Even though love is in the air on Valentine's Day, don't expect it to soften up the competition at the 2015 OUA Wrestling Championships taking place on Saturday, Feb. 14 at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont.
In what is expected to be one of the most balanced tournaments in recent memory, several schools are heading in to Saturday hoping to bring home a championship banner.
The Brock Badgers come into the tournament as the top-seeded OUA team in both men's and women's wrestling. The women's team currently holds the No. 1 ranking in the CIS Top 10, while the Badgers men are No. 3, the highest of any OUA men's wrestling team.
Last year was the first time since 1994 that neither the Badgers men or women won an OUA title, now both teams are determined to reclaim the throne in Sudbury.
Brock's roster boasts six returning CIS individual champions from last year's team: Sam Jagas and (54kg), Brian Cowan (57kg) and Matrixx Ferreira (82kg) on the men's team, and Jade Parsons (48kg), Carlene Sluberski (55kg), and Jessica Brouilette (63kg) on the women's side. The team also has several returning OUA champions, including Marissa Sorrell (67kg) and Olivia Di Bacco (72kg) for the women, and Andrii Vorontsov (100kg) for the men. The Badgers dominated their own tournament when they hosted the Brock Open, winning team gold in both the men's and women's events. The women also took home gold at the Western Open, while the men finished third.
The Western Mustangs women ended the Badgers streak of six straight championships last year, winning their first OUA banner since 2008. The team is expected to contend once again as they come into Saturday ranked fifth in the CIS Top 10. The Mustangs return two key pieces to this year's squad as both Valerie Ouellette (48kg) and Madi Parks (55kg) are back. Both won OUA silver medals in their respective weight classes last year. The Mustang men are also one of the top teams in CIS wrestling, ranked No. 7 in the country and claimed a team gold medal at the Western Open. Alec Bauer (76kg), Riley Otto (90kg), and Caleb Rutner (68kg) are all returning OUA medalists, while Kyle Bonk-Dann (100kg) won individual gold in his weight class at the Western Open.
The Guelph Gryphons men are aiming to repeat as OUA champions for the first time since the 1984 season, and are currently ranked ninth in the country. Ben Bradford (76kg) is the men's team's only returning OUA gold medalist, while Oren Furmanov (54kg) and Navrit Wirach (61kg), who won silver and bronze, respectively, in their weight classes are also back. Leading the No. 4-ranked Guelph women's team – the second highest ranking of any OUA women's squad – is Kelsey Gsell (82kg), an OUA and CIS champion last year. She put together another strong season winning gold at home in the Guelph Open. Joining her are returning OUA bronze medalists Cierra Carere (55kg) and Alison Carrow (67kg), a duo that won individual bronze and silver, respectively, at the Guelph Open.
Rounding out the OUA men's teams in the CIS Top 10 are the McMaster Marauders, who are fourth in the country and chasing their first OUA men's wrestling title since 1993. Arguably no one is as important to the roster as Jason Buckle (61kg), the 2012 OUA Rookie of the Year winner captured the OUA gold medal last year and has continued his ascent into one of the top wrestlers in the conference. Chris Garneau (68kg) and Ahmed Shamiya (72kg) both won silver medals last year and return for McMaster. The Marauders women's team has two returning medalists on its roster. Monica Wood (48kg) and Alyshia Anderson (82kg) won bronze at the last year's OUA Championships and hope to factor into the medal count again.
The Lakehead women's team is looking to bring a championship banner back to Thunder Bay for the first time since 2000 and enters the weekend ranked eighth in the CIS Top 10. The Thunderwolves have a deep roster of returning wrestlers, including Emma Horner (59kg), who won a CIS silver and OUA bronze medal last year. Kelsey Dayler (67kg) also medaled at both the CIS and OUA championships last year, winning bronze and silver, respectively. Amanda Toope (82kg) was the 2015 Ontario Junior Champion this season, while her teammate Gabrielle Fairhurst (72kg) won bronze, and both are looking to make big contributions at the OUA Championships. On the men's side, Chris Waltner is the team's only returning medalist from 2014, having won bronze at last year's OUA finals.
Competing in front of their hometown crowd, the Laurentian Voyageurs hope to give their fans something to cheer about, and bring a young but talented roster to the tournament. Four members of the women's team won medals at the provincial junior championships this season. Demi Swann (82kg), Regina Martinez (48kg), and Krystal Adair (59kg) all won silver, and Claire McDonald (67kg) took home bronze. The men's team is relying on a strong performance from Dylan Galloway (61kg). He is the only returning member of the team to win a medal at last year's championship, finishing the 2014 tournament with a silver medal.
The Algoma Thunderbirds went home without a medal at last year's OUA Championships, but Natasha Doroodian (63kg) is determined to assure that doesn't happen again. She finished fourth at last year's CIS Championships and finished in second place at the highly competitive Western Open this season. For the Algoma men, Steven Kymes is the team's only wrestler competing this weekend, but he has potential to win a medal, as shown by his third-place finish at the Western Open.
Women's wrestler Ashley Hanna (72kg) and men's wrestler Peter Shannon (61kg) are the top medal hopefuls for the Queen's Gaels. Hanna won a silver medal at the Ontario Junior Championships, while Shannon narrowly missed the podium at last year's OUA Championships with a fourth-place finish.
The Ryerson Rams are in their inaugural season and competing at the OUA Championships for the first time. While the team is mainly looking to gain experience, Phillip Le (57kg) was the 2014 Canadian Juvenile Champion, and with a third-place finish at this year's Brock Open, has shown he has potential to make an immediate impact at the tournament. The Rams won't have a women's team competing this weekend.
Rounding out the competition are Ryerson's inner-city rivals the York Lions and Toronto Varsity Blues.
Grace Bannerman (72kg) of the Varsity Blues women's team turned in an impressive performance at last year's OUA Championships, winning a silver medal, before going on to win a bronze at the CIS level. For the men, Jordan Raghunandun (54kg) was an Ontario Junior champion in 2015, and is hoping to showcase his ability with some of the best in the province.
The York Lions roster doesn't feature any medalists from last year's OUA Championships, but the roster does have potential to bring home some hardware in. Alexandria Town (51kg) finished third at the Brock Open this season, while Greg Pierzchala (76kg) won bronze for the men at the Western Open.
The entirety of the championship will take place on Saturday, Feb. 14 at Ben Avery Gym on the campus of Laurentian University.
Preliminary matches begin at 10 a.m. with the championship matches scheduled to begin at 3:15 p.m. Major awards will be handed out on Saturday at the conclusion of the tournament.