Hamilton, ON- The Carleton Ravens have long been the dominant program in U SPORTS but that might now be changing. Two of their top competitors now come from their own division in the Queen’s Gaels and the Ottawa Gee-Gees. The Gee-Gees have been a tough out for Carleton in recent years and the Gaels knocked off the Ravens in the OUA semi-finals last year.
Who will take the division this year and perhaps reach an OUA finals? It figures to be a close race.
Preseason Record: 5-4
The Ravens won another national championship last year but they endured a rough preseason. They lost all their games against NCAA competition – including a 118-56 loss to Kentucky. They’ve lost key players from last year such as Lloyd Pandi, Alain Louis and Biniam Ghebrekidan.
On the bright side, they’ve progressed as the preseason has gone along and opened their season with wins over the York Lions and McMaster Marauders.
It’s a young Ravens squad with nine first-year players. Some of them – such as Marjok Okado, Gabreal Samaha and Reginald Jean Seraphin – are playing key minutes already. Returning veterans Aidan Warnholtz, Grant Shephard, Wazir Latiff, Elliot Bailey and Connor Vreeken will be counted on for their experience and production. They are the core group for another run at a national title.
Preseason Record: 2-5
After 2020, the Voyageurs said farewell to former U SPORTS Player of the Year Kadre Gray. Without him in 2021-22, they finished 7-9 and lost in the first round of the OUA Playoffs. Entering 2022-23, they will be without long-time head coach Shawn Swords, who is taking a sabbatical with the Brooklyn Nets.
Filling in is former Voyageurs guard and assistant coach Georges Serresse. He told the Sudbury Star that “everyday is a learning experience.”
“Shawn was great in pointing out some of the key differences, what to look for to ensure a good cohesion on the team,” he added. “Cohesion with the group is a key priority. He was great to learn from, a very good adviser.”
The team has some veterans back to help build that cohesion. Caillou Lacroix and Gaeten Chamand lead the team in scoring. Third-year forward Cedric Mbiaba leads the team in rebounding. Jordan Katchunga adds depth and experience.
Laurentian also brought in three players from the college ranks: Salim Kolibaly (La Cite College), Majid Hassan (St. Lawrence College) and Olgaga Diba (Algonquin College). Like Serresse, they’ll be learning in their transition to the university game.
Preseason Record: 0-4
The Lakers returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2017. Under fourth-year head coach Thomas Cory, Nipissing finished 6-10 and lost a close game to Queen’s in the first round.
When Cory came over from Algoma, some former Thunderbird players came as well. Two of their main ones were leading scorer Nicholas Gehlen and Team MVP Nathan Riley. Both are now gone and their production will have to be replaced.
One player to do so is Portuguese guard Ricardo Neves, who was named the team’s Rookie of the Year last season. Add in veterans Muktar Mohamed and Danny Lukusa to the mix as well. One big addition is former Brock Badger Noah LaPierre, who has come in as an impact starter. He’s averaging career-highs in minutes played, points, rebounds and assists.
Ontario Tech Ridgebacks
Preseason Record: 0-4
The Ridgebacks are only in their third season of OUA action but they already have a coaching change. Greg Francis is on leave for the season as assistant coach Deluxshan Pathmanathan fills in.
The team is also searching for its first win of the season after recording three total wins last year. With the new coach, it is also very much a new team. Only five players return from last year with 12 gone and seven coming in.
Most notable is third-year guard Andrade Junior (AJ) Cummings, who leads the team in scoring and three-point shooting. He’s been a steady contributor in all three seasons. He’s helped out by fellow returnee and former Windsor Lancer Levi Ogbonna and transfer Jayden Coke. First-year forward Tombe Pita is averaging 10.4 points and 6.8 rebounds and will be a rookie to watch.
After winning one regular season game in each of their first two seasons, whether the Ridgebacks can surpass that total could depend on how quickly they gell together.
Preseason Record: 5-5
The Gee-Gees have had their moments in the past decade under head coach James Derouin. They’ve beaten rival Carleton numerous times, won the Wilson Cup and reached nationals. A national championship though has eluded them.
Could this be their year? From what they’ve shown this preseason, it certainly could be. The Gee-Gees lost some important players (Kevin Civil, Maxime Boursiquot, Marlon Kordrostrami) but have brought back and added some players as well.
Guillaume Pepin was a OUA East all-star last season and gained professional experience in the CEBL. Quincy Louis-Jean and Cole Newton had stellar rookie seasons and are building on that in the preseason, leading the team in scoring. Third-years Josh Imkumsah and Dragan Stajic play valuable roles as well.
Ottawa brought in transfter Kevin Otoo (Humber College), Cole’s brother Brock Newton (Bucknell) and Jacques-Melanie Guemeta (Crandall University). They faced some quality NCAA teams over the summer – including losing to Oregon by two points. They’ve beaten nationals teams Dalhousie and Brock in the preseason and should be among the favourites in the OUA.
Preseason Record: 7-0
After a memorable run to the OUA finals and nationals, what will the Queen’s Gaels do for an encore? Head coach Stefan Barrie spent over a decade building the program up until that point. Queen’s is off to a good start, finishing the preseason undefeated.
While seniors Henry Van Herk and Quinton Gray have left, the Syllas brothers are back. Cole was named an OUA East all-star and was a force to be reckoned with, including dropping 39 points and 10 rebounds against Carleton in the semi-finals. Luka has grown over his four-years and is now a key contributor.
Cameron Bett, Isaac Krueger and Connor Keefe are other returning veterans to watch for. Their most significant addition could be Bishop’s transfer Connor Kelly, who played a big role with the Gaitors. He brings nationals experience from 2020 as well.
The Gaels also have seven rookies who represent the future. Their development will be vital in ensuring Queen’s continues their momentum from last year and stays near the top of the OUA for years to come.
Featured Image: Sean Bruges/Queen’s Athletics