Previewing each program in OUA West Women’s Basketball

Hamilton, ON- The last time the OUA West was a six-team division, the Western Mustangs finished on top. Led by first-year head coach Nate McKibbon and several veteran stars, the Mustangs made it all the way to the OUA semi-finals. 

This year’s division could be competitive with four of the six teams making the playoffs last year. The Mustangs went all the way to the semis once again The key question is whether any of them will break through and reach the OUA finals or win the Critelli Cup.

Algoma Thunderbirds 

(Algoma Thunderbirds)

Preseason Record: 0-5 

The Thunderbirds have been in the OUA since 2013-14 but have yet to reach the playoffs. They had a program-best 6-16 record in 2019-20 before falling to 1-13 last season.

The team loses important international players Megan Looney and Thais Matte. Forward Bethany Balaktsis and guard Gracie Batongbakal are among their top returning players. What’s notable about Algoma is their youth. Every player is in their first or second year of eligibility, including Lakehead transfer Rhianna Mae-Liang. 

The youthful group has some preseason games under their belt and are still searching for their first win of the season. 

Guelph Gryphons

Guelph’s Mackeeley Shantz (Photo: Laurel Jarvis/Guelph Athletics)

Preseason Record: 4-1

It’s a new era in Guelph as former associate head coach Megan Reid is the new head coach, succeeding Mark Walton. Reid was an assistant with the Guelph Nighthawks this summer and she takes over a program that’s been steady in the past few years. 

The Gryphons have posted a winning record three of the past four seasons but some of the core players from that run – Skyla Minaker, Burke Bechard and Reece Mungar –  have left. The team still has some returning production with Mackeely Shantz, Natalie Vigna and Renee Armstrong as their top three scorers so far this preseason. 

Guelph also comes into the season on a four-game winning streak with victories over UNBC, Waterloo, McGill and Ontario Tech. Don’t be surprised if they’re contending for the top of the division once again. 

Waterloo Warriors

(Waterloo Warriors)

Preseason Record: 6-3

If last season was about the Warriors breaking through and ending their playoff drought, this year will be about building on that. Head coach Jessica Roque’s team certainly has the players to do so. 

Roque is entering her third year (second playing season) as Waterloo’s head coach, after being a top assistant at TMU. Led by OUA All-Star Vanessa Hughes, Kaitlyn Overeem, Beth Howlett and Windsor transfer Madeleine Adams, the Warriors finished with a 9-5 record before losing to McMaster in the playoffs. It was their first playoff berth and winning season since 2008. 

All those players mentioned above are back. The team has six fourth or fifth year players. The results have come this preseason with wins against Concordia and Alberta and a close loss to Queen’s. Perhaps this is the year they not only make the playoffs again but make a run once they’re in. 

Western Mustangs

(Western Mustangs)

Preseason Record: 4-3

The Mustangs have had some significant transfer additions the past few seasons. From Rachel Fradgley and Elizabeth Leblanc in 2019-20 to Jessica Morris and Ashley Wheeler last season. This year, while the team brings in former Carleton wing Emily Capretta, the bulk of their core is from their returning players. 

Western has four players (Ariane Saumure, Sarah Harvey, Brett Fischer and Madalyn Picton) averaging over 10 points per game and five players averaging over six rebounds (including two-sport star Avarie Thomas and veteran Morgan Tamminga). 

Their size and presence on the boards figures to be a strength to compliment guards Thomas, Saumure and Picton. 

Head coach Nate McKibbon’s squad has faced some strong teams in the preseason so far. They beat Brock and Cape Breton and lost to Fraser Valley, Saskatchewan and Victoria. The strong schedule could help later on as it represents the level of competition the Mustangs will face in order to reach the OUA finals and beyond.

Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks 

Cassidy Hirtle (Photo: Christian Bender/Laurier Athletics)

Preseason Record: 2-6

The Laurier Golden Hawks were a young team last season and it showed. With 11 players in their first season, the team finished 4-11 – their first year missing the playoffs since 2007. 

While those rookies went through their growing pains, there were also some bright spots as well. Cassidy Hirtle was an OUA All-Star in her first season, leading the Golden Hawks in points, steals and minutes played. 

Fellow first-years Miranda Campbell, Madelyn White, Alexa Sawchuck and Emmanuelle Felix also had big roles as each averaged over 20 minutes per game. That learning experience could pay dividends this season. 

The team has already played eight preseason games with two wins over McGill and some close losses. Laurier brought in six more first-year players. Guard Brittyn Graves leads all rookies on the team with 9.6 points on average and forward Kathryn White leads all players with 4.9 rebounds per game. The youth movement could be continuing as Laurier looks to return to the playoffs.

Windsor Lancers

(Windsor Lancers)

Preseason Record: 2-5

Once upon a time in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s, the Lancers were the team to beat in Canadian university women’s basketball, winning numerous OUA and national titles. Last season, head coach Chantel Vallee’s program saw their record slip from 17-5 to 6-10. 

The Lancers bring back most of last year’s squad while adding some interesting newcomers. Australian guard Harriet Carey remains one of their go-to players and their leading scorer this preseason. Mariame Dehkissia and Julia Chiarot played significant minutes in their first year and are poised to do so again. Guard Maggie Denys had her best statistical season in 2021-22. 

Windsor brought in Ontario Tech transfer Vanessa Budimunda, a rising OUA star who led the Ridgebacks in average points (10) and rebounds (8.4) last season. They’ve also brought in 6-5 post Kali Grootenboer, who won a silver medal with Canada’s U18 team at the FIBA Americas this summer. 

This could be the type of recruiting – and player development – that get Windsor back on path to its dynastic days. 

Featured Image: Brandon VandeCaveye/Western Athletics

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