Toronto – It’s time to stack the track and flood the field, as some of the best runners, jumpers, and throwers head to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) for the provincial finale. The Guelph Gryphons headline a talent-laden group heading to the Toronto Track & Field Centre this weekend, but they aren’t the only ones that will be rolling out top-seeded athletes, medal winners, and record-holders. In fact, 14 schools will join in on the track and field festivities as part of the two-day provincial finale, and many will do so locked and loaded on podium finishes.
They scored double banners a year ago and have the top ranks in the country backing their attempt at similar success in 2019. The Guelph Gryphons remain one of the most well-rounded and talented teams across the university landscape, and it’s easy to see why.
The women enter the event with eyes on their fourth straight provincial banner. There are many elite athletes ready to perform and at the forefront is Shyvonne Roxborough (Ottawa, Ont.). The third-year sprinter is the defending OUA and U SPORTS 60m champion and enters the championship as the top-ranked sprinter in the country (with a 7.47 under her belt this year). The standout athlete also took up long jump this year and reached the U SPORTS standard therein as well.
Also helping the Gryphs’ in their quest for gold is Jenna Westaway (Calgary, Ont.), a fifth-year runner who recently set the Canadian record in the 1000m (2:37.04), and Zoe Sherar (Toronto, Ont.), who is the top 300m runner in the country, topping the national list of runners with a time of 38.24 seconds.
The similarly ranked men’s squad has won the past two provincial titles and three of the last four. Like the women, there is an abundance of talent that will all be looking to peak on the big stage, including Mark Bujnowski (Mount Brydges, Ont.). The reigning U SPORTS Rookie of the Year and defending OUA gold-medalist in shot put enters this week ranked tops in the country in the event and just set a personal best mark of 18.01m less than a week ago. In addition to Bujnowski, the men have been buoyed by the arrival of two national team members – Philip Osei (Toronto, Ont.) and Daniel Harper (Brampton, Ont.) – who have been impressive to say the least, with the former setting a U SPORTS record time (at the time) in the 300m earlier this year.
The Gryphons aren’t the only team to rack up the hardware on the championship stage, as a combined 40 track and field banners have been won by the Windsor Lancers over the years. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the team could see more success in the 2019 edition. This time around, however, the Lancers will rely on some newer faces to turn heads, and one such participant is Marcus Penaloza (Cambridge, Ont.). The first-year Lancer had a huge breakthrough at the Bison Classic in the 300m event, which was followed up with another solid run at SPIRE, breaking the 34-second mark in the same distance. Penaloza will also be a key member of the 4x200m and 4x400m relay teams. Additional ones to watch for Windsor include a young throws team, led by second-year Anthony Atkinson (Chatham, Ont.) and rookie Zion Webb (Sarnia, Ont.).
Fellow first-year Mandy Brunet (LaSalle, Ont.) will headline the women’s team that will be seeking experience at this weekend’s festivities. Currently ranked No. 1 in U SPORTS in triple jump, the talented rookie has already broken the 12m barrier in the event. She’ll look to keep up her sizzling pace in her debut season, and in doing so, follow in the footsteps of both her mom and aunt, who were also triple jumpers for the Lancers. Brunet is just one example of the young athletes showing great potential for the program this year, and she’ll be joined by long-jumper Katie Flemington (), sprinters Kelly and Kristy Hodgins (), and more to help the squad transition after several key athletes graduated last year.
Just behind the Gryphons on the men’s side last year were the Western Mustangs, but they’ll have the reigning Most Valuable Performer (Track) back in the purple and white this year. Jack Sheffar (London, Ont.) began his OUA career with a silver in the 3000m, but has been golden ever since – double golden, in fact. The fifth-year runner has picked up a pair of first place finishes in the 1500m and 3000m at the last two OUA championships and he’ll be racing for the three-peat this weekend as the nation’s No. 1 runner in the 3000m and No. 2 in the 1500m.
On the women’s side, team captain Caroline Stricelj (Oakville, Ont.) has plenty of provincial hardware under her belt for the purple ponies. The veteran has three silvers and two bronze medals in the 300m, 4x200m, and 4x400m, and is coming off a bronze-medal effort in the 300m at last year’s national championships. She’ll look to add even more medals and personal bests to her decorated Mustangs career and bring the women’s team back to the podium after their fourth-place finish a year ago.
The Toronto Varsity Blues are no strangers to top-three results, with their women’s team will be racing for a seventh-straight podium finish this year. Third-year standout Lucia Stafford (Toronto, Ont.) is the team’s lone returning gold medalist from last season, winning both the 1000 and 15000m races en route to the Dr. Wendy Jerome Trophy (Most Valuable Performer).
The Blues also boast plenty of top-tier talent on the field, with fifth-year pole vaulter Brittany Salmon (Brossard, Que.) leading the way. The reigning OUA silver-medalist, who cleared 3.90m at last year’s provincial championships, will also be joined by sophomore Emily Branderhost (Fullarton, Ont.), who holds the top seed for the women’s high jump after claiming the OUA bronze and U SPORTS silver medal last year. The depth continues to be there for the Toronto women to put on a winning performance in their own backyard.
Toronto’s men, meanwhile, are the No. 2 ranked team in the country heading into this weekend, hoping that their current placement can translate into their first provincial podium since 1994-95. Five individual medalists will return from their previous year’s group, highlighted by fifth-year veteran Ezana Debalkew (Markham, Ont.). The reigning champion in the weight throw may headline the school’s field contingent, but they’ll also see the likes of Alex Lau (Whitby, Ont.) lead the track group. In fact, three OUA silver medalists from a year ago – Lau, Jack Berkshire (Fredericton, N.B.) and Craig Klomp (St. Mary’s, Ot.) – will be going for gold this weekend, with all three boasting some top times in their respective events.
The host York Lions were another team that found dual success a year ago, as both their men’s and women’s teams finished in the top-five overall. They will both be looking to add to those results from a year ago, and fittingly, it will be a dual-sport athlete that hopes to carry the torch for the men’s side. Kayden Johnson (Kerrobert, Sask.) enters as the defending gold medalist in the 60m hurdles at both the OUA and U SPORTS championships. The starting running back for the Lions football team is also the reigning York Male Athlete of the Year, so will surely be looking to back up his diverse resume with continued success for the school. Johnson and company have definitely progressed over the year, climbing into the national top-10, and their depth of talent should lend itself well to medals in multiple disciplines this weekend.
Veteran Brittany Crew (East York, Ont.) will be among the headliners on the women’s team that enters the championships ranked fifth in the country. And while the team is versatile enough to boast medal threats in the sprints, jumps, and throws, it is Crew that may prove to be a key cog in the team’s quest for the overall podium. The 2016 Olympian in shot put is the No. 1 thrower across Canada in both events and is on track for another outstanding season for the red and white. The fifth-year standout is one of the most decorated athletes in the history of program and upon her return to the Lions this season after competing internationally for the past two years, she’ll look to once again showcase that talent on the provincial stage.
Unlike York, the Waterloo Warriors weren’t able to crack the top five as a group a year ago, but they do see one of their consistent contenders back to defend his crown. Jörg Ahne (Merseburg, Germany), now in his fifth year, won OUA gold last year in the long jump (7.42m) and is the two-time defending U SPORTS gold medalist therein as well. He’ll look to be a leading figure for the men’s team that will also have a strong contingent in events like the 60m, 200m, and 400m, along with the relays. Fellow Warrior Madison Greenough (St. Catharines, Ont.), meanwhile, will be looking to contribute to the women’s team medal haul in the 1000m event, while Ashley Blayney-Hoffer (Guelph, Ont.) will look to keep the train rolling for Waterloo after hauling in three medals at the Hal Brown Last Chance Meet (gold in 4x400m, silver in 60m hurdles, bronze in 4x200m).
Just down the road from the Warriors, the Golden Hawks are also looking to make a splash with some medal contenders of their own. The teams finished outside the top-10 a year ago, but with several young athletes hitting the start lines for the purple and gold this year, they’ll certainly be looking to build a better point total this year.
Sydney Pattison (Rockwood, Ont.) will be among those in medal contention for Laurier, as she gets set to race the 1500m. She is currently ranked fourth in Ontario in the distance, while also holding a top-10 rank in the 1000m (9th). And after not running the distance last season, she has made the most of her opportunities since, claiming top spot in every 1500m race she’s competed in this year (3 golds). The team will also see a strong representative in the 3000m distance, as Sarah Cranmer-Byng (Mississauga, Ont.) will bring her No. 15 provincial rank and gold-medal performance at the Don Wright Meet to Toronto this weekend to help Laurier challenge for points in the middle-distance events.
Like Laurier, McMaster will be eyeing strong efforts in the distance events, as the program solely competes therein as a companion to cross country. Two distance runners to keep an eye on for the maroon machine are Alex Drover (Kingston, Ont.) and Caroline Forbes (Sarnia, Ont.). The former is an OUA all-star on the trails and has enjoyed his best track results to date. The second-year runner currently employs the fifth-best time in Canada (2nd in OUA) in the 3000m after his 8:12.44 at the Valentine Invitational in Boston. Drover will certainly be in contention for a podium in Toronto, while teammates aim to make the finals in the 1500 and 3000m events.
Forbes, a first-year participant, will aim for success in the 3000m event, entering as the 30th-ranked participant in the country. She will hit the starting line as McMaster’s top nationally-ranked woman, and with fellow top competitor Hope Harnack (Cambridge, Ont.) joining the Marauders contingent this weekend, there will definitely be a youthful vibe emanating from the Hamilton squad.
While several teams will have their eyes on the prize this year, the Brock Badgers will also be looking toward the future. With a young team on the women’s side, they’ll be focused on gaining experience and laying a strong foundation for future performances; something they can surely do while competing alongside the best of the best in the province.
For the men, they will also have their fair share of youth, but some seasoned student-athletes representing the Badgers as well. Tyrell Smikle (Brampton, Ont.) is an example of the former, as the first-year athlete will bring some impressive provincial (6th) and national (12th) ranks into this weekend’s event. Emmanual Harawa (Nairobi, Kenya), meanwhile, will bring a touch more experience to the start line, which has included wins in the 300m at the York Open and Don Wright Team Challenge, as well as a 200m and 400m double gold at the Brockport Invitational.
Bringing their biggest field to the OUA championships in program history, the Laurentian Voyageurs are turning to Megan Crocker (Meadowvale, Ont.) and Eric Gareau (London, Ont.) to help improve on the teams’ point totals from a year ago. Crocker is ranked ninth in the 1500m and seventh in the 3000m, while Gareau checks in at No. 12 in the 1000m and No. 22 in the 600m.
Rounding out the 14-team field heading to the Toronto Track & Field Centre are the Lakehead Thunderwolves, Ottawa Gee-Gees, Queen’s Gaels, and Ryerson Rams. They will join the aforementioned crop of talent for a two-day championship experience, starting on Friday, February 23 and going through to Saturday, February 24, which can all be seen live on oua.tv.