Waterloo, Ont. – By claiming the championship banner a year ago, the York Lions tasted provincial glory for the first time since 1996. And after an undefeated regular season vaulted them into the top spot heading into this year’s finale, they’ll surely be looking to duplicate their success against the seven remaining squads heading to Waterloo.
It has been a successful encore for the reigning champs through the regular season, and they’ll enter the championship as one of the province’s top scorers and best defensive units. At the heart of the team’s electric 46-goal total this season is all-star Jaslan Stirling (Mississauga, Ont.). The 2017 co-MVP has paced the conference with her 22 tallies and remains one of the country’s most dynamic talents each time she steps on to the field.
She’ll be joined be veteran Sara Vollmerhausen (Newmarket, Ont.), who in her fifth year with Lions, is looking to end on the highest of notes in this year’s final weekend. When it comes to saving the best for last, Vollmerhausen has done just that, putting forth the best campaign of her Lions’ career in her final go-around at York. She’ll look to keep this strong play and impressive momentum going into the last weekend to end her OUA career with her second consecutive provincial banner.
The team that matched the Lions’ goal-scoring output on the year, the Guelph Gryphons, are familiar with championship success, but haven’t been able to make their way to the top of the OUA mountain since 2013. Since that time, the Gryphons have claimed four straight silver medals, with their most recent defeat coming at the hands of the aforementioned Lions. And after coming agonizingly close to the banner last year, falling 3-2 in a closely-contested final match that had York put home the winner in the second half, Guelph is looking to go one-step further this time around.
Among those who will need to power the Gryphons to victory is Katherine MacMillan (Kitchener, Ont.). After missing the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL, the team’s captain has returned in excellent form, not only pacing her school in scoring, but doing so with a second-ranked total (16 goals) in all of Ontario. Alongside the fourth-year talent is Rebecca Plouffe (Oakville, Ont.), who has come back with a strong follow-up to her co-MVP season. As a versatile defender and anchor for the team on the back end, Plouffe has been integral in the team’s third-ranked 1.00 goals-against average.
Also boasting top-tier numbers on both the offensive and defensive side are the Toronto Varsity Blues, who enter as the second-ranked squad after a 10-1-1 regular season. There is no shortage of talent on the roster, as evidenced by their two major-award winners from the year, and it is the OUA’s Most Valuable Player that will play a leading role in the team’s performance this weekend.
Emily Ziraldo (Toronto, Ont.) has been a force in setting the Blues up for success this season, ranking third in the OUA in scoring en route to her second-straight all-star nod. Right behind her in team and provincial scoring is twin sister, Hilary Ziraldo (Toronto, Ont.), who notched eight goals on the season, as well as Anna Costanzo (Burlington, Ont.), who after scoring five goals in the first five games of the season, missed all but the final game – wherein she scored as well – thereafter due to injury. But along with a former and current Rookie of the Year on their roster in Rachel Spouge (Vancouver, B.C.) and Rebecca Carvalho (Brampton, Ont.), respectively, the Varsity Blues boast the booming talent that can help them bring home their 33rd field hockey banner in program history (most in OUA history).
Checking in with the fourth-ranked squad is the Queen’s Gaels, who have made their presence felt this season. A major contributor to their closely-contested matches has been the play of goaltender Amanda Thoo (Ottawa, Ont.), who has been a key veteran that the younger team looks up to. She is as steady as they come between the pipes, limiting the opposition to just 1.45 goals against per contest and has been critical for the Kingston squad’s continued development; a feat that they hope puts them right in the thick of medal contention this weekend.
For Queen’s to fulfill their podium aspirations, going above and beyond their fourth-place finish from a year ago, they’ll need to be forceful on both sides of the ball, and a former All-Canadian will be someone who offers major support therein. Ciara Morrison (Toronto, Ont.) brings a balance of offence and defence in the midfield position, and with three prior championships under her belt, will be another veteran presence that can boost the Tricolour’s overall objectives.
Battling with the Gaels in the opening round this weekend will be the host Waterloo Warriors, who finished regular season play in fifth (3-7-2). After a sixth place finish a year ago, the black and gold will be shooting for more on their home turf, with their eyes on a podium finish in 2018, but will need to do so with a young roster.
Anchoring the Warriors, now in her third year, will once again be Larissa McLeod (Cambridge, Ont.). She has been a stalwart on defence, a leader for the squad, and for her all-around efforts, has been named on OUA all-star for the second consecutive season. And while McLeod buoys the line of defence, it is fifth-year veteran Jennifer Mead (Mitchelle, Ont.) who carries the offensive load. The team captain found the back of the net five times to lead the Warriors in scoring and position herself as a centre piece of the team’s 1.2 goals per game (5th in OUA).
Hoping to score a better result than their regular season mark, wherein they finished with two wins in 12 games, the Western Mustangs will need championship-caliber performances from their all-stars as well. Emma Wingrave (Oakville, Ont.) and Brigid Sterling (Cobourg, Ont.) have been about as steady as it gets for the purple ponies, but they won’t be in it alone. Beyond this dynamic duo, the veteran presence of fifth-year Katie Newton (Guelph, Ont.) and the in-net presence of goaltender Quinn Kennedy (Ilderton, Ont.) – who earned a .375 save percentage on the year – will also be key factors in the team’s ultimate success.
Entering as the No. 7 seed will be the McGill Martlets, who will look to earn their first win of the season this weekend. Looking to be a force up front will be the team’s lone goal-scorers from the season, Tania Iskandar (Greenwich, CT) and Maud-Marie Mazaniello-Chezol (Montreal, Que.), but after a winless regular season that saw them register just three goals for and surrender 58, the Quebec squad will need to see increased production on both ends of the field to topple the Varsity Blues in the opening round.
The final member of the field is the McMaster Marauders, who come in to the championship weekend as the eighth-ranked squad, lining up against York to open their weekend schedule.
Championship play will commence at Warrior Field in Waterloo on the morning of Friday, October 26 at 9:00am, with first-round matches filling the day’s schedule. Play will progress into Sunday, with the gold medal match wrapping up the competition at 3:00pm on October 28.