When the 2021-22 season finally began last fall a particular group of Ravens began a relatively unprecedented journey as sixth-year student-athletes. While professional athletes continued to play, after a short pause, during the pandemic, student-athletes across Canada found their seasons halted amidst the uncertainty of surging COVID-19 cases. Some would choose to complete their degrees and begin their life after post-secondary education others longed for one last opportunity to play alongside their teammates while representing Carleton University.
While all motivated by different factors, Carleton's sixth-year athletes played valuable roles in their team's success leaving a lasting impact on the Ravens community. As Carleton celebrations convocation we pause to honour this special class of Ravens.
For some, the opportunity to maintain their final year of eligibility meant redemption. Student-athletes who had been previously injured like women's soccer Jenna Gurniak found closure in one final season. "I felt it was important to come back for a final year," she explained. "I was injured in my second year and with COVID I had only played three seasons so I wanted to have a fourth season to finish off my career."
"In her six years, Jenna had a big impact on our program both on and off the field," said Ravens Head Coach Dominic Oliveri. "Although we are sad to see her leave, we wish Jenna all the best in the future, and hope to see her in the stands supporting the team as a proud member of our alumni in the near future."
Jeremy Aweya had a similar motivation to Gurniak. Having missed his first season due to health issues returning for the 2021-22 season was a chance to write a final chapter on his journey. "It was very important to come back since Carleton was given the honour to host the national championship tournament in front of our friends and family that have been supporting us over my six years," he explained. "Although it did not end how we wished, coming back and doing a sixth-year was the best decision I could make."
Ravens' Head Coach Kwesi Loney also saw the benefit of having Aweya back for another year. "Having Jeremy back for his final year of eligibility was an extremely positive addition," he said. Loney would add that after a missed season, Aweya not only provided veteran leadership but helped set a standard for the program."His return also displayed a connection to the program we hope to instill in all our student-athletes. I was grateful to have him as part of our Nationals run and play out his final year of eligibility as a Raven."
On the women's rugby team, leaders and co-captains Roberta Drummond and Anastasia Bourka both returned for a final season feeling they had something left to prove. "Being a varsity athlete is an honour that few people get to experience," Drummond would reflect. "You get five years out of your entire life to do it, and that's it. I couldn't leave a year of eligibility on the table, I had to finish on my terms and leave the team in the best position I could." Leaving on their own terms is exactly what the co-captains did, guiding the Ravens to their first RSEQ medal, a bronze.
For Drummond's fellow captain Anastasia Bourka the extra year was an opportunity to soak in one last run. "I loved my time as a Raven! I remember being in my first year and being so excited for the next five years. I blinked and somehow I’m finishing up my sixth year." In a blink of an eye, Bourka helped the team grow in leaps and bounds but also felt herself grow along with it. "Being a part of the women's rugby team has changed my life for the better. This team is something truly special and I cannot wait to see the successes that will come their way."
Graduating with a Bachelors of Civil Engineering Ravens fullback Mitch Raper capped off his playing career scoring the Ravens' last touchdown of 2022 - a fitting end to the career of without a doubt one of the team's hardest-working players. "I’m going to miss the community of Carleton Athletics and the family that football provided." Everyday of the season and off-season We worked together to make our team better and with that came laughs, tears, but most importantly relationships I’ll cherish forever.
“Mitch will leave a lasting impression at Carleton as a graduating student-athlete," said Ravens Offensive Coordinator Josh Sacobie. "He contributed in so many ways, both on and off the field and has grown into a strong leader and a person. We appreciate everything that he has done for the school and its football program, and wish him all the success in his future.”