Golden Hawks, Badgers aiming to curl their way to back-to-back titles after last year’s triumphs

Golden Hawks, Badgers aiming to curl their way to back-to-back titles after last year’s triumphs

Waterloo, Ont. – It was a banner event for the Brock Badgers and Laurier Golden Hawks a year ago, but as the latest edition of the OUA Curling Championships prepares to unfold, to be hosted by the latter, it will be tough competition abound heading to the K-W Granite Club in Waterloo. Neither reigning champions are strangers to the top of the curling elite, having won multiple provincial banners over the years, but with a lengthy slate of competition looking to add to their similar impressive totals, or bring home the first for their school, the field will be as intriguing as ever heading into the five-day affair from February 14 to 18.

2019 OUA Curling Championships Fan Guide

Laurier may enter as champs, but the team does boast some new faces that will help them on their quest for repeat glory. One face that isn’t new, however, is that of Kaitlin Jewer (Ajax, Ont.), who skipped the Golden Hawks to their winning ways up north last year; an impressive feat given that the champs finished fourth in round-robin play and were tasked with knocking off the defending U SPORTS gold and silver medalists along the way. Their strong play at the Brock Invitational and recently, the Laurier Invitational, bodes well for more of the same this weekend, and with a talented rink that also includes Kelly Middaugh (Victoria Harbour, Ont.) – a U SPORTS all-Canadian last year and the daughter of curlers Wayne and Sherry Middaugh – the sky is the limit for Laurier once again.

The men’s rink wasn’t quite as fruitful in their quest for gold last year, as they fell to their cross-town rivals, Waterloo, in the quarterfinals. But the program is not far removed from banner season success, having triumphed above the pack just two years ago. It will be an entirely new lineup leading the charge this year; however, albeit one that has been finding success leading up the provincial finale.

Skip Jeffrey Wanless (Aurora, Ont.), who returns to the squad after missing last season, and vice Adam Vincent (Seaforth, Ont.), who represented Ontario at the Curling Canada Junior National, have been dominant in leading the Hawks through their four events thus far. The rink has compiled a 13-1-3 record along the way, and if that level of play continues, they will be right in the thick of things when the dust settles on Monday’s final matches.

Like the high-flying Hawks on the women’s side, the Brock men’s team took home the gold a year ago, so you can bet that they’ll have a repeat on their mind once pool play gets underway. Incoming skip Sam Steep (Seaforth, Ont.) will bring both provincial and national experience to the team in his first year at the helm, and with his experience and leadership, he was the clear choice to help bring the Badgers back to banner season glory for a second straight season. Among the highlights of Steep’s impressive resume is him leading his U21 team to an Ontario Championship.

They may not have taken home the banner alongside their fellow Badgers, but Brock’s women’s team put forth a podium result of their own in 2018; something they will shoot to secure again this year. They will have the right person at skip to help the team continue their success – a stretch that has seen them claim spots in three of the past four national championships – and that person is Terri Weeks (McDougall, Ont.). The fifth-year curler has played at the vice or skip position throughout her Badgers career, and after bringing the St. Catharines squad to a U SPORTS bronze medal finish in 2018, also has a first-team all-Canadian skip nod under her belt. 

The Rams were just one spot below Brock in 2018 after being edged out in the gold medal match, 6-5, against the Badgers. While a single in the eighth end of that match sealed Ryerson’s fate, they will surely be looking to do one better when they hit the ice on Thursday. With virtually the same line up as last year, minus one player, and with even more experience playing together, it isn’t difficult to understand why the Rams are among those expected to find the podium once again.

Skip Alex Champ (Gravenhurst, Ont.) will be looking to live up to his last name when he returns for his fourth OUA championship. Now a two-time Ontario Tankard participant with his men’s club team, Champ brings the experience and the drive to bring a provincial banner back to Ryerson. Fellow fourth-year and silver-medal winner, Nicole Titkai (Toronto, Ont.), also brings an experience-laden resume to this year’s festivities, including accolades such as U SPORTS first-team all-Canadian, 2017 OUA silver-medalist, and multiple appearances at the U21 Championships, Women’s Scotties, and more. This year is a little more special for Titkai; however, as she will be joined by her sister, Erin Titkai (Toronto, Ont.), who is taking part in her first OUA championships.

Another podium-finisher from a season ago, the Waterloo Warriors, have golden aspirations this time around, as their men’s side looks to build on their 8-2 record in 2018. At the forefront of that team, and this year’s edition, is John Willsey (Orillia, Ont.). The skip headlines an identical rink that nearly doubled down on their provincial bronze with another at the national level, so now with even further experience together, they will certainly be ones to watch as they head just down the road to the K-W Granite Club.

Like the men’s side, the women’s rink has a large returning contingent as well, bringing back three of their four curlers from last year. A .500 record (3-3) in that event wasn’t quite what the team was looking for, but with Katie Ford’s (Niagara Falls, Ont.) first kick of the can now behind her, the second-year skip and two additional returning players will be looking to push that record more in their favour against their fellow OUA combatants.

While Laurentian curled their way to a banner finish on the women’s side just two years ago, they were unable to duplicate that success in their encore effort. Despite finishing first in pool play last year, the then reigning champion Voyageurs fell in the quarterfinals – the same fate as their male counterparts – which is a finish they will want to re-write in their next attempt at provincial glory.

Both the women’s and men’s rinks boast the pedigree to bounce back, as they are led by several of the talented Northern Ontario rinks that took part in the Canadian Juniors. Tanner Horgan (Sudbury, Ont.) not only accomplished the aforementioned feat, but he was also at the helm, along with Jacob Horgan (Sudbury, Ont.) and Max Blais (Smooth Rock Falls, Ont.), when they took down Mark Jacobs’ crew in the round robin at the Briers, before eventually bowing out to them in the finals.

Megan Smith (Sudbury, Ont.), meanwhile, not only brings that level of provincial experience, but a few check marks on her university resume as well, as she was part of the aforementioned OUA and U SPORTS championship squad for Laurentian in 2016-17. She not only has a taste for victory, but knows what it takes to get there, and she’ll have her eyes on the prize once again this week.

A quarterfinal loss was also the result for in pool play for the Carleton Ravens in 2018, which wasn’t quite what the black birds had in mind either and they too will their sights set higher this year to bring home the program’s first banner. Hoping to play a key role in ending the team’s prolonged drought on the national stage is Lauren Horton (Almonte, Ont.), a previous silver-medalist and national gold medalist, who has also participated as vice at the World Universiade. The experience is there for Horton to make a splash once again on the provincial stage and she’ll do so with a group that has plenty of junior experience at their disposal.

Carleton’s men’s rink has maintained a steady build-up as the years have progressed, including a 5-2 result in 2018. A similar quarterfinal loss ended their banner aspirations then, but a second-team all-star from that group and former Sandra Schmiler Scholarship athlete, Brendan Acorn (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.), will be ready to spearhead their efforts to go deeper into the competition this year.

Acorn won’t be the only curler representing the Soo at this week’s provincial finale, as the Algoma Thunderbirds will also see some northern representation at this year’s festivities, and they’ll do so on the heels of some successful play locally. Last year’s hosts, however, are eyeing improvement on their 2018 performance and they’ll turn to a fourth-year and first-year curler to help lead the way. Julia Simon (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) brings three years of championship experience to the 2019 edition, while rookie Erin McLean (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) hopes that her winning ways at the junior slam series bodes well for continued success at the university level.

Like Algoma, Toronto will be aiming onward and upward from their results in 2018, wherein their women’s squad fell in the quarterfinals and their men’s team amassed just two wins in their pool play. The former will be led by Mackenzie Kiemele (Niagara Falls, Ont.) this time around, and they’ll be in good hands with the second-year skip at the helm. Kiemele led the Blues to a 6-1 record through pool play at last year’s championships, and with a personal shooting percentage average of 68%, she would have been among the elite at the national event a year ago as well. For the men, the young squad will turn to rookie Joshua Leung (Ajax, Ont.) to skip their side to a few more wins in the opening days of the event.

One of Toronto’s teams may have advanced to the knockout rounds, but neither of the Ridgebacks squads were able to parlay their pool play performance to a quarterfinal showing. After a strong season of competition, however – including recent action against China’s national teams – and some veteran leadership guiding their play, UOIT is certainly eyeing a climb in the standings in 2019.

Brittany Audrey (Oshawa, Ont.) led her squad to a 4-1 record earlier this season at the Brock Invitational, and she’ll hope the wins continue to pile up when the take on the rest of the province’s elite this week. The veteran skip will lead a group made up of first and second-year athletes, so beyond improving on their previous results, the Ridgebacks will also hope to collect some valuable experience to aid in their continued development down the road. For he men, Robert Anderson (Burlington, Ont.) and his consistent play from the second position will be key to the team’s quest for improvement, and much like Audrey, his body of work at the Brock Invitational will be a terrific starting point.

While Trent hasn’t always had an abundance of student-athletes within their curling program, they will certainly be turning the page this year, and will see a team complete with a returning veteran as well as four fresh faces. Behind Caleb Clawson (Clarksville, Maryland), the team expects to be competitive in each fixture and is hoping to turn some heads in Waterloo. Clawson brings impressive credentials to the table from his years of junior play south of the border, and now in his first efforts at the OUA championships, the 2017 US National Mixed Champion and fourth-place finisher at the 2017 US Junior Nationals has his eyes on the prize for the Excalibur.

The women’s team, meanwhile, will turn to a decorated Excalibur student-athlete to champion their efforts, just like the team as a whole has been a proud champion of several on-campus initiatives, like the Trent Student Athlete Mental Health Initiative (SAMHI). Sarah Daviau (Ottawa, Ont.) has been varsity women’s MVP in her first two years with the Trent curling program, as chosen by her varsity teammates, and now in her third year, she will continue to bring a great deal of experience to the table from her competitive curling at the junior level.

While these ten squads will bring their respective rinks to the Waterloo Region, they will also be joined by several others hoping to bring a banner back to their schools when all is said and done. The remaining teams that will take part in the latest banner season offering are the Guelph Gryphons; Lakehead Thunderwolves, who narrowly missed the podium with a fourth-place finish on the women’s side last year; McMaster Marauders; Queen’s Gaels, whose women’s rink was unable to finish off a golden performance a year ago, falling 5-3 in the championship match to this year’s hosts; Western Mustangs, who were in contention for much of the event last year before taking home a fourth-place finish on the men’s side; and making their return to curling, the Windsor Lancers.

The 16-team field will open the five-day event with pool play from Thursday, February 14 through Sunday, February 17. The women’s quarterfinals will wrap up that night’s action, before the men’s knockout rounds commence the final day’s matches. The medal games will close out the event, all of which will take place at the K-W Granite Club in Waterloo, at 5:00pm on Monday, February 18.