Hamilton, ON- The OUA East division goes from nine teams in 2021-22 to six teams. It’s a division with some heavyweights that could make some noise in the national championship picture.
Carleton won two OUA titles and a national title in 2018. Ottawa won a U SPORTS bronze medal in 2019 and Queen’s won a bronze medal in 2020. How many of them will reach nationals this year? The road to the Final 8 could run through this division.
Preseason Record: 4-3.
The Gaels capped off a memorable experience hosting nationals with a bronze medal. They defeating the reigning national champion Saskatchewan Huskies, lost a close semi-finals to Winnipeg before defeating Brock for third place.
After the game, head coach Claire Meadows and the players talked about how they hoped they could carry that success going forward. It provided belief that they could play with the best – and win.
Now, six months later, the Gaels will have that opportunity. Floor general Emma Ritcey and dual-sport star Sophie de Goede have left but seniors Emma Weltz, Michelle Istead, Laura Donovan, Julia Chadwick, Abbey Heatherington and Bridget Mulholland are back.
Queen’s has shown their depth this preseason with five players averaging over seven points. Guards Isabelle Gaudet and Isabelle Belvedere could also be primed for good seasons. The returning experience should help – as shown with previous champions.
Preseason Record: 4-3
The Ravens were a contender in the OUA throughout the season in head coach Dani Sinclair’s second year with the team (first year with games). Carleton was in the U SPORTS Top 10 ranking for most of the year and finished with a 10-4 record before losing to TMU in the OUA semis.
The roster has some new faces after key players Madison Reid, Tatyanna Burke (OUA East Defensive Player of the Year) and Emma Huff departed.
Point guard Kali Pocrnic built on her excellent rookie season as a go-to scorer and facilitator. She was named an OUA East All-Star. Fellow guards Dorcas Buisa and Teresa Donato also had strong seasons while Buffalo transfer Oceane Kounkou provided depth.
Fifth-year forward Emma Kiesekamp is the only player remaining from that 2018 championship team. She provides a defensive presence down low and has also developed her offensive game over the years.
Carleton brings in six first-year players, including Algonquin College transfer Sierra Peck. The veterans will be counted down but a key factor to Carleton returning to nationals could be the growth of their younger players.
Preseason Record: 2-1
Ottawa has always been a consistent contender. The Gee-Gees missed out on nationals in 2020 and 2022 after winning the bronze in 2019. Now, under second-year head coach Rose-Anne Joly, the team has the core of last year’s team back and could be as strong as ever.
U SPORTS All-Canadian Brigitte Lefebvre-Okankwu is back for her fifth year after playing professionally. She figures to be one of the top players in the OUA again. She is joined by veterans Oksana Gouchie-Provencher, Natsuki Szczokin, Alana Renon and Melina De Iulio.
Second-year guard Nadine Katumbayi is a breakout player this preseason, leading the team with 14.5 points on average. The Gee-Gees also brought in two transfers in Brianna Iannazzo (Laurier) and Marie Laeticia-Ziba (Sacred Heart). They add experience and quality. The key will be integrating them into the lineup and developing team chemistry.
Preseason Record: 2-5
The Voyaguers returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2019. They finished with a 6-8 record before losing to Ottawa. It was a young team with nine first-year players.
The good news? Many of those players are back. This includes stalwart forwards Sydney and Bailey Tabin and OUA East All-Star guard Helen Lamoureaux. Second-year forward Emilie Lafond was a key point-getter and boards presence last season, earning a spot on the OUA All-Rookie Team.
The team has also had plenty of preseason games, going 5-3 with wins against Algoma, Laurier, Dalhousie and St. Fx. Bailey Tabin averaged a double-double (14.9 points, 10.5 rebounds).
The team showed their ability to play against tough competition. They lost to Queen’s by four points before beating Carleton last season. The last time they made the playoffs in back-to-back years was 2015 and 2016. Laurentian’s hopes rest on their core players to take them there and even further.
Preseason Record: 0-2
The Nipissing Lakers have their fourth head coach in school history and are still searching for their first playoff berth.
Rachel Van Woezik was a former player at Nipissing and comes into the role after being an assistant coach at Carleton and Nipissing. She takes over a team coming off a 1-15 season and having lost some key players.
Their two leading scorers in Angeline Campbell and Devisha Binns are gone. Back are Team MVP Megan McCarter, who makes her mark in different areas on the court. She led the team in rebounding and three-point shooting.
Veterans Natalie Martinez, Celeste Dupuis and Nicole Budd figure to be impact players as well. Nipissing’s three additions are all transfers: Krystal Osburn (UNB), Kylea Galipeau Wilson (from Loyalist College but she played at Nipissing from 2017-2020) and Sawyer Fischer (Algoma). Meanwhile, former Brock Badger Sarah Pallett redshirted in 2021-22.
Those players bring a combined 11 season of U SPORTS experience into the team. That could help the Lakers build on their win total and climb towards the playoffs.
Ontario Tech Ridgebacks
Preseason Record: 2-5
Ontario Tech head coach Megan Grant was a successful player at Laurier. In her time there, the team built up their win total, reaching a U SPORTS Final 8 (and winning the consolation finals) in her fifth year. Now, in her second season as head coach with Ontario Tech, her team is looking to continue to build in their third season of U SPORTS competition.
The team went from 1-21 in their first season to 4-11 last year. They notched wins over Laurentian, Toronto and Nipissing. Their leading scorer and 2022 team MVP Vanessa Budimunda is now at Windsor. Their 2021 team MVP Dalyssa Fleurgin returns for her third season.
Fleurgin and sisters Nadia and Hedeza Ismaila have led the team offensively this preseason. They’ve played some strong teams in Bishop’s, Western, Laval and Guelph. They beat Algoma and Lambton College for their first-ever exhibition wins. Perhaps the tough preseason schedule will help them win some regular season games and continue climbing as a program.
Featured Image: Robin Kasem/Queen’s Athletics