Fraser, Mueller win Stefanko Awards as top graduating student-athletes

High school careers marked by success ended with one more major victory for Brianna Fraser of St. Patrick’s and Matt Mueller of Lambton Central.

Matt Mueller, left, of Lambton Central and Brianna Fraser of St. Patrick's are the 2020 Stefanko Award winners. The awards are given each year to two graduating students in Lambton County for athletic and academic excellence. (Left Photo: Louis Pin/Postmedia Network; Right Photo: Contributed)

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High school careers marked by success ended with one more major victory for Brianna Fraser of St. Patrick’s and Matt Mueller of Lambton Central.

They’ve won the Stefanko Awards, which are given annually to two graduating high school students in Lambton County for academic and athletic excellence.

Fraser, 17, is headed to Brock University after winning three individual medals – one gold and two silver – at the OFSAA wrestling championships.

Mueller, 18, is going to Western University with a tennis resume that includes an OFSAA medal, several tournament titles and two appearances at International Tennis Federation events.

His sister, Marissa, was a Stefanko Award winner in 2017.

“It’s kind of cool that we’re siblings and we won it,” he said.

Fraser on top of podium

Fraser helped the Fighting Irish win the OFSAA girls’ team title in March. She also won gold in the 64-kg division after back-to-back silver medals.

It wasn’t the career anyone expected after she placed sixth at the LKSSAA meet in Grade 9.

“I was a little surprised, too, for sure,” she said. “I just started doing the weights that the coaches offered. I committed to the club program, too. But really I think it’s the coaches. We just have the best coaches. They’re amazing.”

She thanked John Burke, Dave Mottram and Kelly Gordon of the St. Patrick’s and Sarnia Bluewater Wrestling Club teams.

Fraser had never wrestled before high school. She knew nothing about the sport but was drawn to it.

“Every practice you have to push really hard,” she said. “It is physically demanding but super rewarding. And it’s an amazing group to be with, the St. Pat’s team and the Sarnia (Bluewater) team.”

Fraser was named the outstanding female wrestler this year at the LKSSAA and SWOSSAA meets. She’s also an Ontario age-group champion.

Burke raves about her work ethic.

“She puts the time in to be prepared,” he said. “She’s probably the hardest worker in high school that I’ve ever coached.

“We do morning lifts, she never missed a lift. We have evening practices with the Sarnia Wrestling Club two nights a week, she never misses that. Shows up to every practice. First in, last out. Works the hardest at every practice. She’s just prepared. She puts the time and effort in, and it shows.”

She coaches with the wrestling club and the Bluewater Gymnastics Club. She’s been on the Irish cross-country and rugby teams as well. But she always finds time to hit the mat.

“She doesn’t like to lose,” Burke said. “She’s one of those people that has that quiet, inner determination. She’s not much of a talker. She’s pretty humble. When you talk to her, she’s an aw-shucks kind of kid. But you can see she really does have the fire in her.”

Fraser chose Brock, one of Canada’s top wrestling programs, in order to take the next step in her career.

“I went on a trip there and, just being in the room, it felt like where I needed to be to get as far as I want to go,” she said.

She has the potential to go very far, Burke said.

“I think she’s going to make the junior national team,” he said. “I think she’s probably going to win the U Sports championship a couple times and eventually probably make our senior national team.”

Mueller has big plans for Petrolia

Mueller was looking forward to starting his university tennis career this fall, but all OUA sports have been cancelled until Dec. 31 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a frustrating time for him. He’s in peak condition, but there are no tournaments.

“I’ve been training a lot on and off the court,” he said. “(I’m) in the best shape I’ve been in, so it feels good.”

Mueller started playing tennis at age 12 after two concussions ended his hockey career.

“It’s a game where you can really see your progress and your development,” he said.

Mueller had a 98-per-cent average in his Grade 12 classes while also spearheading a fundraising campaign for a new multisport complex in his hometown of Petrolia.

“I feel like if I wasn’t involved in sports, I wouldn’t be involved with the community projects or keeping my academics up,” he said. “I feel they complement each other. It keeps me busy and out of trouble.”

He also played volleyball, basketball and badminton with the Lancers.

“You can’t get a better kid,” basketball coach Joe Syer said. “He’s mature beyond his years. Very personable. He and I had a great relationship. We would talk almost every day. …

“He’s a top-notch kid. As my coaching career is winding down, he’ll be one of those kids that I always remember.”

His Stefanko Award is well-deserved, said Lambton Central physical education curriculum leader Scott McAuley.

“Matt is a great athlete, student, and person who represented the school and community to the highest standard while attending LCCVI,” McAuley said. “Academically he was one of the top students in his class every year, athletically Matt made valuable contributions to a number of sports … (and) Matt has also made numerous contributions in his community.”

His biggest project is the Lambton Active People Place, which is slated to include a track, batting cages, golf simulator and indoor tennis courts.

A few years ago, he raised the money to resurface Petrolia’s tennis courts.

“There, we were looking at $25,000. Here, we’re looking at lots of millions,” he said.

The multisport complex could cost anywhere from $1.2 million to $7 million, he said. The amount raised will determine what gets built, but the facility can be built in stages as the money comes in.

“It’s been a lot of work, but this project is a way bigger project than just the Petrolia tennis courts,” he said. “You have to get all the ducks in a row before you can really start fundraising. But it’s made a lot of progress. It’s going to be pretty cool once it gets going.”