St. Catharines, Ont. – Everything came up purple at the Royal Canadian Henley Rowing Course a year ago, with the Western Mustangs galloping to a pair of team banners. This result was nothing out of the ordinary for the London squad, who have taken home 10 of a possible 12 banners over the last six years. But another banner season means those crews hitting the starting gates are another year more experienced and more determined to dethrone the purple and white powerhouse. It will once again be a tall task to top the podium this weekend in St. Catharines, but the province's premier rowers will surely be up to the task.
The water has certainly been kind to Western over the last several seasons, as the decorated program has come away with a bevy of banners over the last decade and beyond. Their well-rounded teams have made them a mainstay on the podium, and many of their standout performers will hit the course once again this season.
Curtis Ames (Calgary, Alta.) will be among those returning for Western and he'll do so after claiming a pair of top results at last year's festivities (men's pairs and eights). The U23 National Team member and heavyweight men's team captain is one of many Mustangs that has helped the team follow through on their coach's overall goal.
"Our goal is always to develop our student-athletes to the point that they can challenge for the overall team championship against the best teams in the province and country," said men's coach Dan Bechard. With six total medals at last year's event, they certainly showed that they were once again up the challenge, and after a strong lead up to this weekend, the Mustangs women's team can say the same.
The six-time defending champions are eyeing history with a win this weekend, as their seventh consecutive banner would be a record on the women's side and would trail only the Varsity Blues men's team (1928 to 1935) for the overall mark of eight. To get to their seventh – and 27th title overall – Western will turn to Riley Knight (Nanaimo, B.C.) as a key contributor. The fourth-year lightweight rower entered a leadership role after a heavy graduating class last year and will look for a big performance in both the lightweight 1x and lightweight 8+ in Niagara; an expectation that head coach Matt Wadell is excited to see across the board.
Said Wadell, "Our team has done an excellent job coming together since training camp and has a great mix of experienced leaders and talented new recruits. Thanks to the leadership of our student executive and captains, they have remained organized and committed to our shared goals. I'm looking forward to watching the team put forward their best efforts against the top competition in Ontario."
Among those contending with Western for a title a year ago were the Queen's Gaels, who saw both crews reach the team podium in 2018. The reigning silver medalists on the women's side, Queen's will be looking to medal in the smaller boat categories this weekend, with the likes of Paige Adams (Burlington, Ont.), Jane Carleton (Bracebridge, Ont.), and Greta Chase (Toronto, Ont.) being joined by an emerging group of young rowers. The latter of that trio, Chase, is a lightweight participant who has found success again this season. She scored a gold in the double at the Brock Invitational, but is also no stranger to championship triumphs, having earned a silver in the lightweight 1x and gold in the lightweight 2x a year ago.
For the bronze medalist men's team, they will have returnees Michael Bryenton (Peterborough, Ont.) and Evan Notley (Oakville, Ont.) battle for podium finishes once again, but will also see several young members looking to make a name for themselves and maintain the Tricolour's podium position overall And with youth and experience at the ready, Gaels coach Rami Maassarani is happy with where they are at.
"I think we are in a good spot heading into the OUA championships and everyone seems excited and ready to go. We were able to learn a few lessons from our last effort at the Brock Invitational and have spent the last two weeks making minor adjustments that should leave us prepared to perform at our best this weekend. I am really looking forward to this round of racing and seeing what the team can do."
Also looking forward to racing this weekend are the remaining team medalists from a year ago – the Brock Badgers. The St. Catharines squad picked up a silver on the men's side, while the women finished in third, but with the latter claiming an OUA title as recently as 2017, there is no reason to believe the Badgers won't be among those contending for a podium-topping result once again.
Helping the host school reach those lofty heights will be Jordan Isnor (Nanaimo, B.C.). The sophomore is a strong competitor for the Badgers, and after serving as part of Canada's U21 team this summer racing in the Trans Tasman series, she will bring her battle-tested pedigree to the lightweight women's eight and single this weekend.
A fellow lightweight competitor will be one to watch for Brock on the men's side. Jacob Giesbrecht (Wainfleet, Ont.) is a veteran on the water and a rowing team executive, but the Masters student also leads the United Way after-school rowing program for disadvantaged kids. He'll bring his well-rounded contributions to the water in both the pairs and eights in the OUA finale.
These podium mainstays have shown what it takes to conquer the competition, and a team that is hoping to get in that same mix is Guelph. Having been close to the top of the mountain the past two seasons, with a fourth-place finish last year and a bronze medal result the year prior, the Gryphons women's crew will be trying to keep building on those standings. They'll need to accomplish that feat as a total team effort to account for the loss of multiple all-stars from last season.
Among those who will help mitigate the impact of these departures is Kate Pollock (Dundas, Ont.). Entering her third season with Guelph, Pollock will be a key cog in the team's podium ambitions and for good reason. The member of last season's lightweight women's eight crew that won bronze in their OUA championship race, Pollock knows what it takes to be among the best and will bring a welcomed sense of leadership and experience to the table.
On the men's side, Guelph has finished between ninth and 11th over the past five years, so they too will be aiming to rise the final ranks and make a splash at this year's event to improve on their half-decade trend.
Among the many schools who will also see some decorated returnees take to the boats are the Carleton Ravens, who will feature a silver medalist on the men's side and a bronze medalist from their women's crew. The former, Hunter Amesbury (Burlington, Ont.), will look to make the jump to the top of the podium in the pairs, with Meghan Joley fighting for a similar fate after being part of the third-place eights and coxed fours for Carleton in 2018.
The lone returning medalist from 2018 for the Varsity Blues, meanwhile, is Terek Been (Minden, NV), and the reigning heavyweight double bronze medalist from a season ago will pair up with Rui Xu (Hamilton, Ont.) in search of another podium finish this weekend. Been and Xu will also lead Toronto's eight boat, as they look to improve upon last year's sixth-place finish. For Toronto's women's crew, they will return four from the 8+ boat that finished top-five at last season's championship, including Claire Kendall (Stockholm, Sweden) and Emily Principe (Sydney, Australia), while welcoming a quartet of rookies to round out the bunch.
Despite not seeing the quantity of other competing crews, the Laurentian Voyageurs don't lack the quality, as their contingent of three features some medal-happy members. The women will turn to two-time defending bronze medalist Hayley Chase (Alma, Ont.) to reach the podium once again in the singles, and hopes will certainly be high after she also claimed the gold at the Brock Invitational. Like Chase, Charles Alexander (Fergus, Ont.) also took home singles gold at Brock, and is entering the championship on the heels of a silver-medal performance a year ago as well, which should have him well-positioned for further hardware at Henley.
The McMaster Marauders are also heading down the highway to hit the Henley course, and while it might be tough for the Hamilton squad as a whole to find the podium, a few standout Marauders will certainly be pushing for top-three results. Among those who will compete for a medal will be Myma Okuda-Rayfuse (Ottawa, Ont.) and Victoria Collins (Hamilton, Ont.).
Okuda-Rayfuse is back for her second stint with the Marauders as a post-graduate student and will be looking to repeat the success she found in her initial go-around. The veteran was an OUA silver medalist in the lightweight women's single in 2017, and after claiming a bronze at the Brock Invitational in that same event this season, another podium finish will certainly be within reach. Joining her in the lightweight doubles, meanwhile, is Collins, who is another of the crew's brightest stars. She won silver in the women's single and bronze in the double at the Brock Invitational and should be in contention when both races hit the starting gates once again this weekend.
While the Marauders boast some medal hopefuls on the women's side, the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks will turn to a pair of returnees on their men's crew to lead the charge. Brett Hall (Toronto, Ont.) and Adam Stone (Toronto, Ont.) joined the Ridgebacks team as novices last fall and amidst a number of graduating seniors over the past couple seasons, have become team leaders both on and off the water. After successful summers rowing club, the pair hoping to build off of their accomplishments – including a semifinal appearance in the U23 lightweight men's single for Hall at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta – to spark a solid championship showing as well.
It will be returnees and newcomers alike, meanwhile, that will headline Ottawa's weekend on the water. The Gee-Gees had a total of seven crews qualify for A finals a year ago, and among those who are looking to improve further on that number this time around are Owen Falkenham (Halifax, N.S.) and Susan Price (Hamilton, Ont.).
Falkenham is making his first appearance at the championships and will team up with Ben Murray (Kemptville, Ont.) – who stroked the men's novice eight crew last season for Ottawa – in the lightweight doubles to continue their recent string of success. Price, meanwhile, returns in the women's pairs for the Garnet and Grey – competing with Laura Guy (Stratford, Ont.) – following a sixth-place finish for her last year.
Rounding out the field will be the Trent Excalibur, who claimed five medals at last year's festivities; McGill Athletics, who turned in a pair of top-three performances on the water in 2018; and the Nipissing Lakers.
All championship races will take place at the Royal Canadian Henley Rowing Course in St. Catharines, Ont., starting on October 25, with medals and banners being awarded the following day. Action on the first day will begin at 9:00am and will be followed by an 8:30am start on Saturday.