OUA East Women’s Basketball Preview: Clash of the Titans

Hamilton, ON- When it came time for the finals of the OUA and nationals, two teams from the OUA East were at that stage. The Carleton Ravens and Queen’s Gaels dominated the regular season and playoffs before meeting in the OUA and U SPORTS championship games. Carleton came away both times. With both sides appear equally strong this season, could we get a repeat of 2023? It’s very possible.

Carleton’s Kali Pocrnic (Photo: Carleton Athletics/U SPORTS)

Carleton Ravens

2022-23 Record: 29-6 (19-3 regular season)

Preseason Record: 8-0

The Ravens haven’t missed a beat since winning their second-ever national title. Carleton got hot in the second half the season, beating the Gaels three times in a row. There are plenty of reasons to believe a repeat is in store. 

Carleton’s top contributors are almost all back – except for forward Emma Kiesekamp – including OUA All-Star guard Kali Pocrnic, OUA and U SPORTS Rookie of the Year Jacqueline Urban and OUA All-Star Dorcas Buisa. Other key members such as Oceane Kounkou, Zerina Duvnjak and Teresa Donata return as well. 

The Ravens established themselves as an elite defensive team and can get ever better with the return of former OUA East Defensive Player of the Year Tatyanna Burke. The Winona native has picked up right where she left off in 2021-22 as her team has as well – going 8-0 this preseason. 

Laurentian’s Princess Bernardino (Photo: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics/Laurentian Athletics)

Laurentian Voyageurs 

2022-23 Record: 14-17 (9-13)

Preseason Record: 0-8

The Voyageurs have been on an upward trajectory over the past three years. Laurentian finished 9-13 last season – their most wins since 2010. If they are to continue to build on that, certain players will have to take on bigger roles. Their three leading scorers and rebounders have all left: Helena Lamoureaux as well as Sydney and Bailey Tabin. 

Head coach Jason Hurley has brought in some help with Cape Breton transfer Claudia Pellerin and Western transfer Melanie Cloutier. Third-year forward Emilie Lafond is one of their top returning players along with Rileigh Smith, Princess Bernardino and Aneisha Rismond. Smith and Rismond are both top rebounders and should help fill in the void of the Tabin sisters. Their play down low will play a big role in determining where the Voyageurs finish in the pecking order.

Nipissing’s Megan McCarter (Photo: Spencer Anderson/Nipissing Athletics)

Nipissing Lakers

2022-23 Record: 6-18 (6-16)

Preseason Record: 2-4

Ever since they entered the OUA in 2014, the Nipissing Lakers have been searching for that elusive playoff berth. Last season, they were as close as they’ve ever been. In head coach Rachel Van Woezik’s first season, the Lakers captured a program-best six wins in the regular season. They notched wins over Lakehead, TMU, York and others in addition to nearly upsetting the Queen’s Gaels. 

So, what does the team have for an encore? They’ve got two preseason wins under their belt already. They have third-year forward Sophia Milner producing at a double-double clip (16.2 points, 11.2 rebounds) so far this preseason. They have last-year’s leading scorer Megan McCarter as well. They also have seven first-year players – some of whom are already making an impact. Taryn Carter, Dominique Bouchard and Chantal Piche are already seeing notable minutes and roles already. If things keep going up, they could see themselves in the playoffs for the first time ever. 

Ontario Tech’s Brianna Morrison (Photo: Shaun McLeod/Ontario Tech Athletics)

Ontario Tech Ridgebacks

2022-23 Record: 5-24 (3-19)

Preseason Record: 0-5 

It’s not been an easy road for the Ridgebacks since they joined the OUA in 2019. Being in a conference with heavyweights Ottawa, Carleton and Queen’s can be a challenge. So too is changing coaches as Megan Grant finished her second season in 2022-23 after taking over for Christa Eniojukan. There’s been plenty of defeats, including this preseason where they’ve gone 0-5. 

This year’s team is a youthful one with seven first-years and two second-years. Those rookies have taken charge early on as their three highest scorers (Adra Barnet, Allie Dunnett and Felicity Villarin) are all in their first season. The team has also recruited from the OCAA ranks with transfers Brianna Morrison (Durham) and Monalique Knights (Loyalist). Fourth-year Marie Stasiuk is also a former Durham transfer. Overall, there’s lots of new faces and gelling. Perhaps there’ll be some growing pains and wins along the path as well. 

Ottawa’s Natsuki Szczokin (Photo: Greg Kolz/University of Ottawa Athletics)

Ottawa Gee-Gees

2022-23 Record: 21-6 (18-4)

Preseason Record: 1-3

The Gee-Gees have been known to be among the top teams in the conference. That was the case in 2022-23, although they didn’t reach the OUA semis. Ottawa lost to a veteran Waterloo squad in the quarterfinals. One has to figure that’s the goal for the program: to be in OUA and national championship contention. 

They’ll have to do so without key veterans Brianna Iannazzo, Brigitte Lefebvre-Okankwu and Oksana Gouchie-Provencher. They’ll have to do so with OUA All-Star Natsuki Szczokin – the quarterback of the offence – Alana Renon, Emily Payne, Nadine Katumbayi and Melina De Iulio as the veterans now. They’ll have to do so with transfers Ariane Saumure (OUA Defensive Player of the Year at Western), Briar McCartney (St.Fx) and Allie McCartney (North Dakota) joining the squad.

Ottawa figures to have depth and talent as usual. It’s a question of how they stack up against Carleton and Queen’s come crunch time.

Queen’s Emma Weltz (Photo: James Paddle Grant/Queen’s Athletics)

Queen’s Gaels

2023-23 Record 29-6 (21-1)

Preseason Record: 7-0 

The Gaels had a historic year in many respects. From winning a program-best 21 regular season games to capturing a U SPORTS silver medal for the first time, there were many accomplishments. However, when it came down to major hardware, they fell just short. 

The good news for OUA Coach of the Year head coach Claire Meadow’s team is that most of the roster is back. That includes OUA All-Stars Julia Chadwick and Laura Donovan – as well as OUA All-Rookie team guard Isabella Gaudet. Super-senior Bridget Mulholland is back as well, playing arguably her basketball yet, as well as floor general Emma Weltz and sharpshooter Isabella Belvedere.

Given their continuity and experience, one can expect Queen’s to be right in the mix again. They’ve gone undefeated in the preseason. Perhaps with that year of experience and growth, they can take that final step in winning the OUA or national crown. If so, that would be the most historic season of all. 

Featured Image: Carleton Ravens Athletics

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