Marauders edge Gee-Gees 79-75 on road to earn Critelli Cup
The women’s basketball conference championships took place this weekend, with three of the four title games decided by 10 points or less and two of the four decided by four points. One of those came in Ontario, where the No. 3 McMaster Marauders defeated the top-ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees 79-75 on the road to win their first Critelli Cup as OUA champions since 2008. McMaster came close to the Critelli Cup last year, losing the final 75-66 at home to the Carleton Ravens. This time, the Marauders came through, giving head coach Theresa Burns her fifth OUA title in her 26th season at the helm.
The Gee-Gees started this one strong, taking a seven-point lead partway through the first quarter and leading 24-20 heading into the second. However, the Marauders outscored them 22-15 in that frame and 26-24 in the half, and then hung on through the fourth (where they were outscored 12-11) to take the win.
Fifth-year guard Hilary Hanaka led the way for McMaster in this one, posting a game-high 22 points and adding five assists, three rebounds, a block and a steal. Second-year guard Sarah Gates had 20 points and four rebounds for the Marauders, while fifth-year forward Linnaea Harper had 14 points, five rebounds and four assists. For Ottawa, fifth-year guard Sarah Besselink had 20 points, as did fourth-year centre Angela Ribarich.
Both the Marauders and Gee-Gees are moving on to the U SPORTS Women’s Basketball Final 8 Presented by COMDA.com, hosted by the Ryerson Rams at Toronto’s Mattamy Athletic Centre (the former Maple Leaf Gardens) this week. The Marauders are the second seed and will face the at-large Concordia Stingers (RSEQ finalists) in the quarterfinals Thursday, while the Gee-Gees are the fourth seed and will face the Canada West finalist Regina Cougars. The other seeds competing for the Bronze Baby trophy are the first-seeded Laval Rouge et Or (RSEQ champions), the third-seeded Saskatchewan Huskies (Canada West champions), the sixth-seeded Acadia Axewomen (AUS champions) and the eighth-seeded Rams (hosts).
X-Men best No. 5 Huskies in AUS semifinals, while No. 8 Gaels edge No. 4 Ravens in OUA’s Queen’s Cup semifinals
The men’s hockey playoffs saw some notable upsets this weekend, especially in the best-of-five AUS semifinal between the StFX X-Men and the No. 5 Saint Mary’s Huskies and the best-of-three OUA semifinal between the No. 4 Carleton Ravens and the No. 8 Queen’s Gaels. The AUS series saw StFX lose the first two games 3-0 and 4-2 last week, but they rebounded to win 3-1 Monday, 6-3 Wednesday and 3-1 Friday to clinch both the series and a berth in the 2019 U SPORTS Cavendish Farms University Cup (hosted by the Lethbridge Pronghorns from March 14-17). Meanwhile, the Gaels beat the Ravens 3-2 in overtime on the road Thursday, then closed out the series and punched their own ticket to nationals with a 4-1 win at home Saturday.
The decisive fifth game in the AUS series saw StFX get on the board in the first period thanks to a goal from Will Bower, but Hunter Garlent responded for Saint Mary’s in the second frame. However, the Huskies then ran into penalty trouble, spending almost six minutes in a row down a man, and Regan Spears capitalized for the X-Men with five seconds left in the final penalty, taking a shot that led to the puck being accidentally deflected in by Saint Mary’s defenceman Austyn Hardie. Chase Marchand then stood strong in net for StFX, recording several spectacular stops (some of his 39 on the night) before Adam Holwell’s empty-netter sealed the deal.
Thursday’s game was the most notable one in the Queen’s-Carleton series, and it saw the Gaels get off to a good start with a first-period goal from Jared Lindo. Dalen Hedges tied it up for the Ravens early in the third before Duncan Campbell gave Queen’s the lead back, but Matthew Forchuk tied the game with just under a minute left. That sent things to overtime, where Lindo struck again 57 seconds on a pass from Spencer Abraham. Meanwhile, in Saturday’s game, Jared Bethune scored the Gaels’ third goal after some beautiful stickhandling:
The X-Men will now face the No. 2 UNB Reds in the best-of-three AUS final, while the Gaels will host the Queen’s Cup (which Queen’s donated as a league trophy back in 1903) for the first time since 1981, taking on the No. 7 Guelph Gryphons in a winner-takes-all game Saturday. All four of those teams have qualified for the University Cup, along with hosts Lethbridge, the Canada West champion Alberta Golden Bears, and the Canada West finalist Saskatchewan Huskies. The final berth will go to whoever wins the OUA third-place game between Carleton and the Western Mustangs.
Varsity Blues upset No. 8 Mustangs
The women’s hockey playoffs continued this week, and one of the most notable results came in the OUA semifinals. There, the unranked University of Toronto Varsity Blues downed the No. 8 Western Mustangs in three games. Toronto won the first game of that series 3-0 on the road Wednesday, but Western bounced back with a 3-1 road win of their own Friday. That set the stage for Sunday’s showdown, where the Varsity Blues prevailed 2-1 to advance to their first McCaw Cup finals appearance since 2007-08 and book their ticket to nationals.
On Sunday, the key hero for Toronto was fifth-year defender Julia Szulewska, who scored the game-winning goal with 6:46 left. That followed a second-period goal from fourth-year Varsity Blues’ forward Jessica Robichaud, which was soon counteracted by a power-play goal from the Mustangs’ Sydnee Baker. Erica Fryer made 22 saves for Toronto in the win. Here’s a look at Robichaud’s goal:
The Varsity Blues will now face the No. 6 Guelph Gryphons for the OUA title after Guelph downed the Ryerson Rams by sweeping a best-of-three series with victories Wednesday and Friday. Both teams have already qualified for the March 14-17 national championships, along with the UPEI Panthers (hosts), the Alberta Pandas (Canada West champions), the Manitoba Bisons (Canada West finalists), the Montreal Carabins (RSEQ champions) and the McGill Martlets (RSEQ finalists). The St. Thomas Tommies and StFX X-Women are still locked in a battle for the AUS berth (StFX won Game 1 of the best-of-three AUS final 4-0 on Sunday), and the Toronto-Guelph OUA final will help determine those teams’ seeding.
No. 7 Tigers take down No. 5 Huskies in AUS final
The bracket is set for the men’s basketball Final 8 (hosted by the Dalhousie Tigers in Halifax this week), and one of the most interesting results in this week’s conference championships came from a team that had already qualified. That would be the aforementioned Tigers, ranked seventh nationally in this week’s final Top 10 rankings, who beat the No. 5 Saint Mary’s Huskies 65-55 in the AUS final Sunday at the Scotiabank Centre (where the Tigers will host the Final 8 this week).
Saint Mary’s put up a conference-best 19-1 record this year, while Dalhousie was third with a 14-6 mark. But in the final Sunday, it was the Tigers who came out on top. However, that final was close through the first two quarters, with Dalhousie leading 11-10 and 21-19 after those breaks. But the Tigers gained themselves some breathing room in the third quarter, outscoring the Huskies 24-17. And they closed this out with a fourth quarter where they bested Saint Mary’s 20-19.
Sascha Kappos led Dalhousie with 20 points and six rebounds, while Alex Carson had 11 points and seven rebounds. Meanwhile, Jordan Brathwaite had four points and seven rebounds. For the Huskies, Nikita Kasongo put up 21 points and eight rebounds, while Nico Brauner had 12 points and three rebounds.
The Tigers and Huskies will both be in the Final 8 this week, seeded fifth and seventh respectively, and they’ll play the fourth-seeded UBC Thunderbirds (the Canada West finalists) and second-seeded Calgary Dinos (the Canada West champions) respectively. The other teams there will be the top-seeded Carleton Ravens (OUA champions), the third-seeded Ryerson Rams (OUA runners-up), the sixth-seeded Concordia Stingers (RSEQ champions), and the eighth-seeded Alberta Golden Bears (Canada West semifinalists/the at-large berth).
No.6 Spartans sweep No. 7 Pandas in Canada West semifinals
The best-of-three Canada West women’s volleyball semifinals took place this week, and one of the most notable results came from the No. 6 Trinity Western Spartans knocking off the No. 7 Alberta Pandas with two straight home wins. On Thursday, the Spartans beat the Pandas 25-15, 19-25, 25-20, 26-24, and they clinched the series with a 25-22, 25-18, 24-26, 25-23 victory Friday.
On Thursday, Hilary Howe led the way for Trinity Western with 17 kills, 12 digs, eight aces and three blocks, while Mikaelyn Sych chipped in 12 kills, four blocks and three aces. On Friday, How again dominated, posting 18 kills and eight digs, while Avery Heppell had 11 kills and five aces and Savannah Purdy had 11 kills and 11 digs. For Alberta, Kory White shone Thursday with 16 kills, six digs and five blocks, while Erin Corbett had 17 kills and a match-high 16 digs Friday.
The Pandas have already qualified for the national championships as hosts, and they’ll host that event from March 15-17. As Canada West finalists, the Spartans have now qualified as well, as have the No. 2 Calgary Dinos; the No. 10 UBC Thunderbirds, who fell to Calgary in two straight games this weekend, have earned the third non-host Canada West berth.
The No. 3 Dalhousie Tigers have also qualified as AUS champions, while two OUA berths and a RSEQ berth are still up for grabs. The No. 5 McGill Martlets and No. 9 Montreal Carabins will compete for that RSEQ championship this week, while the OUA Final Four will start with the No. 1 Ryerson Rams facing the Western Mustangs and the No. 4 Waterloo Warriors facing the No. 8 University of Toronto Varsity Blues.
Varsity Blues take down No. 8 Mustangs in OUA quarterfinals for first playoff win in 15 years
Perhaps the most unexpected outcome in U SPORTS men’s volleyball this week came in the OUA quarterfinals, where the unranked University of Toronto Varsity Blues knocked off the No. 8 Western Mustangs 25-21, 12-25, 21-25, 25-21, 15-8 on the road Saturday. That marked the Varsity Blues’ first men’s volleyball playoff victory since 2004, and it booked their ticket into the OUA Final Four. Chris Towe led the way in that one with 15 kills, two aces and two blocks, while Evan Falardeau had 13 kills, an ace and a block.
With the win, the Varsity Blues have put themselves into contention for one of the two OUA berths at the national championships (hosted by the No. 3 Laval Rouge et Or from March 15-17). They’ll face the host Queen’s Gaels in next weekend’s OUA Final Four, with the No. 4 McMaster Marauders and the Windsor Lancers on the other side of the draw.
The winners of those semifinals will advance to nationals and will face each other for the OUA title. The other guaranteed national berths will go to the host Rouge et Or, the No. 1 Brandon Bobcats and No. 2 Trinity Western Spartans (facing off for the Canada West title this week), and the Montreal Carabins (facing the Rouge et Or for the RSEQ title this week). There are also two wild-card berths up for grabs.
The FISU Winter Universade is underway in Krasnoyarsk, Russia (it runs through Tuesday, March 12), and the U SPORTS contingent there has already posted plenty of notable results. One of those saw Will Malisch (Western) win Canada’s first-ever gold medal in snowboard cross:
On the women’s side of the snowboard cross competition, Audrey McManiman (Laval) earned bronze, the first Canadian medal of the event.
Meanwhile, the women’s hockey team started their campaign with a dominant 10-0 win over China:
They followed that up with a 4-0 win over Japan Sunday. Also, the men’s hockey team beat Great Britain 12-0 Friday:
The curling teams also got off to good starts, with the women’s rink posting 10-3 and 6-1 victories over Japan and China respectively and the men’s rink beating the Republic of Korea 9-4. Here’s a look at where the players on those rinks hail from:
Speaking of curling, several U SPORTS curling alumni are involved in the Tim Hortons Brier this week, including Brandon Bobcats’ alum Mike McEwen and Alberta Golden Bears’ alum Brendan Bottcher. McEwen’s Manitoba rink got off to a 2-0 start before falling 9-8 Sunday to Bottcher’s wild-card team. Bottcher’s rink came back from a 5-0 deficit to win in extra ends, matching a Brier record.
In swimming, University of Toronto Varsity Blues’ standout Kylie Masse (who won her fourth-straight U SPORTS female swimmer of the year award last week after claiming her fourth national titles in the 50m, 100m and 200m backstroke) is one of the latest athletes added to the inaugural FINA Champions Swim Series, a three-leg event taking place in China, Hungary and the U.S. from April 27-June 1. There will be only four athletes taking part in each race at these events, and it’s by invitation only to the world’s best. Masse will be competing in the Indianapolis leg, which will take place from May 31-June 1.
Also in international sports news, U SPORTS sent four women (Erin Craig, Andrea Eccleston, Reina Iizuka and Kristine Walker) along with a CFL contingent to the NFL Women’s Careers in Football Forum this week. Iizuka’s story is perhaps particularly interesting; she spent this last year as a redshirt with the Manitoba Bisons’ football team, sitting in on meetings and training while she recovered from a torn ACL. She’s hoping to make more history playing for them this coming year, and CFL.ca’s Chris O’Leary wrote an in-depth profile of her this week:
Also in football news, Canada will host the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) World Junior Championship for the first time in 2024. Canada has won gold three times in that U-19 tournament (in 2012, 2016 and 2018), with many of those players going on to shine at the U SPORTS level and beyond, including offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (for the McGill Redmen and the Kansas City Chiefs), running back Mercer Timmis (for the Calgary Dinos, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts) and quarterback Hugo Richard (for the Laval Rouge et Or). We’ll see who’s on the Canadian team on home turf in 2024, but history suggests some of them will make an impact for U SPORTS teams.