Banner Season: Lions on the prowl for third straight banner with stiff competition ready to pounce

Banner Season: Lions on the prowl for third straight banner with stiff competition ready to pounce

Guelph, Ont. – For the last two seasons, the York Lions have roared loudest among the province's field hockey elite, topping the conference in back-to-back seasons on championship weekend. Another successful season has the team eyeing a three-peat, but with several other squads taking great strides this season and riding a wave of confidence into the finale, York won't be the only team hoping to bring a title back to their campus at this weekend's OUA Field Hockey Championship from Friday, October 25 to Sunday, October 27.

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2019 Schedule & Results

Even though they have taken home nine OUA titles in program history, the third-seeded Lions are looking to accomplish a first for York field hockey this weekend, and that is win their third consecutive banner. If the Lions want to pull off said feat, the team will lean on their defensive prowess that has carried them well throughout the regular season.

Surrendering just 11 goals in their 12 contests, it is a key defender and experienced goalkeeper that will be lynch pins in the Lions championship aspirations. Handling the duties of the latter will be fifth-year veteran Alycia Gray (Port Moody, B.C.). The team's starting netminder has faced plenty of high-pressure situations throughout her York career, including previous efforts in both the OUA and U SPORTS finals, and she'll look to turn those experiences into further success this weekend.

In front of Gray is the leader of this top-tier defensive unit, Frankie St. Louis (Toronto, Ont.), who is not only one of the best at limiting the opposition, but also contributed four goals for the Lions this season. Her two-way performance is one of the many reasons that York has continued to find success on the field, turning in an 8-2-2 record for the year, and while their 25-game unbeaten streak against OUA competition may have been snapped earlier in the season, the Lions will be on the prowl this weekend to make sure the championship streak does not suffer the same fate.

Among the additional contenders for this year's crown are the Toronto Varsity Blues, who earned the streak-snapper moniker when they defeated York 3-1 earlier in the year. Those winning ways were quite common for the Blues this year; however, as they compiled a 9-1-2 during regular season play, and with success like that, it's no surprise that they'll be eyeing their first OUA banner since 2016.

The back-to-back bronze medalists allowed a league-low six goals against heading into this weekend, establishing themselves as a defensive juggernaut in the both the province and country. Like York, it is their goalkeeper that is a critical piece of the puzzle, with Liz O'Hara (Oakville, Ont.) posting seven shutouts in her 11 starts. But while the defence has shone, the offence has been equally luminous for Toronto. Emily Ziraldo (Toronto, Ont.) led the OUA with 15 goals, while teammate Anna Costanzo (Burlington, Ont.) also ranked in the top five with eight tallies of her own, which should position the No. 2 seed well this weekend.

The two Greater Toronto squads will certainly be in contention for a title, but neither claimed this year's top seed. With a 10-win campaign in tow, it is the host Guelph Gryphons that earned the coveted position. Being the host school for this weekend's festivities, the Gryphons will be looking to convert that regular season standing into a golden showing on their home field. To do so, however, they'll need to take a step up the podium that they haven't taken since 2013, finishing as silver medalists for five consecutive seasons.

One member of the Gryphons squad that has been unable to claim that final victory is Katherine MacMillan (Kitchener, Ont.). After missing the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL, the fifth-year forward came back strong a year ago to capture honours at both the provincial and national level, and she has continued that potent production into her final campaign as well. The veteran leads her Guelph squad in both goals (12) and points (24), good enough for second in the OUA on both fronts. With outputs like this, her impact on and off the scoreboard is undeniable, and now entering her final banner season weekend, her determination to claim that elusive OUA gold is as great as its ever been.

Hoping to help MacMillan fulfill that golden ambition is a Gryphon making her first championship appearance. Sidney Evans (Waterloo, Ont.) has made a fast impression in her foray to the university scene. The rookie led all first-year players with nine goals and 18 points and she is peaking at the right time, playing at a goal-per-game pace in her last eight matches. With the page now turned on her electric opening chapter, the Waterloo product will now look for the cherry on top of her debut season this weekend.

While the aforementioned teams have combined for 45 OUA titles, including the last 15, the Western Mustangs have yet to taste that championship victory. They'll be looking to build on some key learnings and impressive stretches from the season; however, to get them closer to title number one. "We have had moments in the season where we looked the part, played the roles needed, and found the end product," said head coach Jeff Pacheco. "We must learn from our lessons in the season and bring the fight needed to get results at the championship."

For the 'Stangs to gain this experience and build on their sixth-place result from a year ago, they'll turn to Madison Fisher (Ilderton, Ont.) on offence and Damanpreet Toor (Brampton, Ont.) on defence to anchor their attack. The former scored several key goals for Western down the stretch, finding her stride heading into championship weekend, while the latter has shown an affinity for one-on-one success in her second season.

These two sophomores epitomize much about what the London squad will bring to the table this weekend, and that is a young team eyeing further experience in these high-pressure scenarios. Having only lost one starter this year, and another three senior players at year's end, this is a group that can certainly keep learning game by game and work their way closer to that coveted first OUA banner.

A team that has been doing just that and closing the gap on the perennial powers in the province is the Waterloo Warriors, as the black and gold have picked up some closely contested results against the OUA's top seeds. They'll look to turn this pesky play into an upset or two at the championship, with their sights set on the podium after a fourth-place finish in 2018.

An upstart rookie has helped the Warriors take this next step so far, and after leading the team in scoring during the regular season, Waterloo will hope that first-year Taylor Goodhue (St. Thomas, Ont.) maintains that offensive touch this weekend. Her seven goals were a welcomed addition to the No. 5 squad, and while the rookie is set to make her banner season debut, the team will also turn to a talented senior for additional contributions.

Team captain Larissa McLeod (Cambridge, Ont.), now in her fourth year with Waterloo, has served as the team's pivot in terms of setting up the play and leading the attack, while also playing incredibly strong on the defensive side of the ball. This well-rounded combination has served her and the Warriors well during her tenue, and she is confident that she is a part of a group that can help each other take that next step in the OUA finale.

"We're really working as a team this year," said McLeod. "We have great players all over the field and it really helps that we can use each other. It's really a team effort. We just need to find a way to get pumped together and get each other through this last weekend."

Another team that has taken strides against the talent-laden OUA field is the No. 4 Queen's Gaels, especially down the stretch. With close matchups putting a bow on the Tricolour's five-win campaign, the Gaels will hope to turn that late-season momentum into some championship wins, and they'll first have a chance to do so against the team that beat them in last year's quarterfinal clash.

Should they want to move past the Warriors in this year's edition and secure a chance to score some hardware, their leading scorer will need to be up to the task. Leigh Janssen (Hamilton, Ont.) has been the heartbeat of the Queen's offence, notching four goals in her senior season, and if she is to lead the Gaels beyond their fifth-place result from a year ago, the veteran may just need to add a tally or two to her totals before the weekend is out.

Entering as the seventh seed, meanwhile, McGill has their sights set on finding the win column for the first time in 2019; much like they did a year ago. In the team's final contest a year ago, they came away with a 6-0 victory over McMaster, and did so on the back of a record-setting performance from a former all-star.

Constanza Martinez-Ramirez (Santiago, Chile), currently a PhD student in pathology, scored a single-game school record four goals in their 2018 finale, with the team securing a seventh-place finish as a result. The 2017 OUA all-star also registered one of McGill's three goals during the current campaign, and if the team wants to cap it off in winning fashion once again, their key offensive threat must once again demonstrate her scoring touch this weekend.

The final team hitting the field this weekend will be the McMaster Marauders, who will enter as the eighth seed and battle the host and top-seeded Gryphons in quarterfinal play on Friday.

The remaining three quarterfinals will also take place on the championship's opening day, with the action starting at 9:00am at the University of Guelph's Varsity Field. Another four games will follow on Saturday, including the two semifinals to start the schedule, while the final quartet, ending with the championship clash at 3:00pm, will wrap up the weekend on Sunday.

Both the bronze medal (1:00pm) and gold medal (3:00pm) matches on Sunday can be seen live on oua.tv.   

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