Local swimmers out to make splash at OUA Swimming Championship

The University of Guelph will host the 2011 Ontario University Athletics Swimming Championship from Feb. 10-12. Swimmers from Brock, Carleton, Guelph, Laurentian, Laurier, McMaster, Ottawa, Queen’s, Toronto, Trent, Waterloo, Western and York will hit the water in the W.F. Mitchell Athletic Centre with the tight confines of the space making it a cauldron of noise and excitement throughout the weekend.

Preliminaries will run at 10 a.m. each day with the finals sessions starting at 6 p.m. Individual awards will be handed out throughout the weekend with the championship team trophies and banners being awarded on Saturday, Feb. 12 after all races are complete. All races are open to the public and there is no admission charge.

This year’s meet promises exciting team and individual races. Swimmers will be racing for OUA titles, Canadian Interuniversity Sports qualifying times and individual placing to improve their school standing. Last year the women’s meet was won handily by the University of Western Ontario followed by Toronto, McMaster, Laurier and Ottawa. The men were headed by Toronto, Western, Ottawa, Guelph and McMaster.

The Western Mustangs women come in as the two-time defending champions. They will rely on depth, particularly in the sprint events, to carry them through. Last year Western won all five relays on the way to a big team win. They will need to carry many of those relays again to hold off a strong challenge from Toronto. Ottawa has a revamped roster this season and looks to be in the mix for third. McMaster and Guelph will challenge the Gee-Gees for third, fourth and fifth places in the team standings.

The women’s meet has some excellent individual performers. The Varsity Blues have Paige Schultz (Toronto), Pamela Ruksys (Kingston), Heather Maitland (Toronto) and Andrea Jurenovskis (Timmins) all ranked in the top three nationally heading into the conference championship period. Jennifer Trung (Maple) is the only Mustang with a similar standing. Defending champion Hayley Nell (London) of Western will be back in the 50, 100 and 200 free. Other returning champions include Guelph’s Chantique Payne (Brantford) in the 50 and 100 fly; Whitney Rich (Dorchester) of Laurier in the 100 breast and 200 IM; and Western’s pair Melissa Loyzer (Hamilton) in the 200 fly and Pauline Kilty (Newmarket) in the 200 breast.

Newcomers who are likely to make a big impact on the meet include Toronto’s Vanessa Treasure (Mississauga), Shannon Nell (London) of Western and Ottawa’s young squad of Taylor Moore (Regina), Eryn Welden (Moncton) and Nicole Lachance (Edmonton).

Jenn Piper is Laurentian’s key female swimmer. The Powassan native has already qualified for nationals as well as the Olympic trials.

The McMaster women’s team will look to second-year Sarah Taylor (Stittsville) to shine in races she competed in earlier this season, the 50 freestyle and the 50 butterfly.

Margo Bacher (Cornwall) has already qualified for nationals, and returns to her second OUA championship with hopes of medaling for Queen’s in breaststroke events, while Bronwyn Kemp (Waterloo) has the same goals with her Waterloo Warriors.

Last year’s host, the Brock Badgers will again turn to fifth-year swimmer Victoria Culp (Vineland), who has already qualified for nationals, to medal at the championship.

The Carleton women hope to improve on their 12th place finish from last year with the help of veteran Kaitlin Swales (Vernon).

Despite Trent’s young team, the Excalibur will hope to build on these OUA championships thanks to leaderships from fifth-year veterans Kara McFall (Trenton) and Courtney Wood (Brockville) and the York women will look to newcomer Chelsea Knowles (Hamilton), former water polo player, to make a splash for the squad.

On the men’s side, the Toronto Varsity Blues are the defending champions and overwhelming favourite to retain the title for the eighth consecutive year. The race for second in the team standings promises to be a real fight among four teams and will come down to the final night of the meet. Ottawa boasts a national team member and senior experience, Guelph has a few speedsters in the mix, Western has experience and a well-balanced line up and McMaster has a big team who race on emotion and always rise to excellent finishes.

Individual standouts for the men are lead by a couple of national team members. Matt Hawes (Ottawa) from Ottawa and Zack Chetrat (Oakville) of Toronto are certain to be atop the podium at some point through the weekend but not without serious competition. The depth of OUA men’s swimming has improved significantly in the past few seasons. Toronto boasts Steven Hibberd (Calgary), Frank Despond (Hamilton), Mike Smerek (St. Catharines), Curtis Samuel (Oakville) and Jeremie Holdom (Toronto) as top three nationally ranked performers so far this season. Others with this ranking nationally include Wes Greig (Arnprior) of the Waterloo Warriors and Wil Wright (Mississauga) of Guelph. Laurentian will look to fifth-year veteran Mike Murray (Ajax) to lead his team.

Not too many returning champions on the men’s side so it is wide open for people to move onto the top of the podium. Bryn Jones (Newmarket) of Western will be back to defend his 100 and 200 breast titles and Smerek will look to capture the 50 fly again. Chetrat will try to lead the pack in the 100 and 200 fly. Others to look out for through the weekend include Cameron Bailey (Hamilton) and Ben Stubbs (Markham) from McMaster; Jake Armstrong (Denfield), Trevor Nicholas (Brampton), Robert Wise (Dorchester) and David Hatch (North York) from Western; Adam Best (Ottawa, Ont.), Harley Patterson (Val-Des-Monts, Que.) and Jose Baylon (Pickering) from Ottawa; Matt Stephenson (Brantford) and Ben Roberts (Kingston, Ont.) from Guelph and finally, Toronto’s Zach Summerhayes (Waterloo) and Andy Townsend (Toronto).

For Laurier, rookie Carlos Riobo (Kitchener) will compete in sprints hoping to improve on his silver in the 50 breast at a meet two weeks ago.

The Carleton Ravens men did a lot of rebuilding in the off-season after losing veteran swimmers to graduation. After placing 12th last year they’ll look to newcomer Andrew Vo (Mississauga, Ont.), who swims individual medley and butterfly, to improve their ranking.

The Brock men’s team, comprised of four swimmers, is led by veteran Frank Woodley (Port McNicoll) after the departure of Keith Van Hemmen.

Viktor Verblac (Woodbridge) of York looks to improve on last year’s championship where his best result was a sixth-place showing in the 200m freestyle.

The Queen’s Gaels men relied on now graduated Julian Chang to represent them at nationals in 2010, and this year turn their focus to swimmer Tanner Cassidy (Whitehorse) who placed 10th in last year’s 1500m free.

The small Trent men’s squad, made almost entirely of first and second-years, will use these championships as a building block as the only fourth-year, David Bak (Peterborough) leads the Excalibur.

The University of Guelph will be webcasting the OUA Swimming Championship live online via the SSN Canada website at www.ssncanada.ca. For live results of each race, please visit http://www.guelphmarlins.ca/liveresults/.