OUA West Women’s Basketball Preview: The Race to the Top 

Hamilton, ON- With a new OUA basketball season upon us, it starts in the OUA West with the Windsor Lancers visiting the Western Mustangs on Halloween night. After a tight division race in 2022-23 – with the Waterloo Warriors winning it – the chase is on to see who can capture the division crown this season. 

Algoma’s Kaila Fong (Photo: Maria Coccimiglio/Algoma Athletics)

Algoma Thunderbirds

2022-23 Record: 0-29 (0-22 in OUA regular season) 

Preseason Record: 0-4

It was not a memorable year for the Algoma Thunderbirds in 2022-23, going winless for the second time in their history (the first was their inaugural season in 2013-14). Since then, there have been some changes. Long-time head coach Ryan Vetrie is now coaching the Algoma men’s team while former Nipissing Lakers head coach Katie Hamilton takes his place. 

The team also lost leading scorers Karly Fracalanza and Bethany Balaktsis, although Fracalanza does return as an assistant coach. So far, this preseason, the Thunderbirds have been led by third-year guard Kaila Fong – who won the team’s Defensive Player of the Year award – as well as Gracie Batongbakal and Brooke Gruhn. What will be the team’s ceiling? Perhaps winning a game first – they’re still searching for their first victory of the season – and then going from there. 

Guelph’s Renee Armstrong (Photo: Laurel Jarvis/Guelph Athletics)

Guelph Gryphons

2022-23 Record: 21-8 (16-6) 

Preseason Record: 5-2

The Guelph Gryphons have been a consistently solid program. They have made the playoffs every year since 2016-17. They did so under Mark Walton as coach and did so under Megan Reid in her first season as head coach. 

However, the year ended much like the previous ones – losing a close quarterfinal game to the McMaster Marauders. Since then, they have also said goodbye to OUA First-Team All-Star Mackeely Shantz (who transferred to the Western Mustangs) and second leading scorer Natalie Vigna. 

However, last season also featured the emergence of a star. Second-year guard Renee Armstrong was an OUA Third-Team All-Star and promises even more to come. Armstrong finished averaging 10 points and 6.4 rebounds and will take on a bigger role with a supporting cast of Julia Colavecchia, Alexis Wright and Hannah Bourdon. Robert Morris transfer Trinity Papamandjaris has come into the rotation as well. Perhaps this group will do what the Gryphons haven’t accomplished since 2007: win more than one playoff game in a season. 

Warriors celebrate winning the Battle of Waterloo series (Photo: Waterloo Athletics)

Waterloo Warriors

2022-23 Record: 24-9 (17-5)

Preseason Record: 7-4

Last season was a dream one for the Warriors. The team finished with a program-best 17-5 record, going all the way to the OUA semi-finals before losing a close game to the Queen’s Gaels. They won their first playoff game in 15 years. Since then, they’re turning a new chapter.

Gone are their core of seniors who played such an instrumental role in their success. Back is head coach Jessica Roque – entering her fourth season at Waterloo – as well as a few veterans. The main one is Summer Pahl who has picked up where she left off last season, averaging 10.5 points and 5.7 rebounds this preseason. 

The revelation is second-year guard Ghiselle Poblete, who is pacing the team in points and assists this preseason. Poblete scored a career-best 22 points against the Saskatchewan Huskies on Oct. 1 and could play a huge role in Waterloo defending their division crown and having another dream season. 

Emily Capretta (Photo: Brandon Vandecaveye/Western Athletics)

Western Mustangs

2022-23 Record: 15-15 (11-11) 

Preseason Record: 2-5 

The Western Mustangs have been in the hunt in the OUA since head coach Nate McKibbon took over in 2019. Western made the OUA semis in 2020 and 2022 before losing in the first round of the playoff last season to TMU. 

Now, they’re back with some important players and additions. Former Carleton Raven redshirt Emily Capretta made the OUA and U SPORTS All-Rookie teams after a standout 2022-23 campaign. Fourth-year forward Morgan Tamminga figures to be a presence on the glass – averaging 8.5 points and 8.2 rebounds this preseason. 

The Mustangs have had some notable transfers in recent years – Elizabeth Leblanc, Ashley Wheeler, Jessica Morris among others – and this year is no different. In comes OUA All-Star Mackeely Shantz and former Brock veteran Allie Columbus. Shantz and Columbus will add experience and be able to make an instant impact for a Western squad who look to regain their place atop the OUA West. 

Laurier’s Miranda Campbell (Photo: Hailey Tripodi/Laurier Athletics)

Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks 

2022-23 Record: 9-21 (7-15)

Preseason Record: 7-4

The Golden Hawks had many third-year players last season. Seven to be exact. They were rookies not too long ago. Now they’re veterans. From that group came some of their best players as well. Guard Cassidy Hirtle averaged a team-best 14.4 points. Miranda Campbell, Brittyn Graves and Alexa Sawchuk were right behind her. Now, they’re a year older, more experienced and possibly better. 

After having some young squads in recent years, could experience work to Laurier’s advantage? If anything, this preseason could be a sign of it. They have beaten Laurentian, TMU, McMaster, Memorial and Victoria. They have nine players at least their third year of postsecondary basketball. This could be the year Paul Falco’s team ends their playoff drought (since 2020) and returns to the post-season – and does some damage once they’re there. 

Windsor’s Vanessa Bundimunda (Photo: Laurel Jarvis/Windsor Athletics)

Windsor Lancers

2022-23 Record: 15-6 (12-10)

Preseason Record: 4-2 

The Lancers were once the queens of not just the division but the whole OUA, winning multiple provincial and national titles (five in a row from 2011-2015) They haven’t done so since then but there’s reason for optimism. Long-time head coach Chantel Vallee is still there and Windsor is coming off a bounce-back year. After going 6-10 in 2021-22, the Lancers finished 12-10 in 2022-23.

The team may have found its cornerstones as well. Towering post Kali Grootenboer came into Windsor after playing for Canada in the U18 Americas and has lived up to the hype. She finished with an OUA All-Rookie team nod with 7.2 points-per-game and 4.9 rebounds on average. 

Veterans Harriet Carey and Maggie Denys are gone but second-leading scorer Vanessa Budimunda is back. As is current leading scorer and third-year guard Reine Ndome. Together, they will be among the ones to help Windsor continue their trend back towards the top of the conference. 

Featured Image: Courtney Caird/Waterloo Athletics

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