Oshawa, Ont. – The Toronto Varsity Blues have dominated the courts for the last few years, and the proof is in the pudding with their three consecutive OUA badminton championship titles. They’ll look to make it four straight when they head to the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) for the latest installment of badminton’s banner season. Awaiting the challenge, however, are the host Ridgebacks and the remaining eight participants, as each squad aims for new heights this weekend at the OUA Badminton Championship, presented by Canuckstuff.
Three-time OUA Most Valuable Player, Bethany So (Toronto, Ont.), will be among those helping the Varsity Blues maintain their winning ways and capture their fifth banner in seven seasons. The five-time OUA all-star went undefeated for the second-straight year at last season’s event, which should put her in the conversation for repeat success this time around. Fellow veterans Giselle Chan (Markham, Ont.) and Vivian Kwok (Stouffville, Ont.), who have also earned all-star nods for their efforts on the court, will be among those joining So in the team’s quest for contention this year.
Leading the men’s events will be Marcus Waskiw-Ford (Montréal, Que. and Jonathan Lai (Toronto, Ont.). The former, much like So, went undefeated at least year’s championship en route to all-star honours. On top of winning each singles match he competed in, he also partnered with Chan to go a perfect 5-0 in mixed doubles. Lai, meanwhile, makes his return after a one-year hiatus. He will do so with 2017 OUA Rookie of the Year and all-star honours under his belt and is hoping to jump right back into the thick of things once the competition starts on Friday.
Joining Toronto in the Group A contingent are the host UOIT Ridgebacks, who are welcoming the province’s badminton elite for the first time in program history. They will do so on the heels of their first ever team victory in provincial championship play a year ago, when they took down the Carleton Ravens – who will be taking part once again in this year’s festivities – by a 6-3 score. This victory was a major point of growth for the team and they’ll look to continue that development this year.
A brother tandem will be at the forefront of the Ridgebacks attack, as the pair of Zhi Sheng Chen (Newmarket, Ont.) and Zhiyi Chen (Newmarket, Ont.) will be on the prowl for winning results. The former captains the UOIT squad and will do so as one of the more experienced members of the team. The third-year standout recorded a 6-5 record at last year’s event while competing in men’s doubles – with his brother – and mixed doubles, and has since won gold at the Boston Open this summer and bronze at Yonex Quebec Elite this fall in doubles.
Playing alongside his brother, Zhiyi has seen similar results and as he now enters his second year with the Ridgebacks, will also be looking to take the next step for the Oshawa squad. The younger brother went 7-5 last year in men’s double and singles play, while bringing home identical finishes alongside Sheng in the events since.
The silver-medal winning Marauders will eye a golden finish to their competition this year, entering the championship as the Group B headliners. McMaster is loaded with returning talent and should be able to parlay that experience and pedigree into continued championship contention, but as is always the case, it comes down to who steps up once the shuttle cock is in play.
For the maroon machine, they’ll turn to the likes of Clement Chow (North York, Ont.) and Sommer Chou (Mississauga, Ont.) to embrace the spotlight once again. The former returns as the school’s top singles player for a second straight season, having taken over as player-coach in 2018. The latter, meanwhile, is a former OUA all-star and top returning player on the women’s side. Chou will play lead singles and doubles for McMaster, and along with Caitlin Sherry, as well as Kingsley Wu on the men’s side, the Marauders boast one of the more talented rosters taking to the courts this weekend.
Among those who are hoping to take the next step onto the podium in 2019 are the Ottawa Gee-Gees, who fell just shy a year ago. The 2018 fourth-place finishers will have a pair of OUA all-stars returning to the fold for another kick of the can this year, and after coming so close a year ago – only to bow out to the bronze-medal winning Western Mustangs – there may very well be some extra motivation to crack the top-three this year. Second-year Liam Woodside (Ottawa, Ont.), the reigning Rookie of the Year who burst onto the scene in a big way last year, and third-year Minh Pham (Ottawa, Ont.) will lead the Gee-Gees quest for greatness and help the team compete for their first ever badminton banner.
The team that took down the Garnet and Grey last year, the aforementioned Mustangs, may have lost one of their key pieces to the puzzle this year, but that doesn’t mean they don’t boast the talent to take over. Reigning MVP Jack Hall has graduated, but looking to graduate into the spotlight is reigning Rookie of the Year, Cara de Belle (Toronto, Ont.). Fellow returning 2018 all-stars Samantha Zheng (Vancouver, B.C.) and Sean McGowan (Calgary, Alta.) will also be front and centre for the purple ponies as they compete to gallop to the podium once again.
Another team that will rely on a returning all-star to boost their podium aspirations is the Waterloo Warriors. Now four years removed from their last title, the black and gold will surely be looking to build on a fifth-place finish from a year ago. For them to do just that, Natalie Lam (Markham, Ont.) will be among those relied upon to step to the plate as the top-ranked women’s player for Waterloo. For the men’s team, Aaron Hsu (North York, Ont.) will take on the lead role for the Warriors as their top-ranked competitor for this weekend’s festivities.
Rounding out the rosters in Group A will be the Guelph Gryphons, joining the likes of Toronto, Ottawa, Waterloo, and UOIT, while McMaster and Western will be joined by Ryerson, Queen’s, and the aforementioned Carleton Ravens in Group B play. The round robin matches between the 10 squads get served up over the first day and a half of competition, starting at 9:15am on Friday, February 15 and wrapping up with the 1:00pm matches the following day. Knockout rounds and championship matches will wrap up the festivities from there, with the banners being doled out on Sunday, February 17.