Hamilton, ON- As the OUA moves back into three divisions (from two last year), the OUA Central figures to be one of the most stacked.
You have defending OUA and U SPORTS champion TMU, OUA runner up Brock and several contenders nipping at their heels. The division could also be quite open given some of the roster turnover and the preseason results.
Preseason Record: 1-4
The Thunderwolves are a steady program under long-time head coach John Kreiner. They reached the OUA semi-finals back in 2018-19 – led by Bahamian star Leashja Grant – but are coming off a rough 2021-22 season (2-14 record).
The team loses Spanish guard Sofia Lluch (who transferred to UBC Okanagan) but brings back former OUA all-star Tiffany Reynolds, who played this past summer in the Maritime Women’s Basketball Association. She is joined by guard Ally Burke, who leads the team in scoring through the preseason and was named the team’s Most Improved Player award in 2021-22.
Improvement will be a theme for the Thunderwolves this season. They will have veteran forward Lily Gruber-Schulz back after she last played for them in 2019-20. Gruber-Schulz has already made an instant impact with a career high 15 rebounds against Brandon on Oct. 22.
Preseason Record: 4-1
Continuity is the story for the Marauders. Head coach Theresa Burns’ team broke in a large first-year class and the players are starting to emerge. Forward Amy Stinson was named to the OUA West All-Rookie team after a stellar season. Deanna Mataseje plays a key role off the bench as a strong three-point shooter and post Cassandra Joli-Coeur has had some solid games this preseason.
Add in returning veterans Sarah Gates (OUA leading scorer), Arianne Soriano, Mia Spadafora, Clare Sharkey, Jenna Button and others and the Marauders have a deep squad. It’s pretty much the same team as last year but one year more experienced.
They also have another X-factor going for them: the three-point shot. As the substack Game of Runs pointed out, McMaster shoots a high volume of threes and a high efficiency. They’ve also learned about scoring in other ways when their shots aren’t falling- as was the case against Memorial.
Preseason Record: 1-7
The Bold finally won their first national championship last April and will celebrate with a ring ceremony. Now, the focus turns towards building on that.
There’s been quite a bit of roster changes since then with seven players gone: Final 8 Tournament MVP Jama Bin-Edward, U SPORTS All-Canadian Mikaela Dodig and OUA all-star Marin Scotten among them. Stefanija Mrvaljevic is back as an assistant coach.
They’ve faced several quality opponents in the preseason and emerged with a 1-7 record. Guards Jayme Foreman, sharpshooter Rachel Farwell and Tiya Misir led the team in scoring so far. Point guard Kaillie Hall and forward Eleanor Jones are back as well. The returning players bring championship experience with them.
They finished off the preseason with close losses to Victoria, Cape Breton and UBC. This could be a transition year for the Bold as they prepare to defend their OUA and U SPORTS titles.
Preseason Record: 0-3
The Badgers came so close to knocking off TMU back in 2021-22. They lost in overtime to them in the OUA finals and national semi-finals. Now, they are in the same division with them.
Brock lost many key contributors including Jenneke Pilling, Mackenzie Robinson, Victoria Lawrence, Ivania Twumasi and others. As they’ve done before, they’ve filled those gaps through transfers.
Mackenzie Van Dyck and Theresa Brown join from the CCAA ranks, while they added redshirt guards Noor Bazzi (Windsor, St. Clair College) and Angeline Campbell (Nipissing). One returning player to watch for is guard Madalyn Weinert, who is coming off a standout rookie season, earning a spot on the OUA West All-Rookie team.
Head coach Mike Rao’s team reloaded after losing program icons Melissa Tatti and Jessica Morris in 2021. They responded after losing Sam Keltos midseason to reach the OUA finals and nationals. Now, they will have to respond again.
Toronto Varsity Blues
Preseason Record: 2-4
The Varsity Blues under third-year head coach Tamara Tatham brought in a huge recruiting class in 2020-21. Last season, many of those players saw the court as Toronto finished 2-13.
Perhaps the hope this year is on continued growth and experience – as a group as well. Thirteen players are back, including their four leading scorers and four leading rebounders.
Most notable among the returnees is former Victoria Vikes guard Ellen Ougrinov, who led the team with 13.1 points on average. Second-year forward Jada Poon Tip made her mark on the glass, averaging 5.2 rebounds and being named to the OUA East All-Rookie team. Guard Lauren Boers currently leads the team with 13.6 points per game in the preseason.
Tatham’s team has also played some tough competition this year with losses to Bishop’s, Waterloo, UQAM and Trinity Western and wins over Laurier and Concordia.
Preseason Record: 2-2
The York Lions have the momentum of last season to build upon as they start this season.
They finished 10-6, including a win over the nationally-ranked Carleton Ravens and U SPORTS bronze medallist Queen’s Gaels. They finished off the regular season with seven wins out of their last eight games before losing to Queen’s in the playoffs.
While the Lions said farewell to some important players from 2021-22 (Emma Jones, Kristen McGrath and Emma McCamus), they also have some key players back.Top among them is OUA All-Star Lauren Golding, who has been at York since 2017. Joining her is guard Cyanna King, Jada Codrington and OUA East Rookie of the Year Kiara Leveridge.
Second-year head coach Christa Lodge Eniojukan’s team faces a difficult start to this season with road games against Ottawa, Carleton and McMaster. However, as they showed in 2021-22, sometimes it’s as much about how you finish as how you start.
Featured Image: Michael P. Hall/TMU Athletics