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Monday Morning Quarterback: The top 10 moments of the 2018-19 U SPORTS winter season

Andrew Bucholtz

Welcome to a special edition of Monday Morning Quarterback, this time looking at the top 10 moments from the winter term of U SPORTS action.

10. International

Canadian team wins five medals at 2019 Winter Universiade, led by Will Malisch’s gold in snowboard cross

The 2019 FISU Winter Universiade in Krasnoyarsk, Russia saw 121 athletes and staff represent Canada, and those athletes earned five medals. One particularly notable result came from Western University’s Will Malisch, who brought home gold in men’s snowboard cross, Canada’s first-ever gold at the Universiade level in snowboard cross:

This was the 10th international competition for Malisch, but his first Universiade. And he had a tough fight to the top, qualifying for the Top 8 in fifth after five qualifying rounds, but then winning his semifinal match and moving up from fourth and last place in the final to take home the gold. The other Canadian medals at the Universiade were silvers from the women’s hockey team and the men’s curling team, a bronze from the men’s hockey team, and a bronze in women’s snowboard cross from Laval’s Audrey McManiman.

9. Track and Field

Golden Bears’ Austin Cole breaks 35-year-old record, then bests his own record at nationals

The longest-standing Canada West track and field record fell in February, with the Alberta Golden Bears’ Austin Cole posting a time of 33.44 seconds in the 300 metres at the Canada West championships in Edmonton. That gave Cole his second straight conference championship in the 300 metres, and it marked the best time in that event in the conference since Saskatchewan’s Cyprian Enweani’s 33.56 in 1984. Enweani went on to compete for Canada at the 1988 Summer Olympics.

But Cole wasn’t done there. At the U SPORTS track and field national championships in Winnipeg this March, Cole not only won his third-straight national title in the 300m, he did so in a time of 32.89 seconds. That blew past his previous best and set not just a U SPORTS record, but the record for any Canadian under 23:

On the team side, the Guelph Gryphons won their second-straight titles on both the men’s and women’s side at nationals, while the Golden Bears finished fifth on the men’s side and tied for 11th on the women’s side. But Cole provided an incredible individual highlight for Alberta.

8. Women's Hockey

Gryphons claim first national title with shutout win

The third-seeded Guelph Gryphons went on quite the run at the U SPORTS Women’s Hockey National Championships in Charlottetown in March, finishing that off with a 1-0 win against the McGill Martlets in the gold-medal game. That let them claim the Golden Path Trophy and the first national title in program history.

That championship game came after the Gryphons beat the sixth-seeded Manitoba Bisons 3-2 in the quarterfinals and took down the second-seeded Montreal Carabins 5-0 in the semifinals. And it featured particularly dominant performances from fifth-year Guelph goaltender Valerie Lamenta, who made 20 saves to earn the shutout win, and from fifth-year forward and captain Kaitlyn Lowy, who scored the game’s only goal in the second period.

7. Men's Volleyball

Spartans bounce back from Canada West final loss to sweep Bobcats for gold

The U SPORTS Men’s Volleyball Championship Presented by Hôtel Universel Québec title game in Quebec City saw the same matchup as the Canada West finals the week before, but a different result. In the Canada West finals, the host Brandon Bobcats edged the Trinity Western Spartans 25-23, 18-25, 25-21, 22-25, 15-12 to take their second straight conference title. The teams wound up seeded first and second respectively at nationals, and they both went on a run through the field before meeting again in the gold-medal game there, but that one saw Trinity Western prevail 25-23, 25-21, 25-19.

That championship marked the men’s volleyball Spartans’ sixth title since 2006, their fifth-straight appearance in the national title game, and their third win in that span (they also claimed national titles in 2016 and 2017). Third-year outside hitter Eric Loepky was named championship MVP, and he was named player of the match in each of TWU’s three matches. He had 11 kills and four service aces in the title game.

6. Curling

Ravens win first men’s curling title

The 2019 U SPORTS/Curling Canada Curling Championships in Fredericton saw the Carleton Ravens and Laurentian Voyageurs come out on top on the men’s and women’s sides respectively. The Ravens’ win was particularly interesting, as it was the first time the school had ever won a men’s national curling title.

Carleton skip Cameron Goodkey, third Mackenzie Calwell, second Morgan Calwell and lead Brendan Acorn went 5-2 through the round-robin, good enough for second behind the Dalhousie Tigers. They then edged the Alberta Golden Bears 8-6 in the semifinals to set up a gold-medal clash with the Memorial Sea-Hawks. That final was pretty close early on, but the Ravens scored three in the eighth end and went on to a 10-4 win. Goodkey told the CBC’s Devin Heroux this accomplishment felt great, especially considering that he had only been curling for six years.

"This has been the goal and to get here feels pretty great. It's nice to get your name out there a little bit. I haven't been curling that long. Not that many people know me. Some people had no idea who I was coming in here."

Well, they’ll certainly know who he is now.

5. Swimming

Kylie Masse wins fourth-straight swimmer of the year award, completes triple backstroke grand slam

The UBC Thunderbirds hosted the 2019 U SPORTS Odlum Brown Swimming Championships, and they picked up both the men’s and women’s banners for the third-straight year. But an even more dominant performance came from University of Toronto Varsity Blues swimmer Kylie Masse, who was named the U SPORTS Swimmer of the Year for the fourth straight season after again winning gold in the 50m, 100m and 200m backstroke. She’s won each of those events four times at nationals now, and 11 of those 12 wins came in record-setting times, including a time of 2:08.70 for the 200m backstroke this year:

Masse also picked up another gold and another U SPORTS record in the 4X100m freestyle relay, where she and teammates Aleksa Gold, Ainsley McMurray and Rebecca Smith finished in a record time of 3:43.90. Afterwards, Masse said despite the Varsity Blues finishing a narrow second to UBC (1,230.5 points to the Thunderbirds’ 1,255.5) overall, the championships still marked a fitting conclusion to her U SPORTS career:

“I’m really happy with it, to come out with the win would’ve been nice but I know our team did everything we possibly could to get as many points as we could,” said Masse. “I’m so proud of these girls and to have been part of this team for five years is something really special, so I’ll always remember my times as a Varsity Blue.”

4. Men's Basketball

Ravens back on top after win over reigning champs Dinos for Carleton’s 14th title in 17 years

The Carleton Ravens are again U SPORTS men’s basketball champions. The 2019 U SPORTS Men’s Basketball Final 8 championship game saw the reigning champion Calgary Dinos take on the top-seeded Ravens, but the Ravens led wire-to-wire in a 83-49 victory. That marked their 14th title in the last 17 years, their fourth in the last five years, and their eighth in the last 10 years.

Eddie Ekiyor, awarded the Jack Donohue Memorial Trophy as the Final 8’s Most Valuable Player, again led the way for Carleton in the gold-medal game, posting 12 points and 15 rebounds. Afterwards, Ekiyor said it was a team defensive effort that got them the win (they held the Dinos to just 25 per cent shooting from the field), and that it felt great to be national champions again.

“Everyone stepped up – it feels great to be back here. We locked in defensively and we were focused.”

That title also marked the end of an incredible run as head coach for the Ravens’ Dave Smart, who’s been in that role since the 1999-2000 season and was at the helm for all 14 of those titles. Smart is moving to a new role as the Ravens’ director of basketball operations for both the men’s and women’s programs, with long-time women’s head coach Taffe Charles shifting over to become the new men’s head coach.

3. Men's Hockey

Reds bounce back to win University Cup over Golden Bears

The 2019 U SPORTS Cavendish Farms University Cup championship game in Lethbridge saw the defending national champions, the top-seeded Alberta Golden Bears, facing the second-seeded UNB Reds. But it was the Reds who came out on top, earning a 4-2 win and winning their third national title in four years. That win came after the Reds beat the seventh-seeded Carleton Ravens 2-1 in the quarterfinals and downed the sixth-seeded StFX X-Men 9-0 score in the semifinals.

In that championship game, Steven Owre opened the scoring for Alberta five minutes in, but Samuel Dove-McFalls struck back for UNB two minutes later. Olivier Cooper then gave the Reds the lead late in the second period, with Kris Bennett making it 3-1 shortly afterwards. Brandon Magee scored for Alberta just under seven minutes into the third, making it a one-goal game, but Mark Rassell provided insurance for the Reds afterwards. UNB also got a standout performance from goaltender Alex Dubeau, named the tournament MVP; Dubeau made 34 saves in the win, including this show-stopping grab.

Afterwards, UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall said his team hung in there early thanks to their defensive play, and that gave them something to build on.

 “I think in the first period, the key part was the penalty kills and our goaltender was outstanding. Our goal was to be the most improved team in the game. I think we got through with our defensive effort, with our grit and grind.”

2. Women's Basketball

Marauders win first title in Theresa Burns' 26th year as HC

Long-time McMaster Marauders’ women’s basketball coach Theresa Burns was able to lead her team to a national title this March at The Women’s Basketball Final 8 Presented by COMDA.COM in Toronto. That event marked the first time McMaster had ever reached a national final in women’s basketball (their previous best was a third-place finish in 2007-08), and the second-seeded Marauders made the most of it, downing the top-seeded Laval Rouge et Or 70-58. Afterwards, Burns said that success came from her team sticking together and supporting each other:

“The game plan is to always be as tough as we can be defensively, stay positive and no matter what happens, you just keep picking each other up and good things will happen. They’re just so resilient. We’re playing a good team, we’re playing No.1 in the country, so they’re going to get their runs, they’re going to score, but when we bent we didn’t break.”

“I think we just believed we could do it… They believe in each other, it’s like absolutely unshakable. I’ve had a lot of teams that support each other and believe in each other but this group takes it to a different level.”

The Marauders trailed 33-27 at the half, but bounced back to tie the game after three quarters. They then pulled away in the fourth, outscoring Laval 26-14 in that frame. And that fourth-quarter showing included this remarkable off-balance bank shot from tournament MVP Linnaea Harper:

1. Women's Volleyball

Eighth-seeded Thunderbirds bounce back to win national title

It’s pretty unusual for the lowest-seeded team in a national championship field to be the one that wins, but the eighth-seeded UBC Thunderbirds did just that at the 2019 U SPORTS Women’s Volleyball Championship in Edmonton in March. The Thunderbirds were the last seed in the field after a Canada West semifinal loss to the Calgary Dinos, but they edged the top-seeded Trinity Western Spartans in five sets in the quarterfinals and beat the fourth-seeded Dalhousie Tigers in four sets in the semifinals to set up a title clash with the defending champion (and sixth seed) Ryerson Rams.

In that title game, UBC bounced back after losing the first two sets, eventually winning 14-25, 20-25, 25-20, 25-20, 15-11. Championship MVP Kiera Van Ryk led the way for the Thunderbirds with 24 kills and 13 digs in the gold-medal match, while Tessa Davis added 15 kills and nine digs. Both players were named to the all-tournament team alongside setter Olivia Furlan, who had 57 assists and 13 digs in the championship game. But that game could have gone very differently, and looked to be heading for a Ryerson win after the first two sets. Van Ryk said afterwards the Thunderbirds were determined to never give up, though.

“It was a change of mindset. We just felt we had nothing to lose, and just fighting as hard as we can and show them what we’ve got. We knew it would be a fight and a long game. We know if we play our game, the sky is the limit and we knew they couldn’t stop us if we played our game.”