Welcome back to Monday Morning Quarterback, a weekly look at all the best U SPORTS stories from the week.
Lions host Mark Cross Memorial Game against Badgers
One of the top moments of the fall term was the York Lions’ #HumboldtStrong preseason tour, which saw them head to Saskatchewan for a preseason series to honour former Lions’ player Mark Cross. Cross played for York from 2011-16, then went on to be an assistant coach with the Humboldt Broncos, and he was one of the 16 people killed in the Broncos' bus crash in April. The Lions helped honor him and the others lost in that crash (plus survivors like Kaleb Dahlgren, who now plays for York) with that preseason tour (which raised funds for the Mark Cross Memorial Sports Fund and the HumboldtStrong Community Foundation), and they continued that mission Saturday with the Mark Cross Memorial Game against the No. 7 Brock Badgers.
During that game, York wore jerseys with a special MC18 patch in honour of Cross and his York number. And before the game, the Lions held a special pre-game ceremony, where they stopped the clock at 18 seconds in honour of Cross. They then held a ceremony to retire his jersey, the first jersey the York men’s hockey program has ever retired. Those on ice for the ceremony included Cross' parents Brad and Marilyn, his brother Michael and sister Leah, his girlfriend Molly, friends from his native Saskatchewan and his former York teammates. Dahlgren then skated a special MC18 puck to center for the ceremonial faceoff, and Lions’ forwards Reid Jackman and Josh LaFrance (the two remaining York players who played alongside Cross) took that faceoff. The clock then counted down to zero, leading to the unfurling of a banner honouring Cross.
Afterwards, both Brad Cross and Dahlgren told York’s Sia Papadopoulos how emotional the ceremony was for them:
"It meant the world to me to be a part of the ceremony honouring Mark tonight," said Dahlgren. "You can really see the impact he left here at York and seeing all the support that was shown with his family and friends and former teammates was really incredible. Taking the warmup and having the MC18 on my chest and the having Mark's name on my back was also amazing and a great way for the team to honour him."
…"It was incredible," said Cross' father Brad on the pre-game ceremony. "Absolutely incredible. Mark is up there looking down and thinking to himself 'what are you guys doing?' He was so unassuming, that's just the way he was. He never made it about him, I know he's got a goofy grin on his face thinking I can't believe this is happening.
The Lions and the York University have treated us extremely well. Both Mark and Molly absolutely loved their time here and the whole ceremony was awesome. Seeing his banner hanging up at York is really special and beyond what we could ever imagine."
The game itself was a back-and-forth affair, with Brock scoring early but York striking back with a Bradley Forrest power-play goal (with LaFrance and Daniel Nikandrov picking up the assists). In the second period, the Lions took a 2-1 lead when LaFrance set up Nick Zottl, and they extended that lead to 3-1 when Morgan Messenger came from behind the net to tuck one in (with assists from Peter De Coppi and Jeremy Lucchini).
Adam Berg pulled one back for the Badgers before the end of the period, though, and Connor Brown then tied the game in the third. Ayden McDonald then put Brock ahead on a power-play goal partway through that final period, and although the Lions had chances after that (particularly a Sal Filice shot that hit inside of the post with seconds left), it was the Badgers who came out with a 4-3 win in the end. That helped Brock (14-5-0) retain first in the OUA East, and dropped York to 10-6-2 (fourth in the division).
This was still a special night for the Lions though, and for Cross’ family and friends. And after the game, York held the first-ever viewing of the Mark Cross HumboldtStrong Remembrance Tour documentary, a behind-the-scenes look at their tour this fall. Cross will be long remembered by many, and this was a great way for York to honour his memory.
No. 7 Ravens down No. 4 Rams and Varsity Blues on road
The defending champion Carleton Ravens went 8-2 during the fall semester and were ranked No. 7 in the last Top 10 before the break, but they got 2019 off on the right foot with a successful road trip to Toronto this weekend. On Saturday, Carleton downed the No. 4 Ryerson Rams 78-70, and on Sunday, the Ravens edged the University of Toronto Varsity Blues 75-63.
Saturday’s game saw both sides even at 20 after the first quarter, with Carleton taking a 35-30 lead at the half. The Rams then outscored the Ravens 22-12 in the third quarter to take a 52-47 lead into the final frame, but Carleton dominated down the stretch, putting up 31 points to Ryerson’s 18 to take the win. Madison Reid led the way for the Ravens with 20 points (tied for a game-high with the Rams’ Jama Bin-Edward) while adding six rebounds, five assists and five steals, while Nicole Gilmore chipped in 19 points, four assists and three rebounds.
On Sunday, Carleton got off to an excellent start, leading 22-11 after the first quarter. The Varsity Blues and Ravens each scored 18 points in the second quarter, but Carleton pulled away further in the third and led 61-44 heading into the final frame. They then were able to defend that lead for a 12-point win. Gilmore posted a game-high 21 points for the Ravens, while Reid had 16 and Alyssa Cerino had 14.
No. 2 Bobcats sweep No. 1 Spartans twice
There was quite the powerhouse showdown in men’s volleyball this weekend, with the No. 1 Trinity Western Spartans (9-1) on the road for two matches against the No. 2 Brandon Bobcats (10-2). And on both Friday and Saturday, the Bobcats recorded straight-sets victories, winning 25-20, 27-25, 25-23 and then 25-22, 25-18, 25-21.
On Friday night, Brandon started off hot, recording a .480 hitting percentage (part of an impressive .435 they posted for the whole night) en route to a comfortable first-set win. But the Spartans fought back in the second set, rallying from a 17-13 deficit to tie the game at 18, and then surviving a set point to take a 25-24 lead. However, the Bobcats won the next two points to take the set, and then prevailed in the third, fighting off a late Trinity Western comeback. Elliott Viles led Brandon with 12 kills and two blocks, while Seth Friesen had seven kills and three blocks.
Saturday’s clash was more of a defensive one, with Brandon recording a .256 hitting percentage and Trinity Western just .103 (down from the .205 they posted Friday). The Bobcats went on a 6-0 run at one point early in the first set, fueled by three aces from Robin Baghdady, but the Spartans battled back to tie it 18-18. Brandon went on to win from there, though, and then posted more comfortable wins in the last two sets. Viles again recorded a team-high in kills with 10, while Baghdady had eight kills, four aces and two blocks and Friesen chipped in eight kills, an ace and a block.
No. 1 Ravens down No. 2 Rams in Wilson Cup/national semifinal rematch
The Ryerson Rams and Carleton Ravens have had plenty of big men’s basketball clashes recently, with Carleton beating Ryerson 84-58 in last season’s Wilson Cup (the OUA championship) and Ryerson responding with an 84-76 win in the national semifinals (the Rams would fall to the Calgary Dinos in the gold-medal game, while Carleton beat the McGill Redmen for third place). Saturday’s game in Toronto marked the first clash between the teams since that semifinal win by the Rams last March, and both entered with perfect 10-0 records. This time around, though, it was the Ravens who came out on top, picking up a 76-69 road win.
Carleton came out firing in this one, leading 12-0 early, 24-15 after the first quarter and 44-26 at the half. But Ryerson came storming back after the break, outscoring the Ravens 22-15 in the frame to only trail by 11 heading into the final quarter. And the Rams tightened it up further down the stretch, including with a 14-7 run that narrowed the gap to 66-62. Yasiin Joseph hit a three to extend the lead to seven, though, and the Ravens hung on from there.
Eddie Ekiyor led the way for Carleton Saturday with 23 points, seven rebounds and three blocks, while Joseph added 20 points and T.J. Lall had 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Ravens would go on to edge the University of Toronto Varsity Blues 70-68 Sunday, while the Rams beat the No. 7 Ottawa Gee-Gees 89-58.
Social media posts of the break:
There were plenty of interesting exhibition clashes involving U SPORTS teams and athletes over the winter break. One saw the McMaster Marauders and Alberta Golden Bears heading to California to face Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara (ranked #1 and #10 respectively in the most recent NCAA coaches’ poll) in the North America Challenge at Long Beach State. The NCAA teams came out on top, but the U SPORTS teams made it close at times, with the Golden Bears falling just 25-21, 25-20, 13-15 to Long Beach State in a final-day three-set match and the Marauders winning the first two sets against Santa Barbara in one match before a ferocious Gauchos’ comeback and also pushing Long Beach State to a hard-fought 26-24, 20-25, 15-12 win.
Other U SPORTS volleyball events with some international participation on the men’s side included the Thompson Rivers WolfPack’s international tournament (TRU, UBC, Calgary, and South Korea’s Sungkyunkwan; Calgary won) and the Saskatchewan Huskies hosting Japan’s International Budo. There was some significant cross-border hockey as well, with the McGill Redmen, Windsor Lancers and Guelph Gryphons’ men’s teams facing Yale, Bowling Green and Miami (Ohio) respectively. The U SPORTS teams didn’t pull off any wins there, but Guelph in particular put up a good fight, keeping their contest deadlocked 0-0 until midway through the third period before eventually falling 3-1.
Elsewhere in men’s hockey, Calgary Dinos’ alumnus Kodie Curran suited up for Canada at the Spengler Cup. Curran played in all four games for the Canadian team, and they made it to the final, but fell 2-1 to Finland’s KalPa in a shootout. Meanwhile, back in Canada, the defending U SPORTS champion Alberta Golden Bears played the NAIT Ooks for the second-straight season as part of the revived Face-Off rivalry. Alberta won that one 3-2 in overtime on a power-play goal from Graeme Craig.
And speaking of the Golden Bears, their women’s volleyball team hosted a New Year’s Classic with the Calgary Dinos, Regina Cougars, MacEwan Griffins and Mount Royal Cougars, plus Japan’s NIFS Kanoya. The Cougars had a particularly good tournament, winning all three of their matches.
In women’s hockey, the Concordia Stingers hosted the Teresa Humes Tournament, including the StFX X-Women, the Nipissing Lakers and the NCAA’s Syracuse Orange. Elsewhere, several U SPORTS alumni are on the Canadian national field hockey team, which closed out 2018 with a four-game series against Spain, picking up two wins and two draws.
And U SPORTS coaches were picked by Canada Basketball to lead the U19 and U16 teams ahead of this coming summer’s FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup 2019 (in Thailand in July) and the FIBA U16 Women's Americas Championship 2019 (date and location not yet set). Saskatchewan Huskies’ assistant coach (and former UBC Okanagan Heat head coach) Claire Meadows will lead that U19 team, assisted by McGill Martlets’ head coach Ryan Thorne and York Lions’ head coach Erin McAleenan. All three helped Canada to a silver medal at last summer’s FIBA U18 Women's Americas Championship in Mexico.
The U16 team will be coached by Trinity Western Spartans’ head coach Cheryl Jean-Paul, assisted by Mount Royal Cougars’ head coach Nate McKibbon and University of Toronto Varsity Blues’ assistant coach Tamara Tatham (a two-time Olympian as a player). And all of those coaches from the U19 and U16 teams, plus several others with U SPORTS ties, were also at an age group assessment Canada Basketball ran for 57 top prospects in Toronto over the break:
Some U SPORTS swimmers also picked up significant hardware over the break, with the University of Toronto’s Kylie Masse earning her second-straight Swimming Canada Female Swimmer of the Year (Olympic program) award. UBC’s Markus Thormeyer won the equivalent award on the men’s side, then also earned Male Athlete of the Year at the Aquatics Canada awards (Aquatics Canada oversees swimming, diving, water polo and artistic swimming). Both will be swimmers to watch in the run up to February’s U SPORTS national championships at UBC.