Welcome to Monday Morning Quarterback, a weekly look at all the best U SPORTS stories from the weekend.
Mustangs and Marshall claim Vanier Cup with win over Rouge et Or
The Western Mustangs’ 39-17 win over Laval in the 53rd ArcelorMittal Dofasco Vanier Cup Saturday at Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field was a major breakthrough for both the program and for head coach Greg Marshall. It marked Marshall’s first Vanier Cup win as a head coach, and Western’s seventh title overall, but first since 1994. Those numbers are both remarkable, as Marshall and the Mustangs have been a force to contend with in Canadian university football for some time. Marshall spoke with Sportsnet’s Stephen Brunt before the Vanier about what this game meant to him:
Marshall had a strong playing career as a running back at Western in the late 1970s and early 1980s, winning the Hec Crighton Trophy as Canada’s top university football player in 1980, but never lifted the Vanier Cup as a player. His first season came in 1978, after the Mustangs won back-to-back Vanier titles in 1976 and 1977, and while Western did well during his 1978-81 playing career (claiming the Yates Cup as OUA champions in 1979, 1980 and 1981, plus winning the Churchill Bowl in 1979), the closest they came to a national title in those four seasons was a 34-12 Vanier Cup loss to Acadia in 1979. The Mustangs would make it to the Vanier again in 1982, their first year without Marshall, but fell 39-14 to UBC.
Marshall went on to play with the Edmonton Eskimos from 1982 to 1984, winning a Grey Cup in his first year, but then headed back to the university ranks as an assistant coach with Western following a knee injury that ended his playing career. He found plenty of success as an assistant, working with the Mustangs from 1984 to 1996 (as offensive coordinator from 1992-96) and helping them win seven Yates Cups, plus Vanier Cups in 1989 and 1994. Marshall then became the head coach at McMaster, earned the Frank Tindall Trophy as national Coach of the Year in 2000 (becoming just the second person to ever win the Hec Crighton and the Frank Tindall, following Rick Zmich), and led the Marauders to four straight Yates Cup trophies from 2000 to 2003, but they never managed to make it to the Vanier Cup.
Following a stint as the head coach of the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 2004 through early 2006, Marshall came back to the university ranks with Western as offensive coordinator ahead of the 2006 season. Legendary Western head coach Larry Haylor (who had been the team’s head coach since 1984, Marshall’s first season as an assistant) retired after the season, and Marshall took over as head coach. And the Mustangs found some immediate success with him involved; they went 5-3 in 2006 with him as OC and made it to the OUA semifinals, and went 4-4 in 2007 but went on a playoff run, beating Guelph in the Yates Cup before losing to Manitoba in the Mitchell Bowl. 2008 was even better, seeing the Mustangs go 7-1 during the season and make it all the way to the Vanier, but they lost to Laval 44-21 in that game (also played in Hamilton). So this was an appropriate venue and opponent for Marshall and Western to get some revenge.
The Mustangs had been strong under Marshall since 2008, winning two Yates Cups (2010 and 2013) and appearing in that game four other times, but they hadn’t managed to make it back to the title game until this season. But they did so in decisive fashion this year, posting a perfect regular season, then beating Guelph (66-12), Laurier (75-32) and Acadia (81-3) to set up the clash with Laval. And they were dominant in Saturday’s title game, thumping the Rouge et Or 39-17. That paved the way for fans storming the field:
Western took an early 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game on a 13-yard touchdown run from quarterback Chris Merchant, extended that lead to 16-7 by the half, and really pulled away in the third quarter with another touchdown and a safety. Two fourth-quarter touchdowns gave the Mustangs a 39-10 lead with 7:08 to go, and Laval would only pull seven points back inside the final minute.
Merchant, later named the Vanier Cup MVP, led the way offensively for Western, completing 13 of 20 passes for 276 yards and a touchdown and rushing 13 times for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Alex Taylor added 150 rushing yards on 26 carries, Cedric Joseph had 63 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries, and Harry McMaster caught five passes for 115 yards. The Mustangs’ offensive and defensive lines also deserve a ton of the credit here. The defensive line recorded five sacks and constantly hurried Laval quarterback Hugo Richard, limiting him to 235 passing yards while also keeping the Rouge et Or to 70 total rushing yards. The offensive line paved the way for Western’s ground game, and while they gave up five sacks as well, they also allowed Merchant enough time on several deep throws.
It’s notable to see the Mustangs claim their first title since 1994, and it’s also notable to see Laval fall short. The Rouge et Or have been the most dominant team in Canadian university football since their 1996 formation, winning a record nine titles (including last season’s), and they had won three of the last five Vanier Cups heading into this game. (And the Montreal Carabins claimed a fourth and lost a fifth, so it’s been quite the five-year run for RSEQ champions.) Western’s win was the first Vanier for an OUA school since McMaster’s 2011 victory, which also came against Laval.
One game certainly doesn’t mean that the balance of power has permanently shifted, but the Mustangs capping off their perfect season with not just a victory, but a dominant victory (plus Calgary’s spirited fight against the Rouge et Or in a 35-23 Mitchell Bowl loss last week) may suggest that teams outside Quebec are improving in their ability to go toe-to-toe with RSEQ heavyweights. Western’s performance here was certainly impressive. And it marked a long-awaited return to the top of the Canadian university football world for both the Mustangs and Marshall.
No. 1 Pandas and No. 2 Thunderbirds split a pair of OT thrillers, No. 4 Bisons win eighth and ninth games in a row
U SPORTS women’s hockey saw a 1-versus-2 showdown this weekend, with the No. 1 Alberta Pandas and No. 2 UBC Thunderbirds splitting a pair of games in Vancouver. On Friday, the Thunderbirds came up with a 3-2 overtime win, with Shay-Lee McConnell’s first Canada West goal proving the overtime winner. Cassandra Vilgrain and Logan Boyd also scored for UBC, while Lindsay Weech and Amy Boucher responded for Alberta.
On Saturday, the Pandas picked up a 3-2 overtime win of their own in a remarkable game where they outshot the Thunderbirds 34-8. Autumn MacDougall scored twice for Alberta, including the power-play overtime winner, while Alex Poznikoff also tallied. Jaedon Cooke and Emily Costales responded for UBC, while Amelia Boughn made 31 saves in a losing cause.
Elsewhere, the No. 4 Manitoba Bisons are on a roll, coming up with a couple of big wins this weekend against the Calgary Dinos. On Friday, Manitoba bounced back from an early 1-0 deficit with four second-period goals to Calgary’s one, coming up with a 4-2 win. Natasha Kostenko, Alexandra Anderson, Jordan Zacharias and Alanna Sharman all scored for the Bisons. On Saturday, the Dinos again jumped out to a 1-0 lead, but Manitoba notched three straight goals to win 3-1. Zacharias, Canada West’s leading scorer, recorded her ninth goal of the season, while Courtlyn Oswald and Venla Hovi also tallied for the Bisons.
Another notable Top 10 result saw the No. 9 McGill Martlets fall 4-3 to the Ottawa Gee-Gees in a shootout Friday despite outshooting Ottawa 42-24 on the night.
X-Men earn a win over No. 10 Axemen in front of over 2,400
The St. Francis Xavier X-Men picked up an impressive win this weekend, giving the No. 10 Acadia Axemen their first loss of the season with a 80-78 win Friday night at a basketball showcase at Halifax’s Scotiabank Centre in front of over 2,400 fans ahead of a Canadian national team game against the Bahamas. StFX led 28-22 after the first quarter and 52-40 at the half, but Acadia outscored the X-Men 23-18 in the third quarter and 15-10 in the fourth, leading to a close finish.
The Axemen narrowed the lead to 76-75 late in the game after Erik Nissen (who led the game with 26 points and 11 rebounds) hit two free throws, but after a StFX basket expanded the lead to 78-75, the X-Men’s Davonte Provo stole the ball from Nissen, leading to Nissen fouling Justin Andrew. Andrew hit both free throws to make the score 80-75, and a late Nissen free throw and Ben Miller layup brought Acadia within two inside the final minute, but they couldn’t get any closer.
The Axemen bounced back with a 88-78 road win over UPEI Saturday in a four-point game, though, led by 21 points from Nissen and 15 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and five steals from Miller. Meanwhile, the X-Men beat Cape Breton 108-99 Saturday.
Spartans win a pair against No. 3 Pandas, earn fifth and sixth straight wins
It was a great weekend for the Trinity Western Spartans’ women’s volleyball team, as they downed the No. 3 Alberta Pandas in a pair of contests at home and extended their win streak to six matches. On Friday, the Spartans prevailed in four sets, winning 26-24, 20-25, 25-21, 25-17 behind 12 kills, three blocks and 12 digs from outside hitter Hilary Howe and 33 assists, four kills, three aces and two blocks from setter Brie King. On Saturday, Trinity Western won in five sets, winning 25-16, 23-25, 26-24, 21-25, 15-9. Howe again shone with 20 kills, while King posted a career-high 44 assists and added 17 digs, and middle hitter Avery Heppell recorded 10 blocks and five kills.
This continued the Spartans’ impressive recovery from a 1-2 start to the year. They’re now 7-3 on the season. Elsewhere, another notable Top 10 result came Sunday, with the No. 10 McGill Martlets knocking off the No. 9 Laval Rouge et Or in five sets. Power hitter Claire Vercheval led the Martlets with 16 kills and three aces, while middle hitter Erika Cournoyer had 15 kills, an ace, 2.5 stuff blocks, a pair of digs and two assists.
Thunderbirds win Canada West championships, Carabins claim Quebec Cup, Warriors and Varsity Blues take Ontario divisional titles
Swimming saw plenty of important action this weekend, with the UBC Thunderbirds, Montreal Carabins, Waterloo Warriors and University of Toronto Varsity Blues all claiming titles. In the Canada West championships hosted by the Victoria Vikes, UBC finished on top on both the men’s and women’s sides. The Thunderbirds women collected 1,111 points and won 14 gold medals and 35 total medals, well ahead of second-place Calgary’s 512 points. The UBC men finished with 838 points, 10 golds and 28 overal medals, while Calgary again placed second with 672.5 points.
UBC's Yuri Kisil was named the male swimmer of the meet after helping to break five conference records throughout the weekend and winning five golds and two silvers.
Manitoba's Kelsey Wog earned swimmer of the meet honours on the women’s side with three golds and six overall medals, including record-breaking golds in the 200m individual medley and 100m backstroke.
Over in RSEQ, the Montreal Carabins came out on top on the men’s and women’s side in the third Quebec Cup, which they hosted Saturday. They won the men’s side with 136 points to McGill’s 121 and the women’s side with 178 points to McGill’s 86. In the fourth Quebec Cup Sunday, McGill edged Montreal 135-120 on the men’s side, while the Carabins beat the Martlets 181-71 on the women’s side. McGill’s Samuel Wang had a particularly impressive weekend, winning three golds and a silver both Saturday and Sunday and extending his streak of being named swimmer of the meet at all four Quebec Cups this year.
The Redmen also persevered through injury; Bradley Cocker, in his first year with the team following four years swimming for the Calgary Dinos, reinjured his back in the 200m backstroke Saturday, but finished the race before heading to the hospital. The entire McGill team competed with the word “Bread” on their feet in tribute to him Sunday.
In Ontario, the Waterloo Warriors hosted a tri-meet with Ottawa and Laurier Friday ahead of the weekend’s divisional championships, winning six events. Ottawa won 17 of the 27 events. Waterloo then competed in the deBray Divisional Championships at Brock Saturday and came out on top, edging Laurentian 42 medals to 38 and 14 golds to 12. Laurier was third with 14 medals and four golds.
Ottawa came second overall to Toronto in Sunday’s Fairweather Divisional Championships at Guelph; the Varsity Blues took home 75 medals, 31 which were gold, while the Gee-Gees notched 13 total medals and four golds. On the points side, the Toronto women posted 1,147 points, ahead of Western (634) and Ottawa (556), while the Varsity Blues men recorded 1159.5 points, ahead of Ottawa (707) and Western (568.5).
On the men’s side, Eli Wall swept the the 50 (28.24), 100 (1:00.64) and 200 (2:12.88) breaststroke events for Toronto. On the women’s side, 2017 world champion and world record holder Kylie Masse led the way for the Varsity Blues with individual victories in the 50 backstroke (26.70), 200 backstroke (2:04.72), 100 freestyle (54.05) and 400 freestyle (4:06.93), with head coach Byron MacDonald particularly impressed with her 400 freestyle swim.
"The swim of the meet for sure was Kylie's 400 freestyle," MacDonald said. "Despite never racing that race, she swam the fastest time done in Canada this year. Kylie had a pressure-packed summer that culminated in a world record. For the fall, the decision was to race different events and change it up."
Golden Hawks knock off No. 5 Redmen, Gee-Gees best No. 8 Lions
Two big men’s hockey upsets this week came in OUA play, with the Laurier Golden Hawks beating the No. 5 McGill Redmen 5-2 Saturday and the Ottawa Gee-Gees topping the No. 8 York Lions 4-3 in a shootout Saturday. Andrew Fritsch led the way for Laurier with the game-winning goal and an assist, while Brandon Robinson, Christian Mroczkowski, Neil Aird and Will Cook also tallied for the Golden Hawks and Colin Furlong made 28 saves.
For the Gee-Gees, Médric Mercier, Brendan Jacome and Eric Locke all scored in regulation, while Connor Sills notched the only shootout goal. Ottawa goalie Anthony Brodeur stopped all three York shooters and made 34 saves before the shootout, while York’s Alex Fontinos stopped 55 of the 58 shots he faced.
York previously beat the Carleton Ravens 3-2 in a shootout Friday, while McGill beat the Waterloo Warriors 6-3 Friday. Elsewhere, No. 4 StFX beat No. 6 Saint Mary’s 4-2 Wednesday and bested No. 7 Acadia 2-1 Friday, and Manitoba split a weekend series with No. 9 Calgary, winning 3-2 Friday but losing 4-0 Saturday.
No. 1 Axewomen keep rolling with win over Panthers, Gaels top No. 5 Lancers
The Acadia Axewomen’s women’s basketball team earned the No. 1 ranking nationally for the first time this past week, and they recorded an impressive 84-63 win over the UPEI Panthers in a four-point game Saturday. All five Acadia starters scored in double figures and combined for 79 of the 84 Axewomen points, led by Paloma Anderson’s 19 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Katie Ross and Alexandra Berry also notched double-doubles, finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds and 14 points and 11 rebounds respectively.
The Queen’s Gaels also came up with a pair of notable wins this weekend at home. On Friday, they thumped the No. 5 Windsor Lancers 71-51 thanks to a remarkable defensive effort that saw them hold the Lancers to 30.8 per cent shooting from the floor. Offensively, Marianne Alarie led the way for Queen’s with 23 points on nine-of-14 shooting, including four-of-seven from deep, and also added five rebounds, while Veronika Lavergne had 14 points and seven rebounds (including five offensive boards).
On Saturday, the Gaels beat the Western Mustangs 71-68, with Alarie again notching 23 points.
Warriors beat No. 10 Rams in straight sets, No. 1 Spartans best No. 4 Golden Bears
There were a couple of notable results in men’s volleyball this weekend, with the Waterloo Warriors’ straight-sets home win over the No. 10 Ryerson Rams Saturday particularly significant. The Warriors got off to a great start with a 25-13 first set win, and followed that up with 25-21 and 25-19 victories. Waterloo was strong on the net all game, posting 16 blocks to the Rams’ three, led by Matthew Mawdsley’s seven. He also added three aces and four kills. Braden Cok recorded a game-high 18 points for the Warriors thanks to 17 kills and two assisted blocks.
Elsewhere, the No. 1 Trinity Western Spartans had a strong weekend, winning a pair at home against the No. 4 Alberta Golden Bears in a rematch of last year’s national championship final (also won by the Spartans). On Friday, TWU dropped the first set 22-25, but bounced back to win the next three 25-23, 25-19 and 25-19, led by 14 kills from Jacob Kern. On Saturday, the Spartans won 25-23, 25-21, 25-16, with Eric Loeppky setting a Trinity Western three-set kill record with 21 (and a .594 hitting percentage).
Bears and Pandas sweep Huskie Open
It was a good weekend for the University of Alberta’s wrestlers, as they claimed titles at the University of Saskatchewan’s Huskie Open on both the men’s and women’s sides. The Pandas won the women’s side with 47 points (Regina was second and Saskatchewan third), while the Golden Bears won the men’s side with 73 points (Saskatchewan was second and Calgary third). Some of the most impressive wrestlers for Alberta were Melvin Arciaga, Aidan McKeage and Nicholas Golenice, who took golds in the men’s 57 kg, 76 kg and 82 kg classes respectively. Josh Bodnarchuk (men’s 61 kg), Alex Schell (women’s 48 kg) and Taylor Follensbee (women’s 82 kg) claimed golds for Saskatchewan. Arciaga was selected as the tournament’s most outstanding male wrestler, while Follensbee earned that honour on the women’s side. Alberta and Saskatchewan also competed in a dual meet Friday night.
Social media post of the weeks:
Greg Brady’s congrats for Mustangs, Ice Wolves cheer on Gaels
With the Mustangs’ Vanier Cup win, lots of Western alumni chimed in with their congrats for the team. One particularly notable one came from former Mustangs play-by-play voice and current Sportsnet 590 The Fan morning host Greg Brady:
Elsewhere, the Queen’s Gaels women’s hockey team hosted a special appreciation day for the Kingston Ice Wolves minor hockey teams, who cheered them on in an overtime win against Ryerson Sunday:
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.