Welcome to Monday Morning Quarterback, a weekly look at all the best U SPORTS stories from the week.
Golden Bears pick up two road opening-weekend wins over Thunderbirds
Last season saw the UBC Thunderbirds’ men’s volleyball team claim their first title in 35 years with a straight-sets (25-22, 25-18, 27-25) win over the Trinity Western Spartans. They celebrated that with a banner-raising against the Alberta Golden Bears Saturday, but the Golden Bears rained on their parade.
Alberta finished second in the Canada West playoffs to UBC’s third last season, but fell to the Thunderbirds in four sets in the national semifinals, so the Golden Bears were out for revenge in the season-opening series here. And they pulled it off, winning in four sets (25-21, 21-25, 25-22, 21-25) Friday and following that up with another four-set (19-25, 25-22, 25-19, 25-20) win in Saturday’s banner-raising game.
Friday’s game started with a back-and-forth battle in the first set, but one where Alberta eventually prevailed, bouncing back from a 21-20 deficit with four straight points and eventually taking the set 25-21. The Thunderbirds struck back in the second set, going up 6-1 early and hanging on for a 25-21 win, but the Golden Bears responded after that and took a 24-15 lead in the third set. UBC went on a run of their own behind strong serving from Joel Regehr and pulled the score back to 24-22, but Alberta then closed them out. The fourth set saw an early tight battle and a score deadlocked at 10, but the Golden Bears then pulled away.
Alex McMullin led the way for Alberta on the night, posting 15 kills, four digs and an ace, while Jackson Kennedy added 11 kills, five assists and three service aces. And this was a milestone win for head coach Terry Danyluk:
On Saturday, UBC came out firing, taking a 25-19 first-set victory after back-to-back aces from setter Zec Johnson.
However, the Golden Bears recovered after that, leading for most of a second set they eventually won 25-22. Alberta then took the third set 25-19, pulling away from an early close battle (they were only up 13-11 at one point). The fourth set saw more back-and-forth, including a 12-12 tie, but the Golden Bears again managed to find a way to come out on top. Taryq Sani recorded a match-high 15 kills for Alberta and added two aces, while Kennedy chipped in eight kills with three aces and six digs. So this wound up being a pretty great start for the Golden Bears, and something that they can build on.
It wasn’t all bad for the Thunderbirds either, though. While UBC interim head coach Mike Hawkins (in that role thanks to head coach Kerry MacDonald accepting a Director of Sports Science, Medicine and Information position with Volleyball Canada’s men’s national team this May; MacDonald continues to serve as an assistant coach with the Thunderbirds and to run their sports science and analytics efforts) began his U SPORTS head coaching career 0-2, he wasn’t too unhappy with how his team played. In fact, he said after Saturday’s game they were able to build off the banner-raising energy, and while service errors helped to bring them down, that goes with the territory with their tough-serving strategy:
"I thought the guys came out with really good energy. The gym was just rocking the entire first set. I think we put Alberta on their heels and, to their credit, they answered back the next three sets. At the end we let up and service errors got in our head, but that's going to be a big piece of who we are. We're a tough serving team and we need to have patience early on and understand that there are going to be some misses. These are lessons we need to learn, and we'll get there."
We’ll see how UBC does with that as the season goes on. The Thunderbirds are next in action Friday against the Thompson Rivers WolfPack.
No. 5 Gee-Gees edge Gaels to earn playoff bye
The OUA playoff picture came down to the final weekend of the regular season, with four teams tied for fourth at 4-3 after last weekend’s action. And the No. 5 Ottawa Gee-Gees were in a particularly interesting spot after losing 33-0 to the No. 1 Western Mustangs the previous weekend; while they’d clinched a playoff berth heading into this week’s action, finishing anywhere from second to fifth in the OUA standings was still in play for them. However, the Gee-Gees got an important result Saturday, winning 27-22 on the road against the Queen’s Gaels (in Queen’s homecoming game, no less) to lock up second place and its accompanying first-round bye.
Ottawa got off to a good start in Saturday’s game, with quarterback Sawyer Buettner finding Carter Matheson for a touchdown early. In the second quarter, the Gee-Gees extended their lead thanks to a strip sack that caused a Gaels’ fumble in their own end zone, which Ottawa defensive lineman Francis Perron fell on to produce a 14-0 lead. Queen’s bounced back with two field goals, one after blocking a Gee-Gees’ punt, but trailed 17-6 at the half thanks to a field goal from Ottawa kicker Raphael Cote .
After that, though, the Gaels recorded nine straight points in the third quarter off a one-yard touchdown run from quarterback Nate Hobbs (following a 71-yard catch-and-run pass to Matteo Del Brocco) and a safety, and pulled the score back to 17-15 heading into the fourth quarter. But another field goal from Cote and a touchdown run from Buettner all but sealed it for the Gee-Gees; Queen’s scored again to make it 27-22 with just under three minutes left, but couldn’t get any closer. Despite being outgained 387-259, Ottawa picked up the win and the second-place berth, while the Gaels’ season came to an end.
Other notable OUA results saw the No. 1 Western Mustangs beat the No. 7 Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks 46-13 at home, the No. 8 Guelph Gryphons edge the Waterloo Warriors 47-44 at home in double overtime, and the McMaster Marauders win 17-5 on the road against the Windsor Lancers. That meant 8-0 Western finished atop the OUA standings, followed by 6-2 Ottawa, 5-3 Guelph, 5-3 Carleton, 5-3 McMaster and 4-4 Waterloo, with 4-4 Laurier just missing out. (Ties were determined by the OUA tie-breaking procedures, which can be found here.)
This marks the Warriors’ first playoff berth since 2003, and their head-to-head win over the Golden Hawks in the Battle of Waterloo earlier this season was the key reason why. Oh, and they’re up against the Gryphons again in the first round of the playoffs next week, so if that game’s anything like this week’s 91-point shootout, it should be awfully entertaining.
No. 4 Gryphons claim third-straight OUA title
The No. 4 Guelph Gryphons are again on top of the OUA women’s rugby world, beating the Brock Badgers 97-12 in the conference semifinal Saturday and besting the No. 5 Queen’s Gaels 39-14 in the final Sunday. In Saturday’s match, Emmanuela Jada led Guelph with three tries, while Amara Hill, Talia Hoffman, and Alexandra Everett had two each and Jasmine Ing added a try and nine converts. That meant that the Gryphons moved on to their ninth straight OUA final.
That final was a rematch of last year’s OUA championship clash against Queen’s, where Guelph came out on top 43-17. This time around, the Gryphons pressed early, but saw three drives end in turnovers. However, they eventually forced a turnover deep inside Gaels’ territory, and capitalized with a Kylie Shaughnessy try in the 10th minute to make the score 5-0. That score held for 20 minutes before Everett extended the Guelph lead with another try (which Julia Schell converted to make it 12-0), and a Schell try in the 34th minute gave the Gryphons a 17-0 lead at the half. They then steadily built on that to get the eventual 39-14 win.
It was an impressive win for Guelph, and an especially enjoyable one for Everett, who missed last year’s OUA championship with a torn quadriceps muscle but rebounded to lead the conference with 11 regular-season tries this year. She said afterwards this was a key accomplishment for the Gryphons:
"From the beginning of the season, this is what we set out to do. It feels so good. We accomplished our goal and everyone played so well together. Our defence was excellent, which is what we were working for. It was such a great win, such a team win."
Guelph will now move on to the national championships, held at Acadia University from Nov. 1-4. The Gryphons will be joined there by the Gaels, as well as the host Axewomen, another AUS representative, and the winners and runners-up from Canada West and RSEQ.
As for those other conferences, No. 8 Acadia beat UPEI 55-0 in the AUS semifinal to set up an AUS final against the No. 2 St. FX X-Women (for the eighth year in a row). The RSEQ semifinals saw the No. 3 Laval Rouge et Or beat the No. 6 Carleton Ravens 23-12 and the No. 1 Ottawa Gee-Gees thump the Sherbrooke Vert et Or 73-0, so both of those winning teams will also be at nationals. And in Canada West, the No. 7 Calgary Dinos edged the Alberta Pandas 16-12 in one semifinal, while the Victoria Vikes beat the UBC Thunderbirds 26-0 in the other one; Calgary then beat Victoria 27-8 for the conference title, but both the Dinos and Vikes are bound for nationals.
Lions complete undefeated season, while Thunderbirds can’t manage enough goals to make nationals
It’s been a very good field hockey season so far for the York Lions. The defending OUA champions won all three of their games this weekend (in Montreal, Quebec against the McGill Martlets, Western Mustangs, and Waterloo Warriors) to finish the regular season with a 10-0-2 mark, giving them first place in the conference by a single point over the University of Toronto Varsity Blues.
The Lions started their weekend with a 4-0 win over McGill Saturday morning, fueled by a hat trick from Jaslan Stirling (the reigning OUA rookie of the year and co-MVP) and a single goal from Amber Sandhu. They then beat Western 5-0 later Saturday thanks to goals from Stirling, Sandhu, Paige Koochin, Chloe Walton and Claire Church. York capped off the weekend with a 2-1 win over Waterloo Sunday, with Stirling scoring twice in that one. Six total goals on the weekend meant Stirling ended the OUA regular season with a U SPORTS-leading 22 goals.
The Lions will now head to the OUA playoffs in Waterloo next weekend, and the winner from that will face the Victoria Vikes. Despite having a bye in this final regular-season weekend, the 4-1-3 Vikes clinched the Canada West title over the 4-1-3 UBC Thunderbirds (the seven-time reigning national champions) thanks to UBC only managing a pair of 1-0 victories against the Calgary Dinos. Both UBC and Victoria went 1-1-2 against each other with the same goal differential, so the tiebreaker moved to goal differential in all conference games, and the Thunderbirds needed to win by seven in their finale Sunday to advance. They couldn’t pull that off, so it will be Victoria representing Canada West against the eventual OUA champion at nationals.
No. 1 Thunderbirds suffer first loss of season, falling 1-0 to WolfPack
The No. 1 UBC Thunderbirds saw their regular season come to somewhat of a disappointing end Sunday, losing 1-0 on the road against the Thompson Rivers WolfPack. Granted, it was a game where the stakes were unequal, as UBC had already clinched first in Canada West’s Pacific Division (so they rested plenty of their starters) and Thompson Rivers needed a win to make the playoffs, but this was still a notable result; it was 13-1-2 UBC’s only loss of the season, and it was a remarkable game.
The sides battled back and forth for 90 minutes in this one, but the only goal came in extra time. There, former Thunderbird (and former Canada West MVP) Mitch Popadynetz found Joshua Banton on a free kick, and Banton sent the ball home to give the WolfPack the win. Jackson Gardner recorded the shutout. Here are some highlights from the match:
This was another good result for Thompson Rivers against UBC late in a home match, as when the WolfPack hosted nationals last year, they beat UBC on penalty kicks to claim bronze, the school’s first ever U SPORTS soccer medal. But the Thunderbirds shouldn’t be too down on themselves; even with a loss here, they kept first place, and they tied the 2016 Alberta Golden Bears for the Canada West records for most wins and most points. Both teams now head to the playoffs, with UBC hosting the Mount Royal Cougars Saturday and Thompson Rivers facing the Alberta Golden Bears (tops in the Prairie Division) in a play-in match.
Social media posts of the week:
Accomplishments for Littlechild, Landry and Ward
Former Alberta Golden Bear Chief Wilton Littlechild, who competed for the school in hockey and swimming and also managed their football and basketball teams, was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame Thursday. There were some cool posts around that:
Littlechild won the Tom Longboat Award (honoring top Canadian Aboriginal athletes) in both 1967 and 1974, and helped to found the World Indigenous Games in 1990. He’s also had a long career as a lawyer, politician, and commissioner for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Elsewhere, StFX X-Women rugby alum Ghislaine Landry did something remarkable this weekend while representing Canada, becoming the first-ever female player to hit 1,000 career points in international rugby sevens play:
On Friday, Ottawa Gee-Gees football alum Lewis Ward set a professional football record with his 45th straight regular-season field goal, passing famed NFL kicker Adam Vinatieri:
Meanwhile, Rogers’ Hometown Hockey TV series celebrated its 1,000th broadcast this weekend in London, Ontario, where its first broadcast took place in 2014. As part of the festivities, Tara Slone dropped the puck for Western’s women’s hockey game against the UOIT Ridgebacks Saturday:
And on the ice, the No. 3 Alberta Golden Bears narrowly escaped with a 3-2 overtime win against the Mount Royal Cougars Saturday, and they only got to overtime thanks to this beautiful late tip from Riley Kieser: