Oshawa, Ont. – It will be a historic day in Oshawa this weekend, as the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks women’s and men’s basketball teams will suit up for their inaugural home openers on Sunday, November 3. After joining the OUA basketball ranks for the 2019-20 season, bringing the conference to 18 participants, fans will now get to see the newcomers hit their home court for the first time, taking on the Queen’s Gaels in a pair of Sunday matinées, with the back-to-back making up this week’s OUA Marquee Matchup.
Both Ridgebacks’ team will enter their home openers still in search of their first OUA wins, as each side went winless in their opening games up north. Despite the loss, it was an important weekend for Ontario Tech University, seeing their newest student-athletes don their school colours for the first time in regular season play, but even with these few firsts getting checked off the list, the next one, understandably, will be truly unforgettable for those suiting up in the blue and orange.
“Playing the first ever basketball home game for a program is something that few people get to experience,” said men’s head coach Greg Francis, “and there’s a lot of excitement surrounding that.”
Hoping to dampen the excitement will be the Queen’s Gaels, who saw their men’s team finish just above the .500 mark a season ago. And while the Tricolour saw the Graham brothers graduate after decorated OUA careers, they have passed the torch to a new hometown sibling combo, including one who had a monstrous performance to help kick off his rookie season. Cole Syllas (Kingston, Ont.) made a strong first impression in just his second OUA game, stuffing the stat sheet with 31 points and 15 rebounds to lead his team against Laurentian. But just like he wanted to get off on the right foot, so too does Sunday’s host squad.
Helping the hosts officially get their debut campaign off and running was Graddy Kanku (Ottawa, Ont.), who picked up the team’s first points in program history. And while the final score didn’t go the way of the Ridgebacks – who ultimately fell 90-57 against the Laurentian Voyageurs – the first-year guard continued his scorching play throughout the game and the weekend. Ontario Tech’s leading scorer through two contests, Kanku tallied an average of 26.5 per game, to go along with seven rebounds per tilt, and as one of the top recruits across the country, he’ll be looked to as a leader this season.
A running mate of Kanku’s, who also put up a productive start in his opening weekend is Ammar Hassan (London, Ont.), the owner of the Ridgebacks’ first double-double in program history. Pouring in 26 points and grabbing 10 boards in the team’s 86-73 loss to Nipissing, Hassan quickly made his presence felt at the forward position to bring some stability to the post. So while the team may seem some nerves and early-season obstacles as they find their footing within the talent-laden conference, continued performances like those of Hassan and Kanku will surely help steady the ship in the early going.
If Francis’ Ridgebacks want to turn these potent performances into a winning home debut, they know they’ll have some extra motivation in their corner. “It’s going to be a balance trying to take it all in, while focusing on earning our first victory. We expect the crowd to be fantastic and hope everyone enjoys being part of the historic day at Ontario Tech.”
Before the men’s team has their moment in the spotlight, the Ridgebacks’ women will do battle with the Kingston squad to open up the day’s festivities, and it is something that head coach Christa Eniojukan and company have been eyeing for some time. “Sunday will be an exciting moment in our program’s history. We’ve all had this date circled on our calendars for awhile now and are looking forward to finally playing our first home game.”
Among those eagerly awaiting their home debut is Alexanne L’Heureux (Mont-Laurier, Que.), who enters as the team’s leading scorer through two games. Her mark of 17.5 points per contest was anchored by a 27-point showing in their loss to the Lakers, and will be looking for similar production to put on a show for the home fans.
L’Heureux is one of many true rookies on the team making their foray into the university game, but for teammate Jolesha Allen-Brown (Oshawa, Ont.), this memorable moment might just be a little extra special. As one of three athletes on the team from the Durham Region, Allen-Brown will hope to make a splash on familiar territory as part of this historic game and, backed by early season marks of 8.5 points, seven rebounds, and three steals per contest, the two-way standout will have the chance to do just that as one of the team’s starting guards.
Lining up against Allen-Brown as a key member of the Queen’s attack, meanwhile, will be Emma Ritcey (Orillia, Ont.), who has been as lethal as anyone from behind the arc to start the season. In the Gaels’ two wins, the fourth-year guard has connected on nine of her 15 attempts from deep, including a solitary miss in her six attempts against Nipissing. Her hot start has helped her Kingston squad speed out of the gates to a No. 5 national ranking, and they’ll look to keep those winning ways intact while playing spoiler on Sunday.
Certainly, going up against a 15-win squad in 2018 will not be an easy start to the Ridgebacks’ home schedule, but Eniojukan knows that regardless of the outcome, “this is the first one and we know it will be one we remember and look back on moving forward.”
These historic contests are set to hit the hardwood on Sunday, November 3 at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Centre in Oshawa, Ont. Kicking off the festivities, which will include TSN’s Kate Beirness handling the ceremonial tip, will be the women’s game at 1:00pm, followed by the men at 3:00pm. For those looking to see the game in person, there will also be a pre-game ceremony before each contest. Among some of the other festivities to look forward to are a half-court shot for $1,000, a chance to win tickets to see the Toronto Raptors, and a shirt to mark the occasion for the first 1,100 fans.
For those who can’t make it out to the game, both of these OUA Marquee Matchup contests can be seen live on oua.tv.