TORONTO, ON – It’s that time. the 2021 OUA Women’s Basketball regular season begins this week. On Nov. 3, two games will kick off the 2021 regular season and a packed four months of basketball ending in the 2022 U SPORTS National Championship in Kingston, Ontario at the beginning of March, 2022.
After a long hiatus, the OUA is back and it’s been shaken up. Coaching changes, personnel changes, the balance of power has started to shift and if it’s anything like the pre-season has been, we’re in for a ride. Let’s take a look at the OUA going into this season and where teams stack up in the race for the cup.
The defending champs, it’s felt like years since the Badgers hoisted the Critelli Cup in February of 2020, and they are coming into the 2021 season looking significantly different. The team, coached by 2019 Coach of the Year Mike Rao, has only four players from that 2019 championship squad and a large group of additions. Most notably, Mackenzie Robinson joins the Badgers having played four seasons with the Laurentian Voyageurs and sitting out the 2019 season with an injury. Joining the backcourt with veteran guard Jenneke Pilling and OCAA transfer Ivana Twumasi, Robinson is immediately stepping into a leadership role for the Badgers who for a majority of them, haven’t played an OUA regular season game yet.
Sam Keltos is back again, after her impressive 2019 season and exploding onto the OUA scene, she is in her final year with the Badgers and ready to continue her dominance. Joining Keltos in the front court is rookie forward Madison McInnis who has shined throughout the preseason with her presence in the paint and ability to block shots.
With the loss of Jess Morris, Kristin Gallant and Melissa Tatti, finding depth in rebounding and scoring was a question for the Badgers coming into the 2021 season and though they are a young team, they seem to have found it in Madalyn Weinert, Madison McInnis and Ivana Twumasi. As this team continues to gel and gain OUA experience, it will be interesting to see where the defending champs, who have the Laurier Golden Hawks to start the season, will end up in the new OUA.
They were the runners-up in the 2019-20 OUA Final and through pre-season they have been showing that they haven’t missed a beat. Coached by Carly Clarke, the Rams have a perfect record in pre-season this year and with how they’re playing and improving game by game, they should once again be considered contenders this season. The return of Jama Bin-Edward and Marin Scotten is massive for the Rams who have always had great guards whether it be Cara Tiemens, Hayley Robertson, Marin Scotten, Jama or now their newest additions Mikaela Dodig who transferred from UNB, and Kaillie Hall who comes from the NCAA.
Hall and Dodig bolster a backcourt of very talented guards. Tiya Misir and Kyia Giles saw plenty of work in the preseason and should continue that as the season starts, both providing great scoring and court vision. Eve Uwayesu transferred from Windsor to join Clarke’s squad for the 2021 season and her physical relentless style of play provides the Rams with a great change of place option. The backcourt, as it’s always been, is filled with efficient scorers and smart guards that can move the ball effectively, and that helps the forwards like NCAA transfer Eleanor Jones or returning veteran Rachel Farwell establish their game and give the Rams the edge on the boards which they had throughout the 2019 season. The Rams are back with a strong squad and they should definitely be looked at as serious contenders as the season gets started.
The Gaels have been on the verge of being a contender for several years and this year they may have the squad to take that extra step in the playoffs. The Gaels lost to the Rams in the OUA Playoffs of the 2019 season. Two highlights of that game was their forwards, Julia Chadwick and Sophie De Goede who combined for 27 points and 24 rebounds. Those two stars are back for the Gaels 2021 season, assuring the paint for a team that can now continue to rely heavily on guard play. In the backcourt, 3 names to pay attention to are all returning veterans. Emma Weltz, Michelle Istead and Laura Donovan all started for the Gaels in 2019, and they lead the charge for the 2021 season. The Gaels play style makes room for depth in scoring, and we saw that in 2019 with all 3 guards averaging over 7 points per game.
Queen’s has looked really impressive throughout preseason and the dominance of Sophie De Goede and Julia Chadwick has opened up a lot for their guards to continue to share the ball the way that they can. They start the 2021 season with the Rams in Toronto which should be a great test to see if this Gaels squad can make that next jump into contender conversation and if the great play we saw throughout the preseason can be maintained throughout a regular season.
OUA finalists in 2018, strong regular season in 2019 ending in a semi-final loss to the Rams, the Ottawa GeeGees have been at the highest level of the OUA and the return of key veterans gives them hope that they can reach that point again. Under new leadership with Rose-Anne Joly taking over as interim head coach and Sarah Besselink transitioning from playing to coaching following her graduation from the program after the 2019 season, the Gee-Gees have a relatively new team but just as they did in 2019, they hope the veterans can lead this team to the top.
Headlining the new additions to the roster is Stony Brook transfer, 6’4 forward Oksana Gouchie-Provencher. The forward who shot 34% from the perimeter in 2018 while averaging 7 points and 4 rebounds per game, will look to assert herself in the OUA and use her size to her advantage to keep up the GeeGees efficiency on the boards that they’ve shown in the last two seasons. For the returning veterans, fifth-year forward Bridgitte Lefebvre-Okankwu is a welcomed sight. Bridgitte has made her mark on the OUA and Ottawa with her ability to score and toughness on the boards. With her leadership and experience in the OUA and her skillset as a great facilitator and scoring forward, the GeeGees who start the season with a double header against York, will be a team to keep a close eye on to see if they have the right balance of leadership and young excitement to push through the season and into the playoffs.
The Ravens lost to the Gee-Gees in the quarter-finals of the OUA Playoffs, but they enter the 2021 season under a new regime and they’re off to a hot start. Going undefeated in preseason, the Ravens now led by former UVic head coach Dani Sinclair are riding a lot of momentum and energy going into their regular season debut against the Nipissing Lakers.
On the court the squad is led by Kali Pocrnic. She came in as a rookie in 2019 and was immediately given the starting job, and she hasn’t looked back. The 5’4″ speedy guard has taken control of the Ravens offence and her ability to shoot from the perimeter or use her agility to collapse defences makes her not only a efficient facilitator but a serious scoring threat. With Madison Reid returning for another season, and with what she did coming back from injury for the Ravens in 2019, Pocrnic and Reid will be a scoring duo that teams will need to be aware of. On the other end, a question for the Ravens has to be their rebounding. They lost two of their rebounders in Marlee Ball and Alyssa Cerino, so where they will find the presence inside will be something to keep note of. Emma Kiesekamp, Tatyanna Burke and Emma Huff all saw significant minutes in the 2019 campaign and with the versatility of the Ravens guards and the different ways they can attack you, it will be interesting to see how those three evolve and play into the 2021 Ravens success.
The Warriors are another team who underwent a coaching change and have started off hot in preseason. With the addition of Jessica Roque, previously an assistant with the Rams and her coaching staff, the Warriors have begun to form a new identity and a foundation that will be built for years to come. Their core of players that mostly came in leading up to the 2018 season have grown together and their chemistry is showing early on. With veteran guard Beth Howlett a big leader for the Warriors, the team has used their team-focused style of play to dissect opponents and time will tell if that is sustainable as the season goes on.
The Warriors begin their season on November 10th against the Windsor Lancers, and this tight squad takes the court for their first regular season game together after a long wait, something that is anticipated by many on the team and fans. Roque has a wealth of experience both as a player and a coach and Warriors fans should have lots to be excited about with the future of this Waterloo program.
The Mustangs are a much different team than the one that finished in the semi-finals of the 2019-2020 season. A large turnover in veteran leadership over the year and a half away from the court made the Mustangs look to new faces to guide their program and they found that in two OUA transfers and a young guard recruited out of the OSBA. Nate McKibbon was forced to revamp his squad after their impressive 2019 run and he has done just that. The Mustangs have looked better and better as the preseason went on and with the regular season debut against Algoma on the horizon, the growing momentum and improvement puts them in a place of potentially being one of the top teams as the season wraps up in February.
The two transfers the Mustangs got to lead their team are both fifth year players, Jessica Morris from Brock and Ashley Wheeler from Guelph. Morris, a extremely efficient shooter is a player that will do whatever is required to help her team win, and for a young Mustangs squad, that leadership by example and dedication is an important set of traits that can rub off on some of the upcoming talent for the Mustangs. Wheeler, a versatile forward who can stretch the floor or play inside like she has had to early with their personnel and the requirement of her size inside, is another leader by example that can have the offence run through her when needed and provides a safety blanket for the Mustangs if they need to get something going.
The young star leading all of the play on the court is Madalyn Picton. She came to Western out of Niagara Prep and she has been a spark for the Mustangs play. Her ability to draw charges is something that immediately stands out watching her play but not only that, her overall effort she gives every second shes on the floor and her attention to detail are all positive signs for the young guards’ maturity as she plays her first OUA regular season games shortly. The Mustangs have assembled a very young team, but with the leaders in Morris, Wheeler and others, along with younger players like Madalyn stepping up, they are a curious team to watch throughout the season and see just how far their building chemistry can get them.
It’s Go Time
The season begins on Nov. 3rd and continues throughout the winter with the U SPORTS National Championship at the start of March. Teams have waited a long time for this moment and it’s finally here, and it’s time as followers and fans to see how teams match up and if any previous contenders can take another shot at a Critelli Cup, or if a team that has been slowly building can make a push to get their team all the way.
Cover Photo: OUA