Welcome to Monday Morning Quarterback, a weekly look at all the best U SPORTS stories from the week.
Pronghorns sweep Pandas on the road, make first semifinal in 24 years
The Canada West basketball playoffs moved on to the quarterfinals this week after last week’s play-in games, and the women’s side saw a notable upset. The sixth-seeded Lethbridge Pronghorns earned their first playoff victory in 17 years (in their first home playoff game since 1994) last week with a 99-60 win over the eleventh-seeded Manitoba Bisons, The Pronghorns then followed that up with two successive road wins over the fourth-seeded Alberta Pandas in a best-of-three quarterfinal series, advancing to the conference semifinals for the first time since 1995.
The first game of that Lethbridge-Alberta quarterfinal series was played Thursday, and it saw the Pandas take an early 10-0 lead. The Pronghorns battled back, though, and they led 29-20 after the first quarter. Lethbridge then widened the gap, outscoring Alberta 18-11 in the second quarter and 26-12 in the third before an even 17-17 final frame. That made the final 90-66.
Five Pronghorns scored in double digits in Thursday’s contest, with Asnate Fomina producing a game-high 22 points and Kacie Bosch (17), Danielle Fritzke (15), Amy Mazutinec (13) and Jessica Zarowny (10) all chipping in as well, while Katie Keith recorded a game-high 14 rebounds. On the night, Lethbridge shot 46 per cent from the field to Alberta’s 37 per cent.
The second game of that series took place Friday, and again started with a high-scoring first quarter, ending with a 22-18 Pronghorns lead. Lethbridge then turned up the defensive intensity in the next two quarters, allowing just 12 and nine points respectively in those frames while scoring 20 and 13, and while the Pandas outscored the Pronghorns 21-12 in the final frame, it wasn’t enough. In the end, Lethbridge emerged with a 67-60 win and their first conference semifinal appearance since 1995 (the last of a three-year run where they made it at least that far every year, including winning a conference title in 1993).
Keith led the way for the Pronghorns offensively Friday, posting game-high numbers in both points (21) and rebounds (15). Fomina added 17 points and six assists, while Bosch had 11 points. For Alberta, Emma Kary had 18 points and 11 rebounds in a losing cause. The Pronghorns will now face the top-seeded Saskatchewan Huskies in one best-of-three semifinal series, beginning Thursday, while the second-seeded Calgary Dinos will host the third-seeded Regina Rams in the other semifinal matchup.
Saskatchewan Huskies clinch series with triple-overtime win over Cougars
Another round of best-of-three quarterfinals is underway in women’s hockey, both in Canada West and Atlantic University Sport. The Canada West ones (which have all games hosted by the higher seeds) wrapped up Sunday with the higher seeds (the UBC Thunderbirds and Saskatchewan Huskies) winning, and Saskatchewan’s victory over the Mount Royal Cougars was particularly notable.
The fourth-seeded Huskies put up a decisive 5-0 win over the fifth-seeded Cougars Friday, but the Cougars bounced back with a 3-0 victory Saturday, their first-ever U SPORTS playoff win. That set up a third game Sunday night, one that lasted 119:43 before Saskatchewan forward Rachel Lundberg ended it, scoring her first goal of the season with just 17 seconds left in the third overtime to give the Huskies a 2-1 win. Saskatchewan outshot Mount Royal 60-25 on the night, but Bailee Bourassa was the only other Huskies’ player to beat Zoe De Beauville, scoring a goal early in the second period. Tatum Amy tied it for the Cougars late in the third, and that led to a lot of overtime before Lundberg came through.
Afterwards, Lundberg said she was so exhausted she barely remembered the goal.
"I can't describe it, I think I blacked out. It felt so good to be done the game, I am very tired but just so happy I was able to do it for my team because everybody was contributing and playing great."
Sixth-seeded Aigles Bleus even series against third-seeded SMU Huskies with double-overtime win, while
In AUS play, where the best-of-three quarterfinals alternate locations (with the higher seed hosting the first and third games and the lower seed hosting the second game) a notable result came from the still-ongoing third-seeded Saint Mary’s Huskies’ clash with the sixth-seeded Moncton Aigles Bleus. Saint Mary’s won the first game 2-0 at home Friday thanks to goals from Sydney England and Caleigh Meraw and a shutout from Rebecca Clark, and the Huskies looked to be in pretty good shape, especially considering that they outshot Moncton 32-10 (Audrey Berthiaume made 30 saves for the Aigles Bleus).
But Moncton rebounded on home ice Sunday, edging Saint Mary’s 2-1 thanks to a double-overtime goal from Katryne Villeneuve (following second-period goals from Miranda Hatt for the Huskies and Maelle Rioux for the Aigles Bleus) and a 28-save showing from Berthiaume. And the Aigles Bleus held a 32-29 shots edge there. We’ll see how they do in Tuesday’s third and decisive game at Saint Mary’s, but their performance Sunday was certainly a step up from their showing in the series opener.
Cascades push No. 6 Thunderbirds to three games
Another impressive showing from a lower seed came from the UFV Cascades in the Canada West men’s basketball quarterfinals. The Cascades bounced back from an early 16-point deficit against the UNBC Timberwolves in last week’s play-in game, and they showed off that tenacity again in their quarterfinal series on the road against the UBC Thunderbirds (seeded third in the Canada West playoffs and ranked sixth nationally). UFV picked up a 92-79 road win in the series opener Thursday, draining a season-high 17 three-pointers along the way. Parm Bains had 26 points for the Cascades in that one. while Mark Johnson had 17 points (including a game-high six made threes) and 18 rebounds. Sukman Sandu and Sukhjot Bains also recorded 21 and 20 points respectively for UFV, while Grant Shephard had 29 points and 12 rebounds for UBC. And Cascades’ coach Adam Friesen said this was about his team’s belief:
"We came in with the belief that winning was possible. That's where it started, in the first quarter, we did what we tried to do every single game this season, and that's play defence and rebound. We don't expect to score in the nineties, and we don't have the expectation of scoring in the nineties tomorrow. If it happens, it happens. But we know we've got to play defence, board, and take care of the basketball. We'll look to improve on those areas, and take care of the offensive end as it goes."
The Thunderbirds struck back in the remaining games of the series, though. On Saturday, UBC downed UFV 85-58 behind 21 points and 10 rebounds from Shephard, and on Sunday, the Thunderbirds finished off the series with an 83-75 win. That one saw Manroop Clair record a game-high 29 points for UBC (including five three-pointers), while Jadon Cohee had 20 and Patrick Simon had nine points and 14 rebounds. With the win, the Thunderbirds will move on to face the Alberta Golden Bears (seeded second in Canada West and ranked fifth nationally) in the conference semifinals next week. UBC head coach Kevin Hanson said the Cascades gave them a run for their money, though:
"That was a real tough series, it was physical with an awful lot of talent on both sides. Both teams left their hearts out there it was a great battle with a lot of bumps and bruises so now it's about enjoying this one and regrouping for next week. …I'm proud of how our guys came back and showed resilience after the tough loss in game one."
No. 9 Badgers edge Lions in double overtime
Speaking of challenges posed by lower seeds, that also came true in the OUA men’s hockey playoffs, the start of the quest for the 108th Queen’s Cup. The Brock Badgers (seeded second in the OUA West and ranked ninth nationally) wound up sweeping the York Lions (the OUA West seventh seed) in a best-of-three divisional quarterfinal, but those wins were anything but easy.
The first game Wednesday at Brock saw the Badgers emerge with a 2-1 win, thanks to goals from Jared Marino and Tyler Rollo and a 33-save showing from Logan Thompson. But it was a near-run thing, especially with York pouring on pressure late and outshooting Brock 13-7 in the third. And when the Lions hosted the second game Friday, things got even closer; Stefano Pezzetta and Sal Filice staked York to a 2-0 lead with goals late in the first before a pair of goals from Brock’s Ethan Spaxman sent it to overtime.
But even there, despite the Badgers outshooting the Lions 49-37 on the night, they weren’t able to come away with the win until Justin Brack’s game-winner 15 seconds into the second overtime period. They’ll now face the third-seeded Western Mustangs in the divisional semifinals next week.
Women’s Varsity Blues go undefeated in pool play, while Golden Hawks’ streak falls
Another surprising result came in the OUA curling championships this weekend, where the women’s side saw the defending champion and host Laurier Golden Hawks (a pre-tournament favourite) fail to qualify for the medal round. The Kaitlin Jewer-skipped rink that won last year wound up finishing 3-4, and the Golden Hawks’ men also wound up outside of the medal round, making this the first year since 2013 that Laurier won’t claim an OUA curling title.
The medals are still to come, but on the women’s side, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues’ rink skipped by Mackenzie Kiemele (which features two rookies and two second-year players, with Kiemele one of the latter) is in strong shape, posting the only undefeated record through Saturday. On the men’s side, the Brock Badgers (6-1), Carleton Ravens (6-1) and Western Mustangs (5-2) were in good shape through Sunday.
Social media posts of the week
The Canadian women’s hockey team edged the U.S. two games to one in the Rivalry Series this week, losing the first game 1-0 Tuesday before posting a 4-3 win Thursday and a 2-0 win Sunday. Several players with U SPORTS connections were on that Canadian team, including alumni Ann-Sophie Bettez (McGill), Brigette Lacquette (Manitoba), and Katelyn Gosling (Western), as well as current UOIT Ridgebacks player mentor Natalie Spooner. All four played in all three games, with Lacquette and Spooner each recording an assist. Here’s Lacquette’s assist on Sunday’s first goal (scored by Brianne Jenner):
Speaking of Canadian success in international competition, Team Canada did very well indeed at the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association (NACAC) cross country championships this weekend in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Both the men’s and women’s U20 teams came home with gold, while the senior teams picked up silvers. And there were some prominent current and former U SPORTS athletes involved, including Queen’s Gaels’ runner Makenna Fitzgerald (third place in the women’s U20 race), former Guelph Gryphons’ stars Geneviève Lalonde and Katelyn Ayers (fifth and ninth respectively in the women’s senior race), and former Queen’s star Claire Sumner (13th in the women’s senior race).
And further on the international front, UBC Thunderbirds’ swimmer Hau-Li Fan had a great showing at the 1st FINA Marathon Swim World Series of 2019 in Doha, Qatar:
Plenty of U SPORTS athletes are gearing up for the 2019 FISU Winter Universade, held from Mar. 2-12 in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, and some were in action this weekend. The Nipissing Lakers are currently hosting the OUA Nordic Skiing Championships (the event wraps up Monday afternoon), and several of the athletes doing well there will be on the Canadian team at the Universade. One is Carleton’s Aidan Kirkham, who earned gold in races both Saturday and Sunday, part of the Ravens’ championship-high six medals (across the men’s and women’s sides) so far. Here’s a look at the championship course:
Other athletes who will be on that Universade team are the alpine skiers, many of whom took part in a RSEQ meet this weekend that also featured American athletes. Men’s and women’s results are available here and here. Some notable showings in the men’s slalom came from Alexandre Fortin of the Laval Rouge et Or (seventh) and Felix Blanchard pf the Montreal Carabins (18th). On the women’s side, Montreal’s Adrienne Poitras was seventh in the giant slalom. Poitras was chosen as an RSEQ athlete of the week earlier this week:
Speaking of Universade team members, Alberta Pandas curling skip Selena Sturmway went undefeated at the Canadian junior championships recently, the first skip to pull that off since Rachel Homan in 2010. She did an interview with Curling Canada’s John Cullen ahead of the world junior championships this week, and her team’s finding success there; they lost their first match 6-5 to Scotland Sunday, but rebounded with a 7-6 win over the United States.
Another notable U SPORTS figure honoured this weekend was University of Toronto Varsity Blues women’s basketball coach Michèle Bélanger, who completed her 40th season as head coach:
And speaking of basketball, on the men’s side, U SPORTS announced a partnership with the Canadian Elite Basketball League this week: