The OUA Water Polo Championships arrive in Hamilton, Ont. this weekend, with the top teams in Ontario heading to the Ivor Wynne Centre on the campus of McMaster University to battle it out in the pool.
On the men's side, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues head into the tournament as the top seed, and along with the #2 ranked Carleton Ravens will receive a first-round bye. The Blues will face the winner of Ottawa and Western in their semifinal matchup, while Carleton will take on the winner of McMaster and Queen's.
The Blues are the defending OUA champions, pulling out a tight 7-6 win over the Ravens in last year's championship game. Both teams remained locked at two goals apiece after the first quarter, but U of T turned it up in the second and never looked back, finishing the half up 4-2 and maintaining the lead for the rest of the game.
Toronto and Carleton are familiar with facing each other in the finals, the two squads have met up in six of the last seven OUA gold medal games. The Varsity Blues have won 30 provincial titles in program history, their first coming back in 1926-27. In recent history, Toronto had maintained its water polo dominance, taking home nine of the last 13 OUA championships.
U of T dominated the league for most of the season, outside of the Queen's Invitational where they finished with a record of 2-2. Of course, those two losses came at the hands of the Ravens, who knocked off the Blues in both of their matchups in the tournament. Toronto won the rest of their league games this year, finishing their OUA season with a record of 11 wins and two losses
Reigning OUA coach of the year Vlad Tasevski and the Varsity Blues return OUA all-stars Michael Chapman (North Vancouver, B.C.) and Sever Topan (Burnaby, B.C.), who lead a veteran crew into the championship. Third-year Emre Tali (Toronto, Ont.), and second-year Sukhmun Hare (North Vancouver, B.C.) have been netting goals for the Blues regularly, while rookie Euan Scoffield (Ottawa, Ont.) has been playing like a veteran all season. Between the goalposts, second year keeper Emirhan Ozdemir (Istanbul, Turkey) has been stout for U of T all year.
Although Toronto looks poised to make another run for the gold this year, the Carleton Ravens will definitely have something to say about it. The Ravens finished their season in second place based off of results from the U of T, Queen's, and Carleton Invitational tournaments, but finished the season on a strong note at the Gael's tournament, where they picked up their two wins over Toronto on their way to a 4-0 finish.
Led by new head coach Michel Roy, who brings experience from Water Polo Canada, the Ravens are looking to take the championship trophy back to Ottawa, their last title coming in 2013-14. Carleton have maintained themselves as a top team in OUA, going back and forth with Toronto for the championship over the past four years. The Ravens took home their first gold in 2007-08, and since then have brought three gold medals home. Last year Carleton lost a tough final matchup against their rival U of T to finish second in the OUA championship.
The Ravens return 2014 OUA all-stars Dusan Boskovic (Belgrade, Serbia) and Rodrigo Rojas (Lima, Peru) who will take charge for Carleton in the water. The third-year defender Boskovic and fourth year utility man Rojas led the Ravens in their last championship win, a 7-6 win over the University of Toronto. Both veterans netted two goals apiece in the win. Fifth-year team captain Benjamin Bouwer returns from the 2013 championship team, but has moved his talents out of the net and into the defensive line this year, looking to make an impact in different ways for the Ravens. Taking his place in net is Yorek Hurrelman (Ottawa, ON), who has been a vocal leader and played very aggressively in front of the net to take control of possession for Carleton.
Other players who have contributed for the Ravens this year are left hander Austin Stanton (Waterdown, Ont.) who has used his strong swimming to take advantage on counters, and Mohamed Galal (Cairo, Egypt) who has been performing well in a utility position for the Ravens all year.
Other teams competing in the OUA championship, taking place from November 27th-29th at McMaster University, include the No. 3 Ottawa Gee-Gees, the host No. 4 McMaster Marauders, No. 5 Queens Gaels, the No. 6 Western Mustangs.
On the women's side, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues have run the table in much of the same way as their male counterparts, as they look to take home their third-straight OUA championship. The Blues remain undefeated against OUA competition for the third straight season, their last loss coming at the hands of Carleton in November of 2012. In the past decade, U of T has won eight of the ten women's water polo championships, and look to make it nine of out of 11 this year.
U of T holds the No. 1 seed in the tournament this year and receive a first-round bye, with the winner of McMaster and Queens advancing to face them in the semifinals.
This season the Blues have dominated the waters, outscoring their opponents 94-40. Third-year Ana Miroslavic (Toronto, Ont.) has led the team with 19 goals in nine games, while rookie Megan MacCormac (Ottawa, Ont.) has notched 18 goals, averaging two per contest. Second-year Alexandra Kraft has also put points on the board for Toronto, scoring 14 times this season.
Despite working through injury, last year's championship MVP Emily Bidinosti (Kitchener, Ont.) scored seven goals versus OUA competition this year in just 3 games before being sidelined. The third-year forward will be looking to lead the Blues to another gold medal this weekend.
Three-time OUA most valuable goalie Breanna Gadzosa (Okotoks, Alta.) graduated from U of T last year, and left a major void in net for the Varsity Blues. Luckily for them, senior Rosalee Brown (Oakland, California) and first-year Daniela Freeman (Los Angeles, California) have shared net minding responsibilities and filled the void left by the departing Gadzosa.
The only other team to win an OUA women's water polo championship in the past decade has been the Carleton Ravens, and this year it will be an uphill battle for them to make it back to the gold medal game.
The Ravens enter the tournament as the fourth seed, and will face Queen's to open up the tournament. The last trophy Carleton took home was in the 2012 season, but that team was a considerably different one than this year's squad. The Ravens are a very young team this season, as 11 of this years' players are either in their first or second year.
It was a tough season for the young group this year, collecting a .500 record at their home tournament, while going winless at the Queen's Invitational. Despite that, former Ravens player turned head coach Victoria Peters is hoping to lead her team to another medal finish, and with the veteran leadership of fourth-year captain Emma Cooke (Ottawa, Ont.) taking charge in the pool, Carleton has as good a shot as anybody to take home another championship.
The Ravens have a talented core of hometown ladies looking to bring the trophy back to Ottawa. Katie Sennema, a strong forward with an ability to finish from all angles and Natalie Luciano, a hole check who provides excellent defensive skills and in-game awareness, hope to contribute to some Carleton wins. Liz Leroux and first-year goalie Katie Allerton round out the Ottawa crew leading the way for the Ravens.
The other teams rounding out the table for the women's side are No. 2 Ottawa, No. 3 McMaster, and No. 5 Queen's. Head down to McMaster's Ivor Wynne Centre to check out some great action in the pool all weekend.
Friday November 27th, 2015
5:30pm W1 4 (Carleton) v 5 (Queen's)
6:40pm W2 2 (Ottawa) v 3 (McMaster)
7:50pm M1 3 (Ottawa) v 6 (Western)
9:00pm M1 4 (McMaster) v 5 (Queen's)
Saturday November 28th, 2015
11:00am W3 L1 v L2
12:10pm W4 1 (Toronto) v W1
1:20pm M3 2 (Carleton) v W1
2:30pm M4 1 (Toronto) v W2
5:45pm W5 L2 v L3
Sunday November 29th, 2015
9:30am M5 L1 v L2 (5/6)
10:40am W6 L1 v L3
11:50am M6 L3 v L4 (3/4)
1:15pm W7 W2 v W4 (1/2)
2:40pm M7 W3 v W4 (1/2)