VANCOUVER, BC – OUA football returned to the pitch last week, but it returns once again this week — this time, it’s real football.
After a year of small divisions in return from the COVID-19 pandemic, OUA soccer returns to the two-division structure this year, with no teams crossing over until the playoffs. However, with some of the top players from League 1 Canada, the OUA isn’t short on talent, especially in the OUA West, a conference featuring the Western Mustangs, the 2021 OUA finalists.
This year, playoff action kicks off on Oct. 26, with the first round of play. The quarterfinals (Oct. 29) and semifinals (Nov. 2) will follow before the final two teams compete for their championships on Nov. 5.
The Algoma Thunderbirds are not going to win the OUA Championship; that much is certain. However, there are plenty of opportunities for the team to grow from several positive performances from last season’s 0-9-1 record. While the results weren’t there for Algoma, strong play from Leigha Nippard and Megan Chandler helped them keep five matches within two goals.
While their three goals for tied RMC for the conference’s worst in 2021, there’s reason to hope that more than just one point could come in 2021, especially with the aforementioned pair returning.
The Brock Badgers finished last in the re-aligned OUA West last season. However, their six-point total was the best among the last-place finishers in the three divisions. Still, this year will be an uphill climb, even as they take on a wider variety of competition.
For Brock, the big change is on the sideline as Carli Tingstad takes over the program after serving as an assistant coach for the past seven seasons with the University of British Columbia Okanagan.
The Badgers scored by committee in 2021, and they will likely do that again this season, with Erica D’Aelsio, Sabrina Bisante, and Lindsay Appleton hoping to build on their two-goal 2021 campaigns.
Among their recruits is Whitecaps FC Academy grad Shae Barret, who is a versatile attacking option, potentially bringing a new look to the Badgers, albeit in likely limited minutes as a rookie.
The Guelph Gryphons have one of the strongest OUA soccer programs, and they will once again be among the contenders when they take the field this fall. After finishing second in the re-aligned OUA West in 2020, head coach Shayne Campbell will believe his group can go further this season.
Leading scorer Olivia Rizakos returns after scoring four goals in 2021, while Christina Gomes and Katherine Knaflec also return, marking a group of experienced players who played nearly every minute part of the 2022 core. At the same time, Cloey Uddenberg returns after winning the OUA West Player of the Year award in 2021.
While Guelph’s defensive record was third best in the conference, their goalscoring lacked, which may be promising for 2022, as last year’s attack primarily consisted of rookies. Now, with some experience, they have the potential to take the next step.
It’s a fine line for Guelph to succeed, and it’s going to come down to fine lines in their attack ad ability to convert on chances. The Gryphons had 149 shots in 2021, fourth in the conference, but only converted 15 of them, good for 15th in the OUA.
With their team a year older and ready to compete, expect the Gryphons to be among the playoff contenders come season’s end.
The McMaster Marauders had a very respectable season in 2021, and they’re poised to take the next step in 2022. For a team that just missed out on the playoffs, the goal is to make it above the proverbial red line.
This year will also offer the program far different opponents, as they won’t come up against Laurentian, Toronto, Nipissing, or Toronto Metropolitan, who were among their only opponents in the OUA Central a year ago. With that, it’s hard to measure just how strong head coach Miranda Wiley’s team is.
Local forward Joelle Chackall returns for her second season and will hope to at least match her four goals and assist from her first year. Meanwhile, Victoria Orfei, Brianna Caldwell, and Emilie Calabrese are back for another year after their first and second OUA campaigns.
The big question, however, could be in goal with Jayashree Pathak graduating and three new goalkeeping recruits coming into the program. Could one of Julia Kutman, Jana Febbraro or Jenine Alkhatib claim the starter’s role, or will 2022 be a year of split goalkeeper in Hamilton? Much of the team’s success could come down to that question.
While graduates hurt the Marauders, they also add UNB Reds graduate and transfer Madison Goertz bringing much-needed U SPORTS experience to the lineup, having played with the Saskatchewan REX Centre and four years in AUS.
For McMaster, the improvement could just come with more experience, with the majority of last year’s primary starters in the first and second seasons. Even Wiley will have a year to look back on after being a rookie head coach.
The Waterloo Warriors missed the playoffs last season, and they weren’t exceptionally close to qualifying either. However, there were several positives that they can build on in 2022.
Striker Alex Cimermancic was a threat all season, scoring three times, and will return for 2022, and the midfield showed promise in spells. However, the Warriors became known for their low-scoring games, scoring less and conceding less than a goal per game throughout the season.
If Cimermancic can continue the strong form she showed in a second year, and others can add in a few more goals, it’s not going to be a long time until the Warriors have a shot at the playoffs and potentially do some damage when they’re there.
The Western Mustangs came within a kick of the 2021 OUA Championship, losing in penalties to the Queen’s Gaels on their home turf in London, Ontario. However, much of that success came to getting hot at the right time and not a consistent top-tier performance throughout each regular season match.
Still, they made the trip to Cape Breton for U SPORTS Championships, losing a close match to eventual national bronze medalists, the Laval Rouge et Or. This year, with a strong returning group, expect the Mustangs to be again in contention.
The most important returning player is undoubtedly forward Natalie Abbate, who scored four goals in 2021, third most in OUA while providing integral leadership to the younger players. Her ability to create chances for herself stands out, as does the way she eludes defenders in some of the conference’s best backlines.
In net, the Mustangs are prepared for the future with Samantha St. Croix, who starred in 10 games last season as a rookie, making 37 saves and only conceding four times. To help her, though, was one of the conference’s best backlines, only allowing seven goals against OUA competition.
For head coach Martin Painter, who spent the summer managing Team Canada at the Maccabiah Games, there can be hope that the Mustangs are championship calibre this season, not just in the OUA but potentially a national title as well.
Laurier Golden Hawks
The Laurier Golden Hawks were not far off from the playoffs last season, and making it into the dance will be their primary goal for this season. There is a lot to like about Laurier’s group — they’re a stingy defensive side, but one that can find goals when they need.
Although the four-game losing streak to end last season kept them out of the playoffs, first-year forward Sasha Marikano was a bright spot, scoring four goals in her rookie campaign. Although the Golden Hawks don’t tend to hold much possession or generate many chances, but they were one of the few teams that didn’t have issues fishing last season.
They may not be at the same level as Queen’s or uOttawa, but there are elements of their game that have potential to be among the best.
The Windsor Lancers haven’t made the playoff since 2016, and that’s going to be their focus this season while also looking to improve on their three wins from last season. While they’re long shots for OUA title hopes, the chance for stellar improvement is a very possible reality.
Led by head coach Daniel Mendonca, the Lancers will look to second years Emma Beaulieu and Kailyn Robertson to lead the attacking transition while also relying on fellow sophomore Brooke McLeod to anchor the defence unit after playing and starting 10 games as a rookie.
The 2021 Lancers conceded 13 times in 10 matches last season, but struggled to score, hitting back of the net just six times. However, with much of the team recently out of their first seasons and coming off League 1 campaigns, there are reasons to be very optimistic about the group.
With a talented attacking group, the Lancers aren’t far off from the playoffs, close enough that stronger finishing could put them over the line.
The York Lions may not have been a championship contender last season, but if a slim 1-0 defeat to Nipissing in the quarter-finals and a promising regular season is anything to go by, they might be on the fridge of contenders status this season.
Led by head coach Carmine Isaaco, the Lions tend to hold possession while relying on the central players to advance the ball rather than playing up the wings like many of their OUA opposition.
Although their 16 goals scored placed them in the middle of the OUA last season, they stayed in most games, and their wins came by close margins. In 2021, however, the roster was exceptionally young and constantly challenged by the skilled and veteran-heavy Queen’s Gaels and uOttawa Gee-Gees.
The Lions will look to fourth-year Jotam Chouhan and sophomore Sabrina Fabiano to lead the attack after they vaulted themselves into the top-10 shot takers in the OUA last season. The pair, among others, will have to step up even more this season as the Lions try to replace Kalifornia Mitchell, who led the team with five goals in 2021.
Just two seasons removed from winning the OUA, the Lions are entering their contention window as they round into the veteran years of their core contributors.
OUA WEST PREDICTIONS:
- Western Mustangs
- York Lions
- Guelph Gryphons
- McMaster Marauders
- Windsor Lancers
- Waterloo Warriors
- Laurier Golden Hawks
- Brock Badgers
- Algoma Thunderbirds