Mix of experienced swimmers and fresh faces hoping to carry Blues to continued provincial success in the pool

Mix of experienced swimmers and fresh faces hoping to carry Blues to continued provincial success in the pool

St. Catharines, Ont. – When it comes to university swimming, one of the most decorated programs is that of the Toronto Varsity Blues, whose men's and women's squads are coming into the OUA Swimming Championships with lengthy winning streaks under the belts. But as Toronto aims to unleash another winning formula at host Brock University (February 7-9), they'll need their decorated veterans and eager newcomers to be in the finest of form to maintain their winning ways against the budding field of provincial competitors.

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When looking at Toronto's swimming scope, it's hard not to start with one of the best to ever suit up for the school – Kylie Masse (Lasalle, Ont.). The 2016 Olympic bronze medalist and former world-record holder has been as dominant as they come in the water during her tenure with the Varsity Blues, and as she prepares to take part in her final OUA championships, she has continued success on her mind and some impressive accomplishments within reach. The four-time reigning OUA Female Swimmer of the Year and 2017-18 OUA Female Athlete of the Year will be looking for the major grand slam (five career victories) in the 50 and 100m backstroke, as well as the grand slam (four career victories) in the 200m backstroke.

Masse isn't the only Blue hoping to make splash at this year's event; however, as a number of third-year standouts also has their eyes on the prize for the No. 2 ranked squad. Hannah Genich (Cobourg, Ont.) is the reigning 200 IM champion, Sophia Saroukian (Montreal, Que.) will be aiming for her third straight provincial title in the 400 and 800m freestyle events, and sprint specialist Rachel Rodé (Lasalle, Ont.) is vying for her third consecutive 50m butterfly gold medal.

While the Toronto women see plenty of returning talent, their male counterparts witness one of the biggest turnovers in program history, returning only eight of their 18-man roster from last year's provincial finale. With the change in personnel, the sixth-ranked Varsity Blues will turn to veterans Mitch Ferraro (Uxbridge, Ont.), Osvald Nitski (Tallinn, Estonia), and Matt Dans (Toronto, Ont.) to lead the charge. Ferraro is the reigning 100m freestyle gold medalist; Nitski is a two-time OUA gold medalist in the 1500m freestyle; and Dans returns to the roster after a one-year hiatus, looking to reclaim his titles in both the 50 and 100m butterfly events.

The Blues may have finished atop the conference's elite last year, but grabbing a pair of second-place finishes was the Western Mustangs, who will once again be in the medal hunt in St. Catharines. Last year's hosts performed well in front of their home crowd, but even on the road, the purple and white will have plenty of fight once they hit the water, with Charis Huddle (Cambridge, Ont.) among the key Mustangs competitors.

Huddle came away with a trio of individual medals (2 silver, 1 bronze) at last year's championship, continuing to collect hardware across her time on the provincial stage. The fifth-year swimmer will be one of many medal-winning returnees for the purple ponies on both squads, being joined on the women's side by second-year Jessica Allen (Ilderton, Ont.) and on the men's side by Matthew Loewen (Montreal, Que.), Sebastian Paulins (Brantford, Ont.), and Brent Waddell (Orangeville, Ont.), among others.

The deep, decorated roster brings plenty of experience to the pool, and in both the individual and relay disciplines, will have a host of opportunities to bring some hardware back home to London.

Another podium-finisher from the 2017-18 event is the McMaster Maruaders, whose women's team turned their strong showing into a bronze-medal result a year ago. Hoping to help the maroon machine maintain their place on the podium this year will be Hannah Dvorski (Hamilton, Ont.), along with second-years Isabelle Lei (Surrey, B.C.) and Veronica Nichol (Hamilton, Ont.). The experience of Dvorski will be key to spark strong results, as evidenced by her pair of bronze medals at the Fairweather Divisional Championships and top-20 times in Canada across the 50 and 100m backstroke, and she'll aim to keep racing her way to victory and cement her Marauders in medal contention.

A defending OUA gold-medalist will lead the men's side, meanwhile, as fourth-year Mitch Muizelaar (Mississauga, Ont.) is another speedster in the pool. The reigning 1500m freestyle winner and 400m bronze medalist holds some of the fastest times in the country in the 800m and 1500m freestyle; an accomplishment he'll be looking to prove once again in this week's competition. Fellow long-distance freestyle swimmer Mohammad Jrab (Toronto, Ont.) will be another important participant for the Marauders in their quest for the podium.

Both Guelph squads garnered top-five finishes a year ago and they'll be looking to boost those strong results into podium placement this time around. The Gryphons' women have many excellent swimmers at their disposal, not the least of which is Samantha Anderson (Newmarket, Ont.). The fourth-year is one of the anchors of the young squad, but with a bronze medal (50m breaststroke) in her back pocket from last year's championships and a U SPORTS qualifying effort already under her belt for this year, she should be a key figure for the Gryphs. Haylie Burton (Guelph, Ont.) is another one to watch, as someone who has regained her top form in her final year after going through some previous injuries.

On the men's side, it is Sam Kuntz (Bracebridge, Ont.) that will lead the competitive group into action, having also already qualified for this year's U SPORTS championships. Now entering his third provincial event, he should have plenty of confidence on his side after winning both the 100 and 200m backstroke races at the deBray Divisional Championships earlier this season. Lucas Liberty (Milton, Ont.) and Rafael Rozo (Burlington, Ont.) are also among Guelph's key contributors thanks to their hard training and refined technique.

The Laurentian squads will enter the championships with mixed feelings after an up-and-down showing at the divisional championships. Their women's team will be eyeing a bounce back effort this week after losing in the divisional event for the first time in five years, while the men will be banking on continued momentum from their first ever divisional banner in the fall.

Among those who will help anchor the Voyageurs squad will be Matt Schouten (Stouffville, Ont.), who is the top ranked OUA swimmer in the 50m freestyle, while also ranking second in the 100m freestyle and 50m backstroke. Alongside the fifth-year veteran will be the freestyle relay teams that are both ranked second. Riley Konrad (Guelph, Ont.) will be another Voyageur to keep an eye on in the pool, as she currently ranks in the OUA's top-five for both 400 and 200 IM, and top-10 in the 200m butterfly.

Laurier, like Laurentian, doesn't have a banner to their school's name in the pool, but they do boast one of the best in the business on their roster. Jasmine Raines (Kitchener, Ont.) is looking to build off of her OUA championship outing last year, wherein she finished with one gold medal and one silver medal for her efforts. Not only did she twice reach the podium, but she also earned an OUA record in the 200m breaststroke event. It will be that same signature event in which she'll hope to once again make a statement, competing in the 50, 100, and 200m distances, as well as the 200 IM.

Like Raines, who is a three-time OUA gold-medalist and a key part to the Hawks' swim team, Kenney Tam (Markham, Ont.) will also be flexing his muscle in the breaststroke events. The fourth-year has had a solid season for the purple and gold in the 50, 100, and 200m distances, finishing in the top 10 in each meet he competed in this year.

The host Badgers will be another of the squads looking to rise the ranks from last year's outing, and for them to improve, they'll turn to a pair of talenter swimmers with decorated resumes already. Third-year Gokhan Bozyigit (Istanbul, Turkey) will be taking part in his third OUA championship, entering this year's action as the 2018 Ontario Champion in the 880 and 1500m freestyle. Bozyigit is also a U SPORTS qualifier, much like his Brock teammate Maggie May Smith (Orillia, Ont.), who in her second year, also has a school record under her belt.

Finishing just below the Badgers at last year's event, improvement is the name of the game for the Carleton Ravens as well. Entering this week's action, they'll not only have a greatly improved crop of returning swimmers, but also a talented group of rookies joining the team; a combination that saw them earn fourth overall at this year's deBray Divisional Championships. One of the returnees who will help anchor Carleton's quest for development is Moustafa Kamel (Egypt), who returns to the provincial pool as the school's top-scoring swimmer from last year's finale.

Much like the men's team, Carleton's women's squad is bringing a mix of newcomers and veterans to the water this week. And while the upper-year student-athletes will provide the experience, a pair of exciting rookies may be the ones to watch for the black birds. Yazan Al Bawwab (United Arab Emirates) and Mizuki Matsui (Japan) are the two first-years closest to capturing berths at the U SPORTS championships and will certainly be going for the gold when they hit the water at Brock.

The Waterloo Warriors have found the top of the podium five times in the history of their swimming program, but it has been quite some time since they've bested their conference counterparts. Looking to add to the men's team that secured a top-five finish a year ago is Lukas Wormald (Kitchener, Ont.), who will take part in his first OUA championship this week. In his first competition – the Fairweather Divisional Championships in November – the freshman finished fourth in the 200 IM and fifth in the 50m backstroke. After a solid winter training session, meanwhile, Wormald posted strong results at the FIU Invitational (1st in 50m butterfly; 2nd in 50m backstroke) and the Toronto Winter Invitational (2nd in 200 IM and 3rd in 100m backstroke) to give him a boost of momentum heading into Brock.

While the first-year standout could make waves on the men's side, it's a veteran of the black and gold that could factor into the women's team's aspirations to improve on last year. Josie Andres (Thorndale, Ont.) has continued to be one of the more consistent swimmers throughout the season – scoring 41 points for the Warriors at Divisionals with fifth-place finishes in the 50 and 100m butterfly, sixth in the 50m freestyle, and terrific legs on three relay events – and the Waterloo squad will look for her to maintain that consistency come banner season.

Also competing in this week's action is the Queen's Gaels, who will have a deBray Divisional Championships standout among those leading the charge. Ally Lecky (Williamstown, Ont.) will hope that her November performance can translate into similar success on the provincial stage, as she took home a gold (50m freestyle), silver (50m butterfly), and bronze (4x50m freestyle relay) medal for the Tricolour. And after seeing their women's and men's teams finish ninth and eighth, respectively, a year ago, the Kingston squad will be looking onward and upward with Lecky and company this time around.

Rounding out the 11-team field for the 2019 OUA Swimming Championships is the York Lions, and along with the rest of the competition, they'll take to the water starting Thursday, February 7 at the Eleanor Misener Aquatic Centre at Brock University. Preliminary rounds will kick off the day's action, a formula that holds true for all three days of competition, while the finals will take place in the evenings from Thursday through Saturday, February 9. Fans can tune in to the championship action LIVE on oua.tv or via the corresponding apps on Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, and Roku.