OUA Central Women’s Basketball Preview: Who’s the next national contender?

Hamilton, ON- The teams in the OUA Central division have had a strong showing in recent years at the provincial and national stage. McMaster and TMU have won national titles while Brock and Lakehead have made deep playoff runs. The Badgers also captured the Critelli Cup in 2020. The Marauders won the division last season but without program legend Sarah Gates, that could open the door for a new division champ. 

Madalyn Weinert (Photo: Stephen Leithwood/Brock Athletics)

Brock Badgers

2022-23 Record: 13-14 (12-10 regular season record)

Preseason Record: 2-6

The Badgers aren’t too far removed from being in back-to-back Critelli Cup finals – winning one as well. Last season showed it’s a different team though with many of the players gone from that championship run as they took a step back, losing in the OUA quarterfinals to Queen’s. In turn, there are some new veterans emerging for Mike Rao’s squad. 

One of them is OUA All-Star Madalyn Weinert, who established herself as one of the best players in the conference and Brock’s go-to player. Look for that to continue. Fellow veterans Noor Bazzi, Olivia Fiorucci, Allison Addy and Madison MacInnis will also be part of the rotation. As for the incoming players, the Badgers have two with family connections: guard Brookelyn Keltos (sister of Sam) and Jamie Addy (sister of Allison). Their X-factor in whether or not they can return to contention could lie in Nipissing transfer Angeline Campbell and second-year Oluwatito Akinnusi, who has taken a leap forward this year. 

Ally Burke (Photo: Lakehead Athletics)

Lakehead Thunderwolves

2022-23 Record: 4-23 (3-19)

Preseason Record: 4-3

It’s been a rough past season for the Thunderwolves. The team finished 3-19 and there was the news and allegations around former head coach Jon Kreiner. In his place is former Laval assistant Hugo Boisvert. He has plenty of experience and success as an assistant coach but this is his first head coaching job. 

Boisvert will have his work cut out for him with quite a bit of turnover from last season. Gone are key players Tiffany Reynolds, August Ricketts and Lily Gruber-Schulz among others. Here are guards Ally Burke and Paula Lopez, who provide some returning stability and production. Burke currently leads the team in scoring and is tied with Lopez in assists. The team’s preseason provides a beacon of light as they capped it off with a winning record with victories over Winnipeg, Algoma and Brandon in the start of their new era. 

McMaster’s Deanna Mataseje (Photo: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics)

McMaster Marauders

2022-23 Record: 23-7 (17-5)

Preseason Record: 3-5

What a run it was for McMaster’s seniors last season. There were five of them – including U SPORTS Player of the Year Sarah Gates – as they closed their university careers. They won the OUA and national title in 2019 and achieved so much in their time at McMaster. They reached the OUA semis last season before falling to the OUA and national champion Carleton Ravens. 

It’s now a new day for the Marauders as their group of third/fourth years take over. From their previous performances, there’s much to be excited about as Amy Stinson, Cassie Joli-Coeur, Delaney Bourget and Deanna Mataseje have proven to be productive players – if not more. Add in fifth-year guard Jenna Button and there’s a good amount of experience to start. 

Depth will be interesting as McMaster breaks in seven first-year players. Some have already made an impact – Emily Frankovic, Sophia Urosevic and Ashley Guerriero for example – and some may do so later on in the season. If they can provide support to the returning players, McMaster might find itself back in contention. Perhaps the rookies will be starting their own special run together. 

TMU’s Kait Nichols (Photo: Josh Kim/TMU Athletics)

Toronto Metropolitan Bold 

2022-23 Record: 16-16 (14-8)

Preseason Record: 3-6

The Bold started last season off slow – dropping 10 of their first 11 games overall – before picking up steam to end the year. Like other contending teams, they’ve also had to deal with roster turnover after winning the OUA and U SPORTS title in 2022. 

This season means more turnover as well with OUA All-Star Rachel Farwell leaving the program. The Bold have six first-year players and four second-year players. Guard Kait Nichols is among that group and has become a stellar contributor, handling the point guard duties and earning herself an OUA All-Rookie team spot last season. This preseason, rookie Catrina Garvey looks to do the same, topping the Bold with 21.5 points on average – including 34 against Laurentian on Sept. 30. 

TMU does have some more returning players to lean on – guard Kaillie Hall, Haley Fedick and Jayme Foreman. They also have Carly Clarke, one of the best coaches in Canada. Like last season, this preseason’s been an up-and-down one. However, they can draw upon their experience from a year ago to improve and peak at the right time. 

Toronto’s Ellen Ougrinov (Photo: Jason Wang/University of Toronto Athletics)

Toronto Varsity Blues

2022-23 Record: 6-22 (4-18)

Preseason Record: 2-6

It’s been a building process for head coach Tamara Tatham. The Varsity Blues raised their win total from her first to second season and will look to do so again. After breaking in 10 first-years back in 2021-22, some of those have become important players for them now. 

There have been some departures though, most notably forward Jada Poon Tip and guard Lauren Boers – two of their three top scorers. The other one is fifth-year guard Ellen Ougrinov, who is back as Toronto’s leading scorer by a fair margin this season. The offence will flow through her as veterans Kaylee Williams, Thuraya Adbul Hamid and Gabrielle Reid help out. Meanwhile, third-year forward Sabrina Nero has been a force on the boards, averaging 9.1 rebounds. 

As Tatham continues to gain more experience, so does her team as they seek to continue their climb. 

York’s Kiara Leveridge (Photo: Jojo Qian/York Athletics)

York Lions

2022-23 Record: 11-16 (9-13)

Preseason Record: 0-5

The Lions continued their playoff streak – one that dates back to 2016 – in their second season with head coach Christa Eniojukan. To keep it going, they’ll have some big shoes to fill. Longtime stalwarts Lauren Golding, Cyanna King, Jada Codrington and Madison Bardoel said goodbye to the program. 

Eniojukan has turned to some transfers and high school players to help fill the void. Hannah De Vries (Seneca) and Ivana Twumasi (Brock) bring post-secondary experience. Twumasi was a key part of the Badgers team in 2022 that reached the OUA finals and national semi-finals. She’s fit into the rotation so far this preseason. 

Speaking of the preseason, it hasn’t been a kind one record-wise as the Lions went 0-5. However, guards Kiara Leveridge and Bilan Khadar have emerged as their leading scorers. Third-year forward Jaz Balan has taken a big step up, averaging a team-best 8.2 rebounds after only 3.1 as her previous best. York’s returning players will dictate how far they go and whether or not they will be in the postseason once again. 

Featured Image: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics

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