Varsity Blues look to defend OUA Swimming titles at home this weekend

Varsity Blues look to defend OUA Swimming titles at home this weekend

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 two-time reigning conference champions will host the 2017 OUA Swimming Championships on Thursday as they look to raise two more OUA banners to the rafters.

For additional information on the OUA Swimming Championships, click here for the Championship Fan Guide.

The No. 3 nationally ranked Varsity Blues women's team has won three straight OUA titles and to make it four consecutive on home soil would make it that much more special.  Since 1971, the Varsity Blues have won the WIAU Swimming Trophy as women's champions a record 27 times, including a streak of nine consecutive years from 1977-1985. 

The Varsity Blues are led once again by third-year phenom Kylie Masse (LaSalle, Ont.).  Masse captured the hearts of the nation this past summer when at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, she won a bronze medal the 100-m backstroke when she tied with Tuanhui Fu of China.  Masse struck gold at the OUA Championship, sweeping her individual races in record time, including the 50-m (26.75), 100-m (56.55) and 200-m (2:04.44) backstroke, as well as the 100-m butterfly (57.84), on her way to being named the OUA Female Swimmer of the Year for the second straight season.

Another swimmer to keep an eye on this weekend for the hometown Blues is second-year standout Victoria Wicks (Stoufville, Ont.).  In her OUA championship debut last year, Wicks won gold in the 50m-breastroke, establishing a new OUA record (32.01) in the process.  The Stoufville, Ont. native also placed 2nd in the 100m-breaststroke and with the gold medalist not returning she has to be considered a favourite in the event.

The No. 2 ranked Varsity Blues men's team enters the championship as the favourites, having won 15 of a possible 16 OUA championship banners since 2001.  The Dougall Trophy, which was first presented in 1910 by Mr. G.S. Dougall of Montreal, has been won by Toronto an astonishing 64 times.  Between 1956-1992, the Varsity Blues captured the championship in all but one season (Western won the championship in the 1959-60 season).

For Toronto it begins (but definitely doesn't end) with two-time defending OUA Male Swimmer of the Year, Hochan Ryu (Richmond Hill, Ont.).  Ryu, the defending OUA 200-m 400-m individual medley gold medalist, is back and looking to defend his titles at home.  Last year, Ryu established a new OUA record in the 200-m individual medley, touching the wall in a time of 1:58.17.

Eli Wall (Ottawa, Ont.) will surely have the Varsity Blues faithful on their feet this weekend as the two-time U SPORTS national champion in 100 and 200m-breaststroke is a legitimate medal contender in both events.  At the 2016 OUA Championship, Wall set a new record in the 200m-breaststroke (2:12.13), finishing over  two seconds ahead of the silver medalist.

The future continues to bright for an already dominant Varsity Blues program that lays claim to both the OUA and U SPORTS Rookies of the Year from a season ago.  Cameron Kidd (Paris, Ont.) left London with the OUA honours last year after he set a new record in the 50-m freestyle (21.91), while Osvald Nitski (Tallin, Estonia) got the nod nationally after winning both the 200m-butterfly and 400-m individual medley.  Varsity Blues rookie Scott McGillivray (Regina, Sask.) is a legitimate Rookie of the Year contender and a medal threat in several freestyle races this weekend.  

The Western Mustangs would like nothing more than to return the favour to their rivals from U of T, as it was the Varsity Blues that stormed the WSRC Pool on the campus of Western University last year and left with the championship banners.

Reigning two-time OUA men's 100m-butterfly champion Gamal Assad (Oakville, Ont.) will lead the charge for the Mustangs this weekend as he looks to make it three consecutive titles.  Assad, who set an OUA record (53.16) in the 100-m butterfly last year, also placed third in the 200m-butterfly. However, in order to make his way to the top step of the podium he'll to find a way to surpass the previously mentioned Ryu and Nitski. 

Assad won't be the only member of the Mustangs taking aim at Nitski, as Alex Bartley (Saskatoon, Sask.) and Ryan Hatch (Toronto, Ont.), finished second and third, respectively, behind him a season ago in the 1500m-freestyle.

After a bronze medal winning performance in 50m-backstroke in 2016, fifth-year senior Gordon Barkwell (Hamilton, Ont.) would like nothing more than to claim gold in his final OUA championship.

For the Western women, Sarah Asselin (Ottawa, Ont.) enters the OUA championship as a favourite in the 400m-individual medley.  Now in her third season with the Mustangs, Asselin is looking to improve upon her second place finish in the event from 2016.  With the gold and bronze medalists not returning, you have to like her chances.

Also returning for the Mustangs is sophomore senseation Keira Brazeau (Brockville, Ont.), the defending OUA bronze medalist in the 200m and 400m-freestyle.

The No. 9 ranked uOttawa Gee-Gee men stampede into the OUA championship on Thursday with a roster that features several medalists from last year.

Individual medley specialist Montana Champagne (Ottawa, Ont.) is a two-time OUA all-star after claiming silver in 2016 in both the 200m and 400m.  Fans won't want to miss the battle between Champagne and hometown favourite Ryu in these events.

Coming off a silver medal in the 200m-backstroke a season ago, Robert Bonomo (Toronto, Ont.) will also go head-to-head with Ryu as he looks to turn his 2016 silver into gold in 2017.  Now in his fifth year with the garnet and grey, it will be a homecoming for the Toronto native who also is the defending silver medalist in the 50-m freestyle and bronze medalist in the 100m-backstroke.

Another rookie swimmer to keep an eye on this weekend is Gee-Gees standout Ivan Cocunubo (Gatineau, Que.).  Cocunubo claimed silver in the 100-m butterfly at the 2016 Olympic & Para-swimming Trials in Toronto last year and will go head-to-head with Western's Assad later this week.  

Coming off a third place finish a year ago, the Guelph Gryphons women hope to find themselves back on the podium once again come Saturday evening.

Backstroke specialist Emily Anzai (Ottawa, Ont.) is a three-time OUA all-star and the defending silver medalist in the 200-m backstroke.  But things won't get any easier for the Ottawa, Ont. native as she'll have to go head-to-head with Toronto's Kylie Masse in the event once again this year.  Anzai also won bronze in the 100m backstroke a last year's OUA championship. 

Leili Tilvaldyeva (Windsor, Ont.) is back for the Gryphons and the two-time OUA medalist from a year ago is looking to add to her collection this week.  Last year, Tilvaldyeva earned a silver medal in the 200-m breaststroke and finished just 0.04 seconds out of the second place in the 50-m breaststroke. 

On the men's side, the Gryphons' men's team is led by none other than 2016 Olympian Evan Van Moerkerke (Tillsonburg, Ont.).  Van Moerkerke has established an impressive resume of his own, highlighted by a seventh place finish at the Rio Olympics as a member of the 4x100m free relay team.  The Tillsonburg, Ont. native enters this weekend's championship as the four-time defending OUA gold medalist in the 100-m freestyle after he touched the wall in a time of 49.19 last year, just .05 seconds off his OUA record which he established in his rookie season of 2013.

Emma Mittermaier (Surrey, BC) and her high flying McMaster Marauders soar down the QEW looking to find their way onto the podium following a fourth place finish last year.  Mittermaier is the defending bronze medalist in the 100-m freestyle and with the top two finishers from a season ago not returning, now is the time for Surrey, BC native to strike gold.

For the McMaster men, Kenny MacKenzie (Waterdown, Ont.) enters the OUA championship as the defending gold medalist in 50-m breaststroke.  MacKenzie made his presence felt as a rookie at last year's even as he touched the wall first in time of 28.17.  

Two-time OUA women's 50-m backstroke bronze medalist Kate Vanderbeek (Hamilton, Ont.) is looking to make it three medals in the event after she placed third in 2014 and 2016.  Since being named Golden Hawks team Rookie of Year in 2013-14, the Hamilton, Ont. native has captured Most Valuable Player honours in back-to-back season.

Golden Hawks freshman Jasmine Raines (Kitchener, Ont.) enters the championship as a potential medal hopeful but also an OUA Female Rookie of the Year contender.  Raines established the fastest times in the 100-m (1:10.15) and the 200-m breaststroke (2:30.16) so far this season amongst participating swimmers.

On the men's side for the Golden Hawks, Laurier rookie Alec Elliot (Kitchener, Ont.) has had a fantastic freshman season after representing Canada this past summer at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.  At the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games, he reached five individual finals at the IPC World Championships, including a fifth place in the 100-m backstroke.  Elliot, who is racing for his hometown Golden Hawks, finshed second (26.53) and third (27. 05) in the 50-m butterfly races at the Guelph Invitiational and Laurier Invitiational earlier this year.

For the York Lions men's team, Haseeb Tariq (North York, Ont.) will head across Toronto looking to add to an already impressive 2016-17 season. At the 13th FINA world swimming championships (25m) in Windsor, Ont., representing his native Pakistan, Tariq broke two York and Pakastani records in the 50m and 100m backstroke.

Other swimmers to watch this weekend are Waterloo Warriors standout Jonathan Ramkisson (Trinidad, TT) and Rachel Nogard (Ancaster, Ont.) from the Brock Badgers.  Ramkisson is the defending gold medalist and record holder in the 100-m breaststroke, while Nogard is a two-time bronze medalist in the 200-m butterfly.

The OUA Championships begin on Thursday, Feb. 9 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. 11 with the final events taking place and the announcement of OUA all-stars and major award winners. All events will be held at Varsity Pool in the University of Toronto Athletic Centre.

Each day's finals will also be streamed live on OUA.tv, and live results are available here.

AROUND OUA: Quad Meet
November 20, 2016 AROUND OUA: Quad Meet