Marauders face uphill battle in lacrosse playoffs

oua_lacrosse_2016_600pxThe best collegiate women’s lacrosse players in Ontario will converge on the campus of McMaster University this weekend, as the Marauders prepare to host the Ontario University Athletics Lacrosse Championship.

Action will begin on Alumni Field Friday at 11 a.m. before concluding on Sunday afternoon with the gold and bronze medal matches. Each team will play a minimum of two games and the teams have been seeded based on regular season results.

Looking for their sixth consecutive Patterson Cup, the defending champion Western Mustangs enter the tournament rated No. 1 in the West following a 10-3 regular season record. After dropping a tightly contested game 12-11 to the rival Brock Badgers Sept. 25, the Mustangs have rattled off six consecutive wins heading into the weekend.

Despite losing several key players to graduation, 2015 OUA second-team all-star Megan Wilkins (Toronto) will provide veteran leadership to a young Mustangs team that features eight first-year players. In their fourth season with the club, Wilkins, along with Hayley Liske (Fonthill, Ont.) and Heather Pearson(Summit, NJ) are the most senior players on the Western roster.

As a team, the Mustangs scored the second most goals in the league while allowing the second least goals against in 13 games during the regular season, trailing only the Trent Excalibur in both categories.
Following an undefeated 13-0 regular season record, the Excalibur will make the trip from Peterborough to Hamilton looking to hoist the Patterson Cup for the first time in program history. If the regular season is any indication, Trent could put an end to the Mustangs historic run on Sunday and win their first OUA championship since the men’s curling team won curling in 2011.

Trent enters the OUA championship coming off a big final weekend in which they went 3-0 and outscored the opposition 59-13. In a 23-1 victory against the Guelph Gryphons Saturday, the Excalibur were led by first year standout Leah Michel (Courtice, Ont.) and 2015 OUA Most Valuable Player Leah Ogilvie (Peterborough, Ont.), who combined for 16 points (9 goals, 7 assists) in the win.

It has been a remarkable turnaround for an Excalibur team that finished the regular season with a 6-7 record just a season ago.

Thanks to their regular season record, Trent enters the tournament as the No. 1 seed in the East and will receive a first round bye and take on the winner of Game 2 between Guelph and York.

Coming off an 8-4-1 regular season record, the Brock Badgers come in as the West’s No. 2 seed.

It was a relatively inconsistent end to the season for the Badgers as they alternated wins and losses over their final five games. However, they enter Friday coming off a big 14-10 win against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues to wrap up the regular season.

Samantha Shure (Oshawa, Ont.) was an offensive threat all season long for the Badgers. Against the York Lions on Sunday, she recorded a hat trick to go along with four assists in a big 15-5 win.

Another name to watch this weekend for the Badgers is Eryn Brown (Hamilton). Earlier this month against the rival Mustangs, Brown, who is enrolled in teacher education, had five goals in a 15-10 loss.

It will be déjà vu for the Badgers as they will open the tournament in search of their first championship title in program history in a regular season finale rematch with the No. 3 East seed Blues. In the loss to the Badgers in their only meeting this season, 2015 OUA first-team all-star Melissa Holland (Peterborough) and Laurel McGillis (Peterborough) led the Blues with three goals each.

The Blues got off to a hot start this season rattling off five straight wins to open 2016, including a big 9-8 win over the defending champion Mustangs. However, since then Toronto split their remaining eight games, and enters the weekend looking to snap a two game losing streak.

Another name to keep an eye for U of T is midfielder Sarah Jamieson (Etobicoke, Ont.), who earlier this season was named the OUA Peak Performer. In the aforementioned win over the Mustangs, the fourth-year kinesiology student-athlete scored three goals, including the game winner, and added two assists in the Blues win over Western, their first since 2008.

Toronto and Queen’s finished tied in the OUA East division with identical 9-4 regular season records, however, the Gaels will enter the championship as the No. 2 seed in the East thanks to just a single goal. Toronto won the first meeting 13-10 on Sept. 18 with the Gaels taking the next game, 11-7. Queen’s outscored Toronto 21-20 in their two matchups to claim the second spot.

After finishing first in the East division a season ago with an 11-2 regular season record, it was a slow start to the season for the Gaels who opened 2016 splitting their first four regular season games. However, Queen’s is one of the hottest teams in the conference, winners of five of their final six games with their only loss coming at the hands of division rival Excalibur.

Now in her third season, 2014 Rookie of the Year Alexa Fenton (Mississauga, Ont.) is looking to help the Gaels win the crown for their first time since they went back-to-back in 1998-99. Queen’s will also look to Carly Cummings (Subury, MA) to provide a veteran defensive presence as the 2015 second-team all-star is the only fifth-year player on the squad.

The Gaels will open the tournament Friday afternoon against the Laurier Golden Hawks, the No. 3 seed in the West. Similar to the Blues and Badgers, the Gaels and Golden Hawks will meet again in a rematch of their regular season finale in the opening round of the postseason, a game in which Queen’s held on to defeat Laurier 10-8.

Laurier rebounded from a slow start to finish the regular season with a 7-6 record. After dropping four of their first five games, the Golden Hawks won six of their final eight contests to climb up the standings.
Despite missing most of the season with ACL surgery, Taylor Miller (Orangeville, Ont.) is back and will be a factor this weekend as the Golden Hawks look to make some noise at the championship. In her first two games back from injury, the 2015 OUA second-team all-star scored six goals in two games as the Hawks picked up a pair of wins over the Guelph Gryphons and Brock Badgers.

Two-time OUA all-star Torey Barfoot (Owen Sound, Ont.) is also back for the Golden Hawks. Laurier is the last team other than Western to hoist the Patterson Cup, having won the crown in 2010. Before the Mustangs run, the Golden Hawks were the team to beat, winning the championship seven times in eight seasons between 2003 and 2010.

It was a difficult year for the UOIT Ridgebacks, who finished the season with a 2-11 regular season record and will travel to the Steel City as the No. 4 seed in the East. However, there has to be optimism in the Ridgebacks camp as one of their victories on the year came in their season finale against their opening round opponents, the host Marauders.

After trailing McMaster 4-2 late in the first half, Carissa Giesbrecht (Oshawa, Ont.) scored for her hometown Ridgebacks to close the gap to just one goal. Brianna Nicolas (Ajax, Ont.) completed the comeback with just under 10 minutes to play as UOIT held on for a 6-5 victory.

The host Marauders will look to put a winless regular season behind them as they prepare for the Ridgebacks. It is a rebuilding year for Marauders’ head coach Timm Stephenson, who also doubles as the head coach of the Polish national team, as his roster features 11 rookies compared to just three third-year student-athletes, the most veteran players on the club.

However, anything can happen at the OUA championship as the Marauders know firsthand from a season ago. McMaster defeated York and then UOIT in overtime to claim a sixth place tournament finish.

The Guelph Gryphons enter the playoffs as one of the most improved programs this season. After finishing with a 1-12 regular season record and last place in the OUA West in 2015, the Gryphons finished 2016 with a 4-8-1 record to earn the No. 4 slot in the division.

Guelph rattled off three straight wins to open the season, however, the Gryphons went 1-8-1 over their final 10 games and enters the OUA championship trying to snap a five- game losing streak.

Fourth year team captain Taylor Kidd (Warsaw, Ont.) is the heart and soul of the Gryphons team and is one of the main reasons the Gryphons got off to such a great start. Kidd, a studio art major, finished the opening weekend with two goals and three assists in a pair of Gryphons victories, one of which was their first round opponent, the York Lions.

Coming off a 2-11 regular season, York advances to the OUA championship as the No. 5 seed in the East. In their only meeting of the regular season, Guelph defeated the Lions 15-4.

Following the conclusion of the gold medal game, gold and silver medals will be presented, along with OUA first and second-team all-stars and major award winners. The bronze medal presentation will occur at the conclusion of the bronze medal game.

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(Photo: Fraser Caldwell/McMaster Athletics)

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