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Same expectations, new season

Women’s volleyball team full of new talent

Having already played four games in the 2011–12 season, the University of Ottawa women’s volleyball team is well on its way to the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) playoffs. Their pre-season tournaments saw the Garnet and Grey take home two medals, including a gold at the McMaster Invitational against eight teams from across the province. With a sixth place standing in the OUA and a record of 13-6 last year, head coach Lionel Woods explained his expectations of the team are the same, and that Gees fans can look forward to watching a determined squad make their way to the championship.

“Our expectations are always the same,” said Woods. “We do expect to compete for the Ontario championship … This team is no different. The core of this group won the bronze medal last year, and that just seems to have whet their appetite.”

The team has added three quality rookies to the roster. First-year left-side striker Michelle Earl was a transfer from Abbotsford, B.C., recently named an All-Star at the Under 18 National Championship (Tier 1), aiding her team to the bronze medal. Middle  Alix Durivage from Ottawa will also be joining the Gees after placing first in her Under 18 Nationals (Tier 2) along with right-side striker Marianne Pichette from Gatineau, Que.

Excited to have these new players on the team, Woods has been focusing his first few games on creating chemistry between the rookie and veteran players.

“Our full starting lineup had not played together until last weekend,” he said. “With all due respect to our opponents, the main focus for this team is finding our own rhythm of play and consistency instead of worrying too much about other teams.”

In addition to the three new players, the U of O will see second-year striker Karina Krueger Schwanke finally join the Gees on the court. A transfer from Brazil, Schwanke was unable to play part of last season due to international student technicalities. Through the first few matches, she has proven to be a dominant player on both offence and defence.

The starting lineup will also see third-year setter Christina Grail on the front line, as well as fifth-year libero and co-captain Claudia Seguin, last year’s OUA libero of the year.

Woods spoke about the mix of talent on the women’s volleyball team, and how Gees fans will not be disappointed with their skill and dedication to the game.

“We really encourage students to come to games to see a very athletic team who hits hard, hits often, blocks with the best of them, and plays team defence with a ton of determination,” he said.

“Our games are surprising to most who attend for the first time to see volleyball at this level. Our team likes to play fast, exciting volleyball, and if the rate of improvement continues, then I really think the sky is the limit for this group.”

The Gees (3-1) will travel to the University of Windsor to compete against the Lancers (0-3) on Nov. 5.

—Katherine DeClerq

Melding the team together

Women’s basketball team ready to rumble

This season, the University of Ottawa women’s basketball team is all about finding that perfect balance between rookie and veteran talent.  With nine new players on the team, the Gees will be focusing on creating chemistry on the court in hopes of making it to the top spot in Ontario University Athletics (OUA).

“We have a very solid team with good depth at every position and some outstanding players,” explained head coach Andy Sparks in an email to the Fulcrum. “I believe that if the on-court chemistry comes together we should do a great job representing the school this year.”

“Developing team chemistry both on and off the court is a priority and has been our pre-season focus.”

The Gee-Gees recruiting drive includes two experienced transfers in fifth-year Elizabeth Lennox, former All-Canadian at the University of Western Ontario, and fifth-year Teddi Firmi-Kuehn, OUA East Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 from Queen’s University. They will be joining veteran fifth-year centre Hannah Sunley-Paisley and fourth-year centre Jenna Gilbert in leading the squad.

Sunley-Paisley finished the 2010–11 season with a record of 415 points in 22 games and is a two-time All-Canadian. Gilbert earned her keep last year after transferring from La Salle University, Pa. Both players saw the team finish sixth last year and will be working hard to make a return to the OUA finals.

While the veteran players will be leading the squad, there is no shortage of talent found in the rookies this year. After finishing high school, first-year point guard Kellie Ring generated recruitment offers from NCAA teams in the United States. Regardless, Ring decided the U of O was for her and joined the Garnet and Grey last summer.

First years Maddie Stephen, Ariane Lachance-Scantland, and Emilie Vachon are also welcome additions on the court as former provincial team athletes.

Sparks explained that although chemistry has been his priority, he wants to ensure the new talent brought to the team is ready to play at the same level technically.

“With excellent post players and point-guard play, the focus has been on learning to play an uptempo game through our post players on the offensive end of the floor,” he said. “[Also] developing trust and communication on the defensive end of the floor is a work in progress.”

With a 2010–11 record of 14-8, these Gees are ready to meet their challenge of becoming one of the top three teams in the OUA and making it to nationals. Sparks has faith in his team and firmly believes the Garnet and Grey has the talent and the potential to do just that.

“Gee-Gees fans can expect to see some excellent basketball this year, with athletic post players and quick guard play,” he said. “[It] should be an exciting year and anything is possible.”

The Gees are prepping for their season opener at Brock University on Nov. 11, and look forward to their first home game on Nov. 18 when they host the Lancers.

—Katherine DeClerq

Competing against the best

U of O men’s basketball team on their way to top

For the first time since 2007, the University of Ottawa men’s basketball team won the Jack Donohue Classic against the McGill Redmen on Oct. 30—an indication of the talent on the squad this year.
Their pre-season included many exhibition games against NCAA Division I and II teams, with the Gees able to keep up with the American talent. After being seconds away from the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Championship last year with a 71-69 loss to Lakehead University, these Gees aren’t taking any chances.

“The team has done well over the last few weeks and finishing the pre-season with a 4-2 record,” said head coach James Derouin. “My expectations for the season are to be one of the top teams in the [Ontario University Athletics (OUA)], advance to the final four, and hopefully have a chance to reach nationals.”

With the graduation of forward Nemanja Baletic and starting centre Louis Gauthier, the three rookies recruited by the Gees will have some big shoes to fill. Heading the new recruits is first-year guard Michael L’Africain, who throughout the pre-season games has proven extremely skilled and is expected to make a big impact on the team. Also on the court is first-year forward Vikas Gill from Stittsville, Ont. and guard Serge Grenon from Cantley, Que.

In addition, the team will see third-year centre Shamus Ferguson transfer from the University of Arkansas.

“The big thing for the team this year will be chemistry. The team has yet to have its full roster for a game,” said Derouin. “But once all the pieces are in place, this could be a really strong year.”

The team will find leaders in fourth-year guard and OUA All-Star Warren Ward and second-year guard Johnny Berhanemeskel. Ward has represented Canada twice this year—first at the International University Sports Federation and currently at the Pan American games. He is also close to breaking the all-time scoring and rebounding record at the U of O. Berhanemeskel succeeded in breaking the rookie scoring records last season and was recently named Most Valuable Player of the Jack Donohue Classic.

Derouin is excited about how the players will work together and use the techniques picked up from their pre-season exhibition games. He wants to invite fans of the Garnet and Grey to their home opener on Nov. 18, and promises that the game will show off the new and veteran talent on the team.

“This year’s version of the Gee-Gees is going to be real exciting. With Ward and Berhanemeskel on the wings and rookie L’Africain controlling the ball, this team is [going to] be a lot of fun to watch.”

—Katherine DeClerq