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Monday Morning Quarterback: Men’s basketball sees No. 3 Badgers fall, No. 10 Varsity Reds win first conference title since 1967

Andrew Bucholtz

Welcome to Monday Morning Quarterback, a weekly look at all the best U SPORTS stories from the week.

Men’s basketball

No. 3 Badgers and No. 8 Tigers fall in playoffs, while No. 10 Varsity Reds win first conference title since 1967 

The basketball conference championships this weekend saw a few upsets, making things interesting heading into the men’s and women’s Final 8 national championships next weekend. On the men’s side, one big upset came in OUA action, where the No.3 Brock Badgers fell 69-63 to the No. 6 Ryerson Rams at home in the Wilson Cup semifinals Wednesday.

Dani Elgadi led the way for Brock there with 20 points and eight rebounds, while Manny Diressa had 19 points and five rebounds for Ryerson. This marked quite the change from the Rams’ previous losses to the Badgers, as they fell 97-86 in a preseason tournament at Brock in October and 80-75 in overtime at home during a November regular season game.

The victory over the Badgers meant that Ryerson advanced to the OUA final to defend their two straight Wilson Cup titles. That didn’t come to pass, as they lost 84-58 to the No. 1 Carleton Ravens in the final Saturday. That gave the Ravens their first Wilson Cup win since 2015, and capped off a 23-0 regular season for them.

However, the semifinal win Wednesday did clinch the Rams a fourth straight berth at nationals, and that’s impressive considering the tough playoff path they faced to get here. Ryerson finished the regular season with a 17-6 mark and were third in the OUA East, meaning they had to host a first-round game against the Queen’s Gaels and then win on the road against the Ottawa Gee-Gees to set up this semifinal. Beating Brock ensured that Ryerson would get a chance to compete at the Final 8 again. The Badgers eventually made it in too as the at-large team, but had to wait for Sunday evening to earn that selection.

Elsewhere in men’s basketball, the AUS playoffs also saw a notable upset. The No. 8 Dalhousie Tigers entered the conference playoffs as the top seed, edging out the No. 10 UNB Varsity Reds (who also finished the regular season with a 16-4 mark) thanks to better showings in four-point games. But top-seeded Dalhousie, who had won the last two AUS titles, lost 81-76 to the fifth-seeded St. Francis Xavier X-Men in the conference tournament Saturday, setting up a final with StFX facing the Varsity Reds (who beat the Memorial Sea-Hawks 96-83 in the other semifinal).

UNB came up with an 84-81 win in that final, behind a 28-point, eight-rebound, four-assist performance from Javon Masters (who became the all-time leading scorer in Canadian university men’s basketball earlier this year, and earned his third AUS MVP nod this weekend as well). That meant the Varsity Reds booked their ticket to next week’s Final 8 as the sixth seed. And it also meant they claimed their first conference title since 1967, ending a 51-year drought.

The Final 8 will be hosted in Halifax this week by the Acadia Axemen, with the top-seeded Carleton Ravens trying to claim their eighth straight title. They and the 1980-86 Victoria Vikes hold the current record of seven championships in a row. The other seeds are, in descending order, the Canada West champion Calgary Dinos, the RSEQ champion McGill Redmen, the Canada West finalist Alberta Golden Bears, the OUA finalist Rams, the AUS champion Varsity Reds, the at-large Badgers and the host Axemen.

The championship begins Thursday and run through Sunday, with the semifinals and finals shown live on Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet Now and all other games streamed live on USPORTS.LIVE.

Women’s basketball

No. 7 Martlets down No. 5 Rouge et Or

One of the most notable results in women’s basketball this week came from Quebec, where the No. 7 McGill Martlets knocked off the No. 5 Laval Rouge et Or in the RSEQ final, bouncing back from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit for a 56-52 win. Frederique Potvin led the way for the Martlets with 16 points, five assists and three rebounds, while Marie-Love Michel chipped in 13 points and two steals and RSEQ MVP Alex Kiss-Rusk had nine points and 16 rebounds. This came just two weeks after McGill lost 63-44 to Laval in the second-to-last week of the regular season, which let the Rouge et Or finish in first place in the conference.

Thanks to Laval’s selection as the at-large team, both of those teams will move on to this week’s Final 8, hosted by the Regina Cougars. The seeds for that are (in descending order) the OUA champion Carleton Ravens (who haven’t lost a game yet this season, capping off a 23-0 regular season campaign and a 3-0 playoff run so far with a 75-66 win over the McMaster Marauders in the OUA final to claim their second-straight Critelli Cup), the host and Canada West champion Regina Cougars, the AUS champion Acadia Axewomen, the Martlets, the OUA finalist Marauders, the Canada West finalist Saskatchewan Huskies, the Rouge et Or, and the Canada West bronze medalist Calgary Dinos.

Women’s hockey

No. 9 Mustangs best No. 5 Gryphons 

The berths for the Women’s Hockey Championship, which will be held Mar. 15-18 at Western University in London, Ont., have now all been decided, and the host Mustangs played a key role in that. The No. 9 Mustangs swept their OUA semifinal series with the No. 5 Guelph Gryphons this week, winning 1-0 on the road Wednesday and 3-2 in double overtime at home Friday. Goalie Carmen Lasis led the way in that first game with 23 saves, while Megan Taylor scored the only goal. In the second game, Rachel Armstrong notched the double-overtime winner, while Ali Beres and Amanda Pereira also scored for Western.

As noted there, that win means the Mustangs will move on to the OUA final, the McCaw Cup. There, they’ll face the No. 6 Queen’s Gaels, who dispatched the No. 10 Nipissing Lakers 3-2 (in overtime) on the road Wednesday and 2-1 at home Friday. Queen’s will host Western in the McCaw Cup game Saturday, which will determine the OUA champion. However, because the Mustangs already have a host berth, the Gaels have qualified for the national championship as well, as they’ll receive the OUA’s one non-host berth.

The seeds for that national championship aren’t set yet, as not all the conference championships have been played. We know that the No. 7 Concordia Stingers will be the top seed from Quebec, as they beat the No. 4 Montreal Carabins 3-2 and 3-1 this weekend after losing the series opener 3-2 in overtime Thursday. We know that the No. 1 Manitoba Bisons will be the top Canada West seed, as they beat the No. 8 Saskatchewan Huskies 1-0 (in overtime) and 5-2 Friday and Saturday.

And drew congrats from Manitoba premier Brian Pallister along the way:

In addition to the aforementioned upcoming OUA championship, the No. 2 Saint Mary’s Huskies and No. 3 StFX X-Women are still battling for the AUS title. The Huskies won the first game 4-2 Friday before the X-Women struck back with a 1-0 overtime win Sunday. The third and deciding game there will take place Tuesday night. All of the conference champions and finalists will qualify for nationals, but the conference championships may have a significant impact on seeding.

Men’s volleyball

Gaels advance to OUA Final Four in Brenda Willis’ final season

There’s a cool story playing out in the OUA volleyball playoffs, and it surrounds the Queen’s Gaels. Queen’s head coach Brenda Willis is set to retire after this season, her 31st as the Gaels' head coach., a span that’s seen her post 365 career wins and achieve six Ontario titles. And her team’s the only team other than the McMaster Marauders to win the Forsyth Memorial Trophy as OUA champions since 2005-06; McMaster’s claimed it eight times in that span, but the Gaels have lifted the trophy four times themselves during that timeframe.

Willis’ team has a lot of first- and second-year players in key roles this year, though, including rookie setter Zane Grossinger, and they finished third in the OUA East with a 10-8 regular season mark. That left them with a tough quarterfinal draw on the road against the Western Mustangs, who finished second in the OUA West with a 14-3 mark and beat Queen’s at home in November, although the Gaels were able to take them to five sets.

This time around, though, Queen’s came out on top with a 25-22, 22-25, 25-17, 26-24 win Saturday, led by 56 assists from Grossinger and 23 kills from third-year outside hitter Zac Hutcheson. That earned them a place in this coming weekend’s OUA Final Four and guaranteed Willis at least two more matches at the helm.

It’s not all clear sailing to nationals for the Gaels, though. The OUA Final Four will feature the Marauders, the Ryerson Rams, and the Windsor Lancers, and McMaster and Ryerson finished first in the OUA West and East respectively with 15-2 and 12-6 records each (Windsor was third in the OUA West with a 10-7 mark, but upset 12-2 York in the quarterfinals). The Marauders will host this year’s nationals for the second time in three years, so they already have a host berth, but there are two other OUA berths at stake in the Final Four. We’ll see if Queen’s can get one to extend Willis’ final season further.

Elsewhere, the Canada West final will be played between the No. 1 Trinity Western Spartans and the No. 3 Alberta Golden Bears, and both have qualified for nationals. The No. 2 UBC Thunderbirds will battle the No. 7 Winnipeg Wesmen for the last Canada West spot in the third-place game. The RSEQ final (the No. 4 Montreal Carabins against the No. 6 Laval Rouge et Or) and the AUS final (the UNB Varsity Reds and Memorial Sea-Hawks) are still coming up too, with only the winners qualifying for nationals.

Men’s hockey

No. 4 Redmen lock down University Cup berth, will face No. 10 Badgers for Queen’s Cup 

The No. 4 McGill Redmen are headed back to the national University Cup playoffs. The Redmen made it there last year as the third-place OUA team, battling travel challenges (along with the Queen’s Gaels) thanks to a snowstorm, and they’ll be there with what will likely be a higher seed this year thanks to a 6-2 home win over the No. 8 Concordia Stingers in the third game of their best-of-three semifinal Sunday. Jerome Verrier and Samuel Tremblay each notched two goals and an assist for McGill in that win.

As noted there, that victory moves the Redmen on to the Queen’s Cup OUA championship against the No. 10 Brock Badgers. Both teams have already qualified for the University Cup, but the Queen’s Cup result will matter for seeding. Meanwhile, Concordia will face the No. 9 York Lions in the OUA third-place game, with the winner heading to nationals.

Elsewhere, the reigning champion No. 1 UNB Varsity Reds have already qualified as hosts, but will face the No. 5 StFX X-Men in the best-of-three AUS final this week for seeding purposes, while the No. 6 Acadia Axemen and No. 7 Saint Mary’s Huskies will play a best-of-three consolation final for the last AUS berth. And out west, the No. 2 Alberta Golden Bears will have the top Canada West seed thanks to beating the No. 3 Saskatchewan Huskies 5-2 and 5-1 in the conference final, but both teams will be headed to the University Cup, which UNB will host from Mar. 15-18.

Women’s volleyball

Tigers claim AUS title, four OUA teams will fight for final berth at nationals

In women’s volleyball, seven of the eight berths for the national championship have been determined. The No. 10 Laval Rouge et Or will host the championships from Mar. 16-18, and they’ll face the Montreal Carabins (tied for No. 1) in the RSEQ finals for seeding purposes this coming week. The Calgary Dinos (also tied for No. 1) and No. 4 UBC Thunderbirds will face off in the Canada West final, while the No. 3 UBC Okanagan Heat and No. 8 Alberta Pandas will battle for third place, but all four of those teams have qualified. And out east, the No. 5 Dalhousie Tigers claimed their sixth straight AUS title (and the conference’s lone national berth) this week with a three-set sweep of the Memorial Sea-Hawks in the semifinal and a five-set victory over the Acadia Axewomen.

The lone berth still to be determined comes in Ontario, where four teams will face off for the Quigley Cup and the OUA berth at nationals. The No. 6 Ryerson Rams and No. 7 McMaster Marauders are still in contention there following sweeps of the Waterloo Warriors and York Lions respectively, as are the Western Mustangs (after a four-set win against the Queen’s Gaels) and the University of Toronto Varsity Blues (after a five-set win over the Guelph Gryphons).

Social media post of the week:

Ryerson AD Ivan Joseph talks about Black Panther and role models

Ryerson athletic director Ivan Joseph has an interesting perspective as the first black athletic director at a Canadian university, and he reflected on that in a Globe and Mail guest column he wrote this week about what the new film Black Panther meant to him and what lessons it might hold for universities and university sports, specifically when that comes to the importance of role models. Here’s his tweet about the op-ed:

And some selected lines from the piece:

In the final scene, the heroes return to the projects with their fancy, high-tech spaceship and all the neighbourhood kids gather round. The camera locks in on a young black boy who looks at Chadwick Boseman as King T'Challa with a mix of awe and reverence. 

That's when I lost it. 

I didn't identify with the superhero. I was that little boy.

…As a soccer coach and athletic director at Ryerson University in Toronto, I am today in the role-model business. At Ryerson, I spearheaded the Ryerson Rams Care program to give kids from underserved areas a vision of their future by connecting them with Ryerson student athletes. As a speaker and author, I have also seen the power of role models firsthand. Whenever I give a speech about the skill of self-confidence or high-achieving teams, the audience members who come up to me afterward with tears in their eyes are invariably black. 

…My experience with Black Panther reminded me that my success doesn't belong solely to me. It also belongs to those who follow in my footsteps. Whatever I do in my career, I must continue to move things forward. I have a responsibility to be someone that any black kid can look up to and think, "He is just like me." 

The whole piece is well worth a read, and it makes some excellent points about the value of role models, a role that many U SPORTS athletic directors, coaches and athletes are in. And Joseph’s point about success belonging not just to him, but those who follow him, is something that’s important to keep in mind across sports.


profile_1.png (74 KB)Andrew has been covering university sports in Canada since 2005 at outlets such as The Queen's Journal, The CIS Blog, and Yahoo Canada, where he also served as the editor of the Canadian football blog 55-Yard Line. He has a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree from Queen's University with a major in history, and currently works as a staff writer and editor for Awful Announcing and The Comeback.