For the fourth consecutive year, The Varsity has selected its men’s and women’s athlete of the year. Several Varsity Blues teams achieved great success this season, yet both the athletes selected here helped their teams break new ground while also achieving great individual seasons. 

Men’s athlete of the year: Callum Baker 

Callum Baker is an essential player on the Varsity Blues men’s basketball team, who won the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) West division and advanced into the OUA semifinals for the first time since the 1996–1997 season. In the semifinals, the Blues fell to the eventual OUA champions — the Queen’s Golden Gaels — in a double-overtime thriller. 

Regardless, Baker still counts the season as a success, holding their victory in the OUA West division highly. “I believe it’s probably the hardest division in the OUA and to win [so] that was really big for our program,” he said. 

After a slow start to the season, the team persevered and, in Baker’s perspective, exceeded expectations. Though he will be graduating and leaving the Blues behind, he is confident the Blues can be just as good next season, with guards Noah Ngamba and Iñaki Alvarez being key players. 

During the summer, Baker played in the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) with the Brampton Honey Badgers. His time with the Honey Badgers taught him many valuable lessons about basketball — and his performance with the Blues this past season demonstrates perfectly that. 

Baker earned the OUA’s scoring title after leading the OUA in points per game during the regular season. His 23.4 points per game was also the third-highest in U SPORTS. For his achievements, he was named OUA first-team all-star and the OUA player of the year, becoming only the third Blue to win that award. He was also named a U SPORTS first-team all-Canadian — the first Blues men’s basketball player to earn that achievement since Eddy Meguerian in the 1996–1997 season. 

Baker credits his family, teammates, and coaches for his remarkable individual success this past season. “They helped me reach new heights that I never thought I’d be able to reach,” he said. 

He also hopes his success can motivate players to join U of T. “For guys that come to U of T, [maybe] they can… [see that] someone else was able to get an MVP, and [believe that] ‘maybe I can do the same thing,’” he explained. 

Overall, Baker told us he’s immensely grateful for the last two years he’s spent with the team. As he shared with us in a prior interview, his experience away from his family and in the NCAA was rough, and at one point, he was ready to give up on basketball. With the Blues, that changed. “My teammates every day they just believed in me and they shared good energy,” he said. “Just being in a positive environment, it really just taught me how to love basketball again.”

For his future, Baker had previously shared that he had ambitions to study law, yet those plans are currently on hold. Baker plans to play with the Honey Badgers in the CEBL again this summer before trying to make it as a professional player in a European basketball league. Beyond that, Baker isn’t sure where he will go. But for now, he’s just enjoying the ride. 

Women’s athlete of the year: Taylor Trussler

The Varsity Blues women’s hockey team hoped to end the season off with a gold medal at the U SPORTS Championship final but fell short in a 3–1 loss to the Concordia Stingers. 

“You can’t win them all I guess. [But] it’s [still] a pretty good way to end off my career. I think silver in nationals is pretty special regardless,” reflected Blues captain Taylor Trussler. 

Looking back on her career, special is the perfect way to describe it. Trussler has won two OUA titles, made it to nationals three times, and been named an all-rookie and a two-time all-star. She also led the team in regular season goals and points in the 2021–2022 season, as well as leading the team in postseason points in the 2022–2023 season, and both postseason points and goals in the 2019–2020 season. Through all the success she’s had, there have been plenty of memorable moments to look back on.

“The memories just got better every year,” said Trussler. Getting to the OUA finals in her first year was one example. Winning the whole thing the next year was even better. Winning the McCaw Cup a second time in 2023 was the cherry on top. 

Leading her team to two OUA titles and her best showing at nationals this past season, having been eliminated in the quarter-finals in both the 2019–2020 and 2022–2023 seasons, Trussler fully displayed her leadership skills. But it was a team effort that allowed her to reach the highest of highs as a Varsity Blue.

“It was an honour to be the captain, but I couldn’t have done it all without everyone else,” said Trussler. The two-time all-star told The Varsity that having her teammates trust and believe in what she was saying and doing, allowed her to be the best leader she could be, setting an example for the younger players. Now, with Trussler departing from the team, she has high hopes for what they will achieve. 

“They’ve had one year under their belt and now they know what to expect. They know what it takes,” said Trussler. By taking what they have learned this year from a season that saw them end with silver medals in both the provincial and national tournaments, Trussler has faith that the more seasoned Blues can help the players in their first years, and together find the same success that she did.

Trussler is eyeing Europe as the next destination to take her hockey career. With her agent, she is looking to find a team that will be a good fit for a player like her. “That’s still the plan, just haven’t landed anywhere yet,” said Trussler.

Whichever team has the good luck of becoming Trussler’s new home will have a seasoned veteran with a lot of winning experience gracing their locker room. As graduating students, both Baker and Trussler will leave the Varsity Blues and U of T this year — and The Varsity is excited to see what they achieve next.