BURLINGTON, Ont. – The University of Toronto Varsity Blues men's and women's swim teams have been virtually unbeatable in the pool this season and the reigning conference champions invade London, Ont. on Thursday looking to hoist two more OUA championship banners.
The No. 1 nationally ranked Varsity Blues women's team brought an end to the Western Mustangs streak of five consecutive championships two years ago and would like nothing more than to earn their third straight title in their rivals own pool.
Since 1971, the Varsity Blues have won the WIAU Swimming Trophy as women's champions a record 26 times, including a streak of nine consecutive years from 1977-1985. The twelve-time CIS national champions have dominated the competition, winning more titles than all other schools combined.
This season the Blues are led by second-year standout Kylie Masse (LaSalle, Ont.). As a rookie last season, Masse dominated the OUA championship winning four individual titles, all in OUA record time, sweeping the 50m, 100m and 200m backstroke events, while also winning the 200m individual medley. Following the championship, Masse received the Dr. Jeno Tihanyi award for individual medley excellence and was honoured as both the female rookie and swimmer of the year. At the 2015 Summer Universiade in Gwangju, South Korea, Masse won gold in the 100-metre backstroke in a personal best time of 59.97, 14 one-hundredths of a second off the Universiade record.
Fifth-year freestyle specialist Paige Schultz (Toronto, Ont.) is another serious medal contender for the Varsity Blues. The Toronto, Ont. native swept the 50m, 100m and 200m freestyle events a year ago, establishing a new OUA record (55.10) in the 100m event in the process. Schultz, who also holds the OUA record in the 50m freestyle (25.52), could have her eyes set on surpassing former Toronto swimmer Jen Porenta's OUA record of 1:59.73 in the 200m freestyle event.
Distance freestyle specialist Bridget Coley (Hamilton, Ont.), who won the 800m freestyle event in 2015 and also holds the OUA record (8:38.49) is another threat to podium on the deep Blues roster. Rookie Heather Lam (Vancouver, B.C) will likely be in the conversation for rookie of the year come Saturday.
For the No. 7 ranked Western Mustangs, Paulina Bond (Toronto, Ont.) will look to defend her 50m and 100m butterfly titles from a year ago in her home pool. Bond, a fourth-year social sciences major, won the 100m race in a time of 59.80 and proceeded to follow that up with another gold medal performance in the 50m event, touching the wall in a time of 27.28.
The 400m freestyle gold will be up for grabs this time around as former Mustang Emma Sproul has moved on. However, Western will have a dual medal threat in Sophie Cieplucha (Georgetown, Ont.) and Jennifer McNaughton (Ancaster, Ont.). Both won gold at the OUA championship last season with Cieplucha capturing the 100m breaststroke event, while McNaughton won the 200m butterfly title.
While Gee-Gees are typically found on the race track instead of in the pool, don't tell that to Audrey Prayal-Brown (Scotch Village, N.S). The fourth-year standout won the 50m breaststroke event in her home pool a year ago and will look to defend her title once again this weekend.
After leaving the deBray Division Championship with six medals, Laurier Golden Hawks standout Kate Vanderbeek (Hamilton, Ont.) could find herself on the podium in any of the three backstroke events. The third-year kinesiology/physical education student-athlete swept the 50m, 100m and 200m backstroke events and was the lone Golden Hawks swimmer to represent Laurier at the CIS national championship a season ago.
Waterloo Warriors Josie Andres (Thorndale, Ont.) will be a contender in the 50m fly event, having turned in a CIS qualifying time in the race at the deBray Division Championship back in November. Andes, who also won the 50m breaststroke event at the competition, finished 2nd in the 100m butterfly and 3rd in the 50m freestyle.
After winning three medals a year ago, third-year Guelph Gryphons backstroke specialist Emily Anzai (Ottawa, Ont.) hopes to find the podium at the OUA championship once again. Anzai, an adult development major, won silver in the 50m and 100m and bronze in the 200m backstroke in 2015.
For the McMaster Marauders, Olivvya Chow (Surrey, BC) won silver in the 200m individual medley at the Fairweather Divisional Championship in a time of 2:18.57. Chow, a third-year French major will be looking to find the podium once again this weekend.
Melinda Hubert (Bracebridge, Ont.) of the Carleton Ravens' soars into the OUA championship with aspirations of threatening school records in both the 200m fly and freestyle events.
As on the women's side, the No. 1 ranked Varsity Blues men's team enter the championship as the favourites, having won 14 of a possible 15 OUA banners dating back to 2001. The Dougall Trophy, which was first presented in 1910 by Mr. G.S. Dougall of Montreal, has been won by Toronto an astonishing 63 times. Between 1956-1992, the Varsity Blues captured the championship in all but one season (Western won the championship in the 1959-60 season).
Leading the way for the Blues is 2014-15 CIS swimmer of the year Eli Wall (Ottawa, Ont.). Last year at the OUA championship, Wall, who specializes in the breaststroke events, won both the 100m and 200m, establishing a new conference record (2:12.14) in the process.
Another medal contender for Toronto is freestyle specialist Oliver Straszynski (Toronto, Ont.). Strasynski, a second-year engineering student-athlete, won gold in the 200m freestyle event last year and also finished first in the 400m freestyle at the OUA Fairweather Divisional championship. The Toronto, Ont. native finished second in the 400m freestyle event at the 2015 OUA championship.
2014-15 OUA swimmer of the year Hochan Ryu (Richmond Hill, Ont.) is back in the mix once again for the Blues after winning the 200m and 400m individual medley events, as well as the 200m butterfly, at last year's championship. Like Masse on the women's side, the Richmond Hill, Ont. native was presented with the Dr. Jeno Tihanyi award for individual medley excellence.
After finishing third at the championship a year ago, the Blues' Kyle Haas (Georgetown, Ont.) also has top step aspirations as the second-year economics major won the 50m backstroke event at the OUA Fairweather Divisional championship in a CIS standard time of 24.89.
Robert Bonomo (Toronto, Ont.) and the No. 6 ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees will look to make more than a splash this weekend at the OUA championship. Last year, Bonomo, a fourth-year accounting student-athlete, left the weekend with three gold medals to his name. The Toronto, Ont. native will look to defend his titles in the 100m back (54.88), 200m back (1:58.16) and 50m fly (24.83).
For the No. 7 ranked Guelph Gryphons, Evan Van Moerkerke (Tillsonburg, Ont.) enters the championship as the 3-time defending OUA gold medalist in the 100m freestyle. Not only is he the reigning champion, but he also holds the OUA record in not only the 100m freestyle, but also the 50m event as well. Van Moerkerke also was a member of the silver medal winning Canadian team who won the men's 4x100m relay at the Pan Am Games last summer.
The No. 8 ranked Western Mustangs have a pair of defending champions on their roster heading into the weekend. Aaron Rode (Lasalle, Ont.) and Gamal Assaad (Oakville, Ont.) won gold in the 50m backstroke and 100m fly events, respectively, at last year's meet.
Former Mustangs standout and 400m/1500m freestyle champion Robert Wise is no longer with the Mustangs, however, his teammate and 1500m runner-up Jake Silverthorn (Stoufville, Ont.) is back. Silverthorn, a third-year BMOS major, also finished third in the 400m in 2015 in a time of 3:56.38.
On the men's side for the Warriors, Graeme Kemp (Waterloo, Ont.) and Jonathan Ramkissoon (Trinidad) are both podium contenders. Kemp finished third in the 200m event at last year's championship, while Ramkissoon won bronze in both the 50m and 100m breaststroke. However, this time around, Kemp will have his eyes set on medalling in the 400m IM event after setting a team record (4:21.35) in the race earlier in the year.
The Warriors aren't the only team looking to return to Waterloo with some hardware on Saturday as Andrew Beaton-Williamson (Southampton, Ont.) and the Laurier Golden Hawks look to medal this weekend. At the deBray Divisional Championship, Beaton-Williamson captured three medals, including a pair of silvers in the 50m and 100m butterfly.
Now that 50m breast broke gold medalist Konrad Bald has concluded his Marauders career, McMaster's medal hopes rest with Dominic Walter (Kingston, Jamaica). The third-year geography major won a bronze at the Fairweather Divisional Championship in a time of 4:00.67.
The OUA Championships begin on Thursday, Feb. 11 with preliminary heats starting at 10:00 a.m. and the first finals of the meet beginning at 6 p.m. The championship concludes on Saturday, Feb. 13 with the final events taking place and the announcement of OUA all-stars and major award winners. All events will be held at Western University's WSRC Pool.
Each day's finals will also be streamed live on OUA.tv, and live results will be available at westernmustangs.ca/ouaswimming2016