Laval’s Betts, UBC’s Van Ryk claim Canadian university sport awards

Laval Rouge et Or team captain Mathieu Betts raises the RSEQ Championship Dunsmore Cup after defeating the Montreal Carabins, at Laval University in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

CALGARY — The University of British Columbia has produced yet another women’s volleyball star.

Kiera Van Ryk became the third Thunderbird in less than a decade to be named the top female athlete in Canadian university sport.

Van Ryk and Laval football player Mathieu Betts were the recipients of the Lieutenant Governor Athletics Awards in Calgary on Thursday.

Van Ryk, from Surrey, B.C., earned the Jim Thompson Trophy that goes to the best female athlete in U Sports.

Montreal’s Betts, who signed with the NFL’s Chicago Bears earlier this week, received the Doug Mitchell Trophy for top male athlete.

Both athletes were given post-graduate scholarships of $10,000.

In the 27-year history of the awards, the winners have often been fourth- or fifth-year athletes.

But Van Ryk was selected in just her second season with the T-Birds.

She joined UBC volleyball players Shanice Marcelle (2013) and Liz Cordonier (2010) as winners.

Van Ryk had 24 kills, three aces and 13 digs in the national championship final for the Thunderbirds, who beat Ryerson for the title.

"That’s a massive highlight for us," she said.

The six-foot-two outside hitter was named tournament MVP. Her 0.77 service aces per set was a Canada West conference record.

Van Ryk credits Doug Reimer, the T-Birds’ coach of 22 years, for her success.

"He’ll push you, but he’ll really challenge you in a way that makes you a better person and a better player," she said.

"The program as a whole, they’re so supportive, they give you what you need and help you where you need to be.

"I’m super-happy with UBC and my choice to go and be a T-Bird because there’s something special there."

Van Ryk played for Canada in last year’s world championship and has been named to the national team again this year.

"We have Olympic qualifiers this year so my goal really is to help the team get to the Olympics," she said.

Betts was unable to attend Thursday’s ceremony in downtown Calgary because the six-foot-three, 254-pound defensive end was still in Chicago with his new NFL team.

The fourth-year player led the Rouge et Or and the country with nine sacks and 14 tackles for a loss.

Betts became the first to win the J.P. Metras Trophy that goes to Canada’s most outstanding lineman three consecutive years.

"Just being nominated is a great way to finish my four years with the Rouge et Or," Betts said in a statement.

"It’s hard to put in words. Just being able to stand out in my sport is already a great achievement. To do it on my varsity team, even more so. Finally, to be able to stand out provincially and nationally … that is something I’m very proud of."

Canadian university sport honours have been presented since 1993 first as the Howard Mackie Awards and then the BLG Awards named for the law firm Borden Ladner Gervais.

The brand was relaunched this year by Alberta’s lieutenant-governor Lois Mitchell and husband Doug Mitchell, a BLG co-chair and former CFL player and commissioner who founded the awards.

Previous winners 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.

Volleyball players Theanna Vernon from Ryerson and Courtney Baker of Dalhousie and Laval basketball player Sarah-Jane Marois were nominated for the Thompson trophy this year alongside Van Ryk.

Calgary quarterback Adam Singara, Guelph soccer player Jace Kotsopoulos and University of New Brunswick hockey player Christopher Clapperton joined Betts as Mitchell trophy nominees.

The winners were selected by a combined vote of the Canadian Athletic Foundation board and a public poll on USPORTS.ca.

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