) at Club de Golf le Versant in the year’s second event. A solo first-place in the final regular season event at Club de golf Continental sent Belanger into the Provincial Championship riding a wave of momentum.
At the RSEQ Championship, Belanger finished the two-day event at +1 (69-76), finishing five strokes ahead of her closest competitor. With her 69 in the First Round, Belanger was the only player to break 70 in 2021 across the RSEQ.
Belanger’s strong regular season was something to behold, as her play on the course got stronger as the year unfolded. It all led to the National Championship Gold Medal which she secured after trailing by a stroke heading into the eventual third and final round.
Samuel Meindl, St. Lawrence Surge Men’s Rugby
The 2021 season was one to remember for the St. Lawrence Surge Men’s Rugby program, and scrum half Samuel Meindl played a big part in the team’s overall success.
The Surge completed an undefeated season in 2021, posting a record of 3-0-1 in the regular season to set the tone for their run towards the OCAA Championship. St. Lawrence picked up a 17-15 win over the Humber Hawks in the OCAA Semifinals before holding on for a 13-7 win over the Georgian Grizzlies to secure the Gold Medal.
Meindl was a key cog for the Men’s Rugby team from the first game of the season. The native of Trenton, Ontario was the OCAA’s top scorer during the regular season, racking up a total of 21 points on the year. Meindl also led the league with nine converts while adding one penalty kick, en route to being named an OCAA All-Star.
Against the Sheridan Bruins on October 16th, Meindl had a season-high three converts in St. Lawrence’s 26-0 road win over the Bruins.
In the post-season, Meindl continued to put up points for the Surge. In their Championship win over Georgian, Meindl recorded one covert and a pair of penalty kicks, posting eight total points in the 13-7 win. With a total of 10 points scored in the post-season, Meindl was named to the OCAA Men’s Rugby Championship All-Star Team, adding to his trophy case for the 2021 season.
The Gold Medal win was the first for the Surge in Division I play, and Meindl was a big factor in St. Lawrence’s undefeated season (5-0-1).
Kayla Campbell, Capilano Blues Women’s Soccer
While the 2021 season may have been her first in the PACWEST, Capilano Blues first-year forward Kayla Campbell played like anything but a rookie.
Campbell played an integral part for the Blues in 2021, helping Capilano bring home the PACWEST Championship and advance to the CCAA Women’s Soccer National Championships after posting a 7-1-1 record during the regular season. The Blues picked a 2-1 win over the Douglas College Royals in overtime to secure the PACWEST Gold Medal.
Over her seven regular season appearances, Campbell finished in a four-way tie atop the list of league leaders in the PACWEST with five goals, joining teammate Claire Ye on the list. Campbell’s first goal came in the team’s first game of the season against the Royals as she scored in the 81st minute to help Capilano come away with a 2-2 draw.
Campbell would go onto score a goal in each of her first four games played with the Blues.
Then, at Nationals, Campbell was a factor in the Blues’ convincing 7-1 win over the Fanshawe Falcons in the quarterfinals. Campbell notched a pair of goals in the first half to help Capilano cruise through to the semifinals. While the Blues would drop their next two contests and fall short of the Bronze Medal game, it was still a strong showing for the program, and for Campbell as a first-year player.
At year’s end, Campbell racked up her share of hardware. Campbell was named the 2021 PACWEST Rookie of the Year and was named a Conference All-Star. As a result, she was also named a CCAA All-Canadian. It was a stellar way to start her playing career with the Blues.
Sean Finnigan, Crandall Chargers Men’s Cross Country
The 2021 season was a successful one for first-year runner Sean Finnigan and the Crandall Chargers Men’s Cross Country program as a whole.
Finnigan, a first-year runner from Oromocto, New Brunswick, excelled with the Chargers in 2021. He was a perfect 3-for-3 in ACAA competition before competing at the CCAA National Championships alongside his Crandall teammates that were hosted by the St. Mary’s Lightning in Calgary, Alberta.
In his first ACAA meet on September 18th, which was hosted by the Holland Hurricanes, Finnigan finished in first place, an even 38 seconds ahead of second-place. He would follow that up with another top finish on October 2nd at the meet hosted by the Universite Sainte-Anne Dragons.
Finnigan would sit out the third race of the year, which was hosted by the Chargers, ahead of the ACAA Championships. At the ACAA Championships in Truro, Nova Scotia on October 30th, Finnigan secured first place once again, completing his perfect season in the process. He was also one of four Crandall runners to finish inside the top nine at the ACAA Championships, helping the Chargers secure the Team Gold Medal.
While the National Championships didn’t go as planned for both he and the Chargers as a collective unit, it was still a strong debut season for Finnigan. For Crandall, hopefully this is a sign of things to come in the years to follow as they look to build upon their successes in 2021.
- T. Bennett