Markham, Ont. – Banner season is officially underway. There was plenty for the purple ponies to celebrate a year ago, as the team hoisted their second consecutive OUA women’s title, but can Western complete the three-peat or will this be the year for another powerhouse to serve up the win?
The Mustangs will enter in a strong position to not only bring home their third straight women’s title, but also a win on the men’s side, as both Western squads rank as the top seed in the draw.
Looking to give the reigning champs a boost in their quest for a 12th women’s title overall, will once again be Helen He (Guelph, Ont.), who has claimed her fair share of hardware during her time on the court. The 2015 OUA Rookie of the Year and two-time MVP has looked strong during her fourth year with the purple and white, and will be looking to put her past championship success into practice once again this time around. Among those who hope to help the Mustangs men regain the title they won in 2016, meanwhile, will be the likes of Andre Szilvassy (Burlington, Ont.) and Mark Jensen (Oakville, Ont.).
It will be a long list of those who will hope to dethrone Western atop the women’s championship throne, but one of the top contenders is last year’s runner up – the York Lions. The Lions are no stranger to success at this event, having notched eight wins apiece on the women’s and men’s side, respectively, but after taking home the silver in the previous three events, will certainly be looking to go that one step further for their first gold medal performance since 2014.
One of the veterans for York is Heather Hills (Markham, Ont.), who will be playing in her fourth championship. Hills has the aforementioned three silver medals under her belt, and despite leaving a match earlier in the year with an injury, is back and ready to be a difference-maker as one of the top players on the roster.
A top counterpart on the men’s side, meanwhile, is Sahil Sareen (Etobicoke, Ont.), who despite being in just his second year, enters as one of the key contenders on the young Lions squad. Already an athlete of the week winner for York this season, Sareen has showcased his talent on more than one occasion so far in 2018 and will hope to help the Lions improve on their up and down campaign thus far.
Without last year’s champions – Montreal Carabins – returning on the men’s side, the Toronto Varsity Blues will be one of the squads looking to add to their championship haul on that front. Already with 34 men’s banners under the belts, the Blues will turn to Felix Fan (Vancouver, B.C.) and company to bring home No. 35.
Fan makes the jump to the No. 1 spot after serving as Toronto’s No. 2 a year ago. The fourth-year player only dropped two games all of last year, and despite having yet to hit the court this season, will surely be a huge boost to Toronto’s gold medal aspirations. The team as a whole will enter as the No. 2 seed on the men’s side, with wins over Carleton and York, among others, under their belts so far this season.
The women’s team, meanwhile, come in as the No. 3 seed and will be turning to reigning OUA Rookie of the Year Mara Stroe (Ajax, Ont.) to help the team build upon their bronze medal finish from a year ago. From the start of the season, the second-year player was relied upon to dual the top threats across the conference in both singles and doubles, and will manage the latter with fellow sophomore Samar Qaedizadeh (Toronto, Ont.) alongside. The duo started their doubles campaign with a win against the Mustangs’ top pair and will be hoping to translate that early season success into their first gold medal since 2013.
Tasked with taking on the Varsity Blues women’s team in the opening round will be the Waterloo Warriors, who are coming off a loss in the quarter finals on both the women’s and men’s side a season ago. With their eyes on an improved result this time around, it will be Nany Baloescu (Kitchener, Ont.) who is playing the leading role. In her first four singles matches, the third-year player is 3-1, with a win against McGill’s top singles player under her belt along the way.
While Baloescu has an OUA championship under her belt, the top threat for the black and gold on the men’s side will be making his banner season debut. Eitan Rozin (Toronto, Ont.) has played to an even record this season in both his singles and doubles matches, but the rookie is poised to make a splash to lead the No. 4 Warriors to an opening round victory against York.
Just above Waterloo on the men’s side will be the third-ranked McMaster Marauders – a team that will similarly hope for improved results from a year ago. Bowing out winless in 2017, the maroon machine has been snake-bitten on the court for some time, going without a provincial banner since 2000.
If the men’s team wants to double up on their all-time totals, they will need a big effort from Viktor Kapetanovic (Niagara Falls, Ont.). His veteran presence and strong on-court play make him a valuable piece of the Marauders squad, and he’ll come into the championships as McMaster No. 1. Providing a similar veteran presence on the women’s side will be Priti Gujadhur (Mississauga, Ont.). The fifth-year team captain comes in as the team’s No. 3, but with a win in Toronto under her belt, will surely be looking to be the leader that can bring Mac their first women’s title in 20 years.
For McMaster to make a splash on the women’s side, they’ll first need to battle the Brock Badgers, who are aiming for their first taste of championship success since the team once again became part of the OUA ranks a couple seasons ago. They will need to play the role of underdog to do so, entering as No. 5 on the women’s side and ranking seventh for the men, but will be poised to make a splash with their talented roster; a list that includes the likes of David Lepka (Pickering, Ont.), Jeffrey Gould (Toronto, Ont.), and Claire Alexander (London, Ont.), among others.
Rounding out the men’s field, finally, will be the Carleton Ravens, who did not compete in last year’s event. For the Ravens to soar to success, they will need players like Lakshay Sudan (New Delhi, India) and Matthew Bees (Vancouver, B.C.), among others, to be at the top of their game against several of the province’s best and brightest this weekend.
The entire championship schedule, which runs from Friday, October 5 at 9:00am through to the medal matches on Sunday, October 7, will take place at Mayfair Toronto East in Markham, Ont.