The U of O getting prepared for the season at Gatineau Parkways. Photo: Sheila Kealey.
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New competitive club making big strides

It’s the glorious wintry month of February, and that means the University of Ottawa Nordiq ski team is gearing up for competition at the Ontario University Athletic (OUA) championship.

Nipissing University in North Bay, Ont., will play host to the championship this year, and once again the U of O will be fielding a team.

After making the evolution to a competitive club, a big step up from its previous SFUO club status, the team is once again ready to compete on the provincial stage against some teams with varsity status, and therefore different funding models.

“Most of the teams we are competing against are varsity. Some of them are competitive clubs, but I think that over the years as we build a reputation, I think we’ll be able to attract skiers,” head coach Sheila Kealey said.

The crosstown rival Carleton Ravens have a Nordic ski team that does have varsity status, with the women’s team winning the 2018 OUA championship. While Kealey notes that as a successful varsity squad with more funding from the university’s athletics department, Carleton has an obvious advantage in attracting members, but hopes to sway some potential prospects over to the garnet and grey through a strong skiing atmosphere.

“Ottawa’s a great place to ski, so we just have to convince them to go here and not go to Carleton,” Kealey said.

While the competitive club status does grant the team more funding from Sports Services, it’s still largely self-funded.

According to Kealey, the club is now allocated $3,000 per season from the Sports Services budget, requiring fundraising on the side to pay for the trip to the OUAs and other team operations.

“The funding is a little bit tricky. We’re trying to do more fundraising. I’m trying to get sponsorships in the community—I have some ties with like Nordic ski companies and things like that, so that might be able to attract students,” Kealey said. “I also have a lot of ties to the local ski clubs and things like that to try and integrate us, for instance Nakkertok is a big club here. You know they’ve given us discounted memberships, so I’m trying to make all these ties and build all these bridges to make this an attractive place to come ski.”

While she’s optimistic about the team’s upcoming performance in North Bay, the U of O will not be fielding a full team due to school conflicts and conflicts with other teams. Still, for her, the big victory is getting to go to the OUAs.

“I think our guys could end up doing well. Two of our guys compete with Nakkertok, so they have a good chance,” Kealey said. “Lakehead will be strong, Carleton is always strong. You know, maybe we could come fourth or fifth.”

Still, it’s just the beginning. Kealey said she thinks a strong performance at the OUAs and in the future could be a catalyst for getting varsity club status, the next step up after competitive club.

The team will travel to North Bay for the first day of OUA competition Feb. 16, ending on Feb. 18.