Tonight is the 16th annual BLG Awards Gala at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary, where the top male and female CIS athletes of the year will be announced. Unfortunately, the awards show won't be televised on TSN until Sunday, May 18 at 11:00 AM Eastern, but the show's still usually interesting and worth watching even without the suspense. These are pretty significant awards: in addition to the recognition that goes with being the country's top university athlete, the winners also get a $10,000 post-graduate scholarship. Winners are chosen by the 23 trustees of the Canadian Athletic Foundation. On the male side, here's the breakdown of who's nominated, why they could win, and what might count against them. I would have liked to preview the female awards as well, but ran out of time before I had to head off to work. All nominated athletes have been previously selected as the all-sport athlete of the year by their school and their conference, as well as the CIS player of the year in their sport.
Canada West: Ben Schellenberg, right side hitter, Winnipeg Wesmen volleyball
Why he could win: Schellenberg had a great year, leading the seventh-seeded Wesmen to a first-round upset of the undefeated McMaster Marauders and a perhaps surprising place in the final at this year's national championships. They eventually came up short against the top-seeded Alberta Golden Bears, but Schellenberg put up a team-high 24 kills and was named Winnipeg's player of the match. His strength is his versatility: he finished in the top ten in Canada West in kills per game, points per game, hitting percentage, blocks per game and digs. He was recently invited to the 2008 national team selection camp.
What might count against him: Last year's male BLG winner was also a Canada West volleyball player (Josh Howatson, the star setter from Trinity Western). Also, Schellenberg put up strong stats in a number of categories, but didn't dominate any single category, and only finished sixth in his own conference in the crucial stats of kills and points per game. He also had the advantage of playing with Dustin Addison-Schneider, the Winnipeg setter who was a fellow first-team All-Canadian.
OUA: Aaron Doornekamp, forward, Carleton Ravens basketball
Why he could win: Doornekamp had a fantastic season and led the Ravens to a 22-0 record, averaging 15.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in an average of just 27 minutes of playing time. He came through in some big games, and was named the game MVP of both the OUA East Finals and OUA Finals. He alsohelped the Ravens look even better after the graduation of star Osvaldo Jeanty. Moreover, he's received plenty of high praise from the likes of Mark Wacyk, Leo Rautins, Michael Grange and this blog's own Neate Sager.
Doornekamp's certainly had more ink (and type) devoted to his exploits than any of the other nominees, and is a much higher-profile star. He's also played with the national team.
What might count against him: The defining memory for many from this year's national championships is likely the outstanding defensive job Ach Luau did on Doornekamp in the semifinals, which proved crucial to Acadia's double-overtime Cinderella victory. In that game, Doornekamp also went 1-for-2 from the line with ten seconds left when he could have tied the score, missed an off-balance 3-point attempt at the end and sank only 4 of his 23 shots from the field. He had a great year, but was stopped when it mattered most. Also, like Schellenberg, he wasn't overly statistically dominant. Stats aren't everything, as their Player of the Year awards show, but when comparing across sports (which is a dicey business at best), it might be easiest to pick someone who the numbers show as head and shoulders above everyone else playing their game. Doornekamp's prominence in print also doesn't make him a lock, as a large part of that is likely due to the higher-profile nature of his sport. Also, Jeanty won the 2006 award: it might be tough to hand top-athlete honours to two guys from the same school in three years, much less the same program (even given the dominance of Carleton basketball).
QSSF: Jamall Lee, running back, Bishop Gaiters football
Why he could win: Lee almost single-handedly led the Gaiters to a winning record (5-3) for the first time since 1995. He led the country with 1,464 rushing yards, the fifth-best total in CIS history. After only three seasons, he's already set Bishop's career rushing mark with 3,094 yards, and only needs 263 yards to break the QSSF record. He's got the family pedigree: his father, Orville, was the last Canadian back to lead the CFL in rushing, which he did in only his first year in the league. He's also received strong praise from the likes of TSN's Alex J. Walling.
What might count against him: Lee's three years in the league means he's had less career success than the other nominees. His stats are very impressive, but he also had 181 rushing attempts, the most in conference history. That still leads to a fantastic average of over eight yards per carry, though. Like the other nominees, Lee's team came up short in the end: however, they didn't even make it to the nationals, falling to Concordia in the Quebec semifinals. Also like Doornekamp, Lee had a tough time in the crucial game, putting up only 28 yards on 11 attempts. Moreover, it wasn't all that long since a running back won the trophy: McMaster's Jesse Lumsden took it home in 2005.
AUS: Rob Hennigar, forward, Varsity Reds hockey
Why he could win: Hennigar led the Varsity Reds with a nation-high 43 assists (a UNB record) and 58 points in just 27 regular-season games. He helped Team Canada take home gold at the 2007 Winter Universiade in Italy with nine points in six games. He also put up four points in three games at this year's nationals, and led UNB to the silver medal. Recently, he signed a free-agent contract with the New York Islanders. No men's hockey player has ever claimed a BLG Award, which might count in Hennigar's favour.
What might count against him: Hennigar's 58 points included only 15 goals. Assists are valuable as well, but they aren't always as attractive to voters. His team also came up short in the final, even though he scored a goal and almost set up another.