Mohawk taking aim at third OCAA rugby crown

Three Ontario Colleges Athletic Association games will be featured in the opening week in men’s rugby. The Mohawk Mountaineers (2006 defending titlists) will unveil their championship banner at home when they welcome the Loyalist Lancers on Wednesday (Sept. 12) in Hamilton.

Mohawk will then travel to Toronto on Saturday to face the George Brown Huskies in their OCAA rugby debut. Long time rivals will match up in Peterborough on Sunday afternoon as the Fleming Knights will host the Conestoga Condors.

Here is a team-by-team look at the OCAA rugby league for this season.

Mohawk College
2006 regular season record: 7-0. 2006 playoff record: 2-0 (Gold). Championships: 2.

The only thing sweeter than going undefeated enroute to the gold medal is to do it all over again. That is the challenge facing the Mountaineer this season as defending OCAA champions. In his ninth year as the Mountaineer bench boss, Alex Paris will hope the remaining nine players from his 2006 championship squad can show the freshmen class the ropes as opposing teams will be bringing their A-game against Mohawk.

Key veterans returning to the team are 2006 scoring champion James Cumpson, flanker Steven Johnston, 2nd row Jeff Perssia, hooker Keith Garbett and back row Tyler Struyk. These players were all key members last season when the undefeated Mountaineers picked up six of seven bonus points along the way.

The Mountaineers will most likely stick with the same game plan which used team speed and spread the ball out evenly, never allowing their opponents to focus on one player. Last season, five of the top seven league scorers wore Mohawk colours. This year, the team will look to win its first back-to-back rugby title in the college’s history. Mohawk opener on Wednesday goes at 4.30 p.m. at Mohawk Sports Park on Mohawk Road East.

Humber College
2006 regular season record: 5-1; 2006 playoff record: 1-1 (Silver). Championships: 0.

Humber College has taken a step up every year since entering play four years ago, with last year being a near golden performance. The silver medal was the final outcome, but in reality a potential championship was just a few yards away in the rainy conditions on the pitch at Fletcher’s Fields.
A number of key performers will be returning this year, including MVP Andre Rose-Green, Rookie of the Year, Andre Blake and OCAA All-star Dale Essue.

Carey French takes over the head coaching role on his own as former co-head coach Alister Mathieson will concentrate on college duties.

Look for the Hawks to play a very athletic game, complete with speed and toughness. A regular season title is something still eluding the Hawks, but is very much in view this year. With a division title usually comes a favourable semi-final matchup and a possible trip back to the gold medal game.

Seneca College
2006 regular season record: 4-3; 2006 playoff record: 1-1 (Bronze). Championships: 5.

After having their five-year championship title dynasty ended by Mohawk, Seneca will look to rebound this season and regain the lustre that was once so dominant.

Returning 12 players to the roster, hooker Adam Handscomb and centre Bryan Walmsley, will look to lead the team back to a title game. Coach Bob McArthur will also be returning to the sidelines for his ninth season at the helm and hopes to send his boys back to the playoffs and contend for another provincial championship.

From 2001-2005, the Sting recorded a 46-match winning streak.

Fleming – Peterborough
2006 regular season record: 5-1; 2006 playoff record: 0-2 (4th). Championships: 2.

The Fleming Knights and 13-year veteran coach, Rick Nydam, will look to avenge a disappointing end to their 2006 season that saw the team miss a provincial title by a mere single point in the bronze medal game against Seneca College. This was the first time in eight years the Knights did not reach the medal podium.

With 12 players returning, including Steve Basel (back-row), who could move into the top five all-time career scoring leaders this season, Kurtis Horn (scrum-half), Eric Abbott (front-row), Josh Andrew (front-row), Chad Carl (centre) and Dean Dwyre (lock), this squad should be a top four team again with gold in their eyes.

Conestoga College
2006 regular season record: 3-4; 2006 playoff record: DNQ. Championships: 0.

Conestoga just missed the post season festivities as they posted a 3-4 record, losing to the fourth place Seneca Sting 27-15 in the final weeks of the regular season. Conestoga needs a well balanced scoring attack if they hope to qualify for the post season in 2007, as the Condors had only three players scoring over 10 points last season.

The Condors have a tough start to their season, as three of their first four games are against 2006 play-off qualifying teams (Mohawk, Humber and Fleming). If the Condors manage to pull out a couple of wins during this tough stretch, they will certainly be contenders heading down the stretch and into the post season.

George Brown College
2006 regular season record: did not participate.

The George Brown Huskies are the new kids on the block as they enter the 2007 season as the ninth team. The Huskies will be put to the test right away as their first game is against the 2006 defending champion Mohawk Mountaineers. Head coach Alan Kasperski will lead the way for the first-year Huskies and will look to build a program that is successful for years to come.

Georgian College
2006 regular season record: 2-5; 2006 playoff record: DNQ. Championships Won: 1 (’96).

The 2006 edition of the Georgian Grizzlies faltered down the stretch as they lost their final three games and dropped out of playoff contention. Head coach Kevin Gillan (eighth season) hopes his Grizzlies can rebound from the disappointment and qualify for the post season for the first time since 2002.

The Grizzlies might have the most experience on the pitch this season, bringing back 14 players from last year’s squad. Key returnees include team captain Christian Walsh (full back), OCAA All-Star Phil Lapointe (2nd row) and team leading scorer Sean Swierlinski (outside centre). Rugby fans in Barrie can expect the Grizzlies to gel quickly with the large number of returning veterans.

Loyalist College
2006 regular season record: 1-6; 2006 playoff record: DNQ. Championships: 0.

The Loyalist Lancers are back for their second season. They faired well in their first year in the league, averaging 19 points per game against non-playoff opponents. The Lancers picked up their lone win in convincing fashion as they defeated the Fleming Auks 34-10 on the road. In his second year with the team, head coach Larry Cook will hope that having one year under the team’s belt will allow the team to crack the .500 mark.

Fleming – Lindsay
2006 regular season record: 0-7; 2006 Playoff Record: DNQ. Championships: 0.

In their first three rugby seasons, the Fleming Auks qualified for the playoffs, earning a silver medal in 1996, a bronze medal in 1997 and a fourth place finish in 1998. Fleming has not been able to continue their success as they have failed to qualify for the playoffs in seven straight seasons. This year, the Auks aim to return to their early success and qualify for the playoff. To do this, the Auks need to come up with a stronger defensive strategy as they allowed a league high 35.7 ppg.