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Many Gee-Gees will be taking their first strides this fall. Image: Martha Kierku/Fulcrum
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With athletes gearing up for the 2021-2022 season, here are some new faces who will suit up for the Garnet and Grey

The University of Ottawa is known for having athletic teams that develop hard-working, driven athletes. Recently, the Gee-Gees have faced plenty of setbacks as games have been cancelled due to the pandemic, but this year, with many students coming back to campus, athletes are eager to get back to playing, and new recruits are excited to make a name for themselves on their respective teams. Here’s a look at some of the new faces who will be seen on the field this year. 

Britney Achu — Women’s Rugby

Britney Achu will be playing outside centre on the women’s rugby team as she enters her first year studying biomedical science at the U of O. Achu has played rugby since she was in ninth grade, she played for the Ottawa Beavers and the Banshees Rugby Football Club, as well as on her team at St. Peter Catholic High School. 

Achu was also involved in track and field and volleyball in high school. 

In an interview, Achu said that she was drawn to rugby because she enjoyed the opportunity to play competitively and work with other committed athletes.

“For the two years that I was able to play in high school, my team went to city championships, and being able to be surrounded by teammates and coaches who loved the sport as much as I did are the highlights of my career. It was also just a fun place to put my energy towards outside of academics.”

Unfortunately, two years ago Achu suffered an injury to her medial collateral ligament (MCL) that took her out of that season. 

“That was hard because all I wanted to do was play, and all of a sudden I couldn’t,” Achu said. 

“A mistake I made was that I got back on the field too quickly, which has only caused me further problems down the line. It still affects me and I have to deal with those consequences, but luckily I can still play the sport I love.”

Achu decided to attend the University of Ottawa because she felt it would offer her the best opportunities in terms of both academics and rugby.

“The coaching staff are amazing and the team culture feels more like a family than a team. I did a few walk-ons with the team and got invited to book clubs and events so that I could connect with the team on a more personal level, which helped a lot and was part of the reason I fell in love with the U of O.”

“In terms of rugby, I wanna play for as long as I can, work as hard as I can, and make it as far as I can. My plans for the future are very open.”

Achu will not be on campus for the fall semester due to the virtual format of her courses, but she is still eager to begin university. 

“There is some lingering anxiety that comes with doing new things and going into first year, but I’m excited for this new chapter in my life and what it holds.”

Johari McGregor — Men’s Football

Johari McGregor will be joining the U of O’s men’s football team as a linebacker and beginning his first year studying sociology and social sciences. 

McGregor is originally from Montreal, Quebec, where he played football for the LaSalle Warriors and was ranked as Canada’s number one linebacker. After achieving this impressive feat, he was recruited to play for Clearwater Academy in Clearwater, Florida, which he attended for two years. 

After playing high-level football in Canada, McGregor was eager to play in the U.S., and calls the success he found there to be the highlight of his career so far.

“I had never played American football but had always wanted to go down and pursue my dreams of playing there because that’s where the competition is at its highest peak. The first time I went to America I went to the ‘Best of Midwest’ camp and won M.V.P. Going to America and setting a standard for myself down there is one of my biggest accomplishments.”

Prior to the pandemic, McGregor received several Division 1 scholarships in the U.S., but lost them because social distancing measures prevented him from visiting schools. He also noted the impact that the pandemic had on his ability to play.

“When we play in three weeks, that will be my first game in two and half years. COVID-19 really lowered my drive to play. That was one of the reasons I committed to [U of O], they made me feel like playing was worth it again. The coaching staff encouraged me not to give up and they were one of the few coaching staff to stick by me.”

“Ottawa is a great place. I met a lot of great people at the U of O, I really liked my teammates and coaches even just meeting virtually. You can already tell they are just genuine people and they really care about you as a person, not just an athlete. That’s what made me make the decision to come to the University of Ottawa because I didn’t just feel like an object, I felt the coaches appreciated what I brought to the table.”

On top of his triumphs as an athlete, McGregor is also an R&B recording artist. He is signed to a California-based record label, No Sleep Records, and goes by the name TGETruth

Look for Johari McGregor on the field — he’ll be sporting number 25. 

Juliann Lacasse — Women’s Soccer

Juliann Lacasse is a first-year human kinetics student and goalkeeper for the women’s soccer team. 

Lacasse is a hometown recruit from Gloucester who has previously played with Ottawa South United Soccer (OSU), the Ontario Player Development League (OPDL), and the Ottawa TFC. In high school, she proved herself as a well-rounded athlete playing soccer, field hockey, and volleyball. 

Lacasse notes “winning all three titles on [her] U-16 OPDL team (the first time in league history) and being on team Ontario and representing them for the time [she] was eligible,” as high points in her athletic career so far. 

Like many athletes, Lacasse had faced challenges that threatened to impede her ability to play, such as having four concussions in nine months and being unable to compete due to the pandemic. 

“The last time I played a game was Jan. 2020, so that’s not great, trying to go into your first university season after not playing for two years.”

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic and the hazards of being an athlete, Lacasse said that the decision to attend and play for the U of O was an easy one.

“The [U of O] soccer program is one of the best in the country, if not all of North America. I’ve known the coaches for a long time, and get along with everyone really well.”

Lacasse hopes her team will make it to the U Sports National Championship and win this year. She also wants to become a physical education teacher, as well as a soccer coach, because she feels “there is a lack of female goalkeeper coaches in the world and [she] has quite a bit of knowledge and experience in the field.”

Maximilian Joseph — Men’s Football

Joseph, hailing from Vancouver, B.C., will be joining the men’s football team as a receiver after playing for the Langley Rams in the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL) for three years. 

High points of Joseph’s athletic career include winning two B.C. conference championships back-to-back and being on the number two team in Canada for junior football with the Langley Rams.

Following his triumphs in the CJFL, 23-year old Joseph decided to further his athletic career and pursue a bachelor’s degree at the University of Ottawa. He chose the school because “I’m bilingual, so I speak French, have family [in Ottawa], and the coaches showed me a lot of love and made me feel comfortable with this move.”

Despite his talents and impressive qualifications when it comes to football, Joseph mentioned some difficulties he anticipates for the upcoming season. 

“Coming in as a rookie anywhere, you gotta put in the time to learn new playbooks, how the coaches want me to run certain routes, it takes up a lot of time, but you just gotta stay positive.”

Joseph also cited positivity as an important tool that helped him cope with the impact the pandemic has had on athletes. He described feeling demoralized after “training for the entire off-season and then coming back to season time and being unable to play.”

“Not knowing when we’ll be able to play has had an effect on my mental health, and I’m 23, so every year we don’t play is super crucial for me.”

Regardless, Joseph is eager to get back on the field and continue working towards his goals, hoping to earn his bachelor’s degree in communications, play professional football in the CFL and/or NFL, and become a sports broadcaster.

“I wanna talk about [the] sports that I love because I’m gonna do that for free for the rest of my life, so I may as well try to get compensation for it.”

Look out for Maximillian Joseph on the field this year — he’ll be sporting number 7!