While many of us were lazing around during our final days of freedom before returning to the University of Toronto for the fall semester, athletes from The Varsity Blues were on campus training hard for the 2010-2011 season.
Here’s an exclusive sneak peek into what can be expected in the upcoming weeks.
A mid-season surge after a slow start gave the U of T men’s baseball team their first playoff appearance since 2006 last year. Despite losing superstar pitcher Jake Gallo, the Blues’ pitching is still the strongest part of their lineup. Three out of the last four years, and five out of the last nine, a Varsity Blue has been named OUA pitcher of the year. Hall of Fame Coach Dan Lang has stepped in as General Manager and former assistant coach Charles Pascal will be taking over the duties as this season’s skipper.
With new recruits and a few transfers, this year’s football team has a roster loaded with strong players. There is plenty of competition at each position, ensuring that players will push themselves to the limit to secure a starting spot, and also providing the team with a useful pool of talent so it won’t get burnt out in the second half of games. “If you look at our games last season,” said Coach Greg DeLaval, “we lost most of them in the third and fourth quarters.” Tom Gretes has been brought on staff as the new defensive coordinator and the Blues’ defense is full of experienced players this year. Defensive backs Hugo Lopez and Brad Morton, who have transferred to U of T from the University of Waterloo, are expected to provide a big contribution. John Engel is the new offensive coordinator and will be taking on a very young offense eager to prove itself to the OUA. Running back Chris Weiland, a former member of the University of Toledo program in the NCAA, has committed to U of T and is also expected to compete for a starting position. This mixture of new faces and veteran leadership will be turning some heads—and hopefully some losses into wins.
Men’s Water Polo
The men’s water polo team is ready to start a brand new season and will be working hard for a third consecutive OUA championship. The team this year is strong and will be welcoming back a slew of players from last year’s roster when practices begin on September 8. Led by Head Coach Vlad Tasevski and Assistant Coach Som Seif, the Blues are anticipating an exciting season. The biggest competition is expected to come from the Carleton Ravens, the McMaster Marauders, and the York Lions.
Most of the old starting lineup of the men’s soccer team is still intact, despite the team losing six players. With the addition of highly-touted recruit Ezekiel Lubocki, a centre-midfielder, expect this team to exceed last season’s tremendous accomplishments. The experience gained en route to the OUA Finals, and subsequently a berth at the CIS Championships last season, is going to speak volumes on the field, particularly with the pressure of hosting this year’s CIS Championships. “We put the pressure on ourselves, we welcome it,” said Coach Anthony Capotosto. Toronto FC Academy coaches Jason Bent and Stuart Neely have been involved in this season’s training camp, and it is expected that this will give the Blues an edge. “Having these coaches help out is a luxury that most teams don’t have,” said Capotosto.
Last season’s women’s soccer team posted a record winning 11 games, tying one and losing just four, and Coach Eva Havaris expects an improvement after having lost only three players and recruiting well. Kate Crowley, a transfer from Western, and rookies Fatima Braimoh, Caroline Murphy, and Lisa English have Coach Havaris looking for immediate contributions from them. U of T hosted last year’s CIS Championship, and Coach Havaris hopes to see the Blues make an appearance again this year. “Being part of nationals last year gave our young squad the experience they needed to compete at the national level with top programs in the country,” said Coach Havaris. “I expect that we will do as well as last year and look to make our mark in the OUA post-season and qualify for nationals in P.E.I.” Her expectations may seem high, but they are warranted as the team has recently been ranked fifth in the CIS prior to this upcoming season.
Women’s Field Hockey
The women’s field hockey team will be in for a rough ride this season after losing four starting defenders from last season’s squad. Coach John De Souza is confident that his new recruits will fill the voids nicely though, particularly Lauren Mansfield and Frankie Vondrejs, a third-year transfer from York. Rookies Alex Thicke and Heather Hughan, both of whom attended Junior National Camp, will be big contributors as well. “I am excited about the recruits and what they have to offer,” said Coach De Souza in a statement, “They make us a faster team and allow us the versatility to change the style we play.” For the past three seasons the road to the OUA Championships has featured a match-up between U of T and Guelph, with the Blues winning once. “I’m not sure how that will pan out this year—I think the league has a lot of parity,” said De Souza.
Last year the women’s lacrosse team had an outstanding regular season, setting a perfect record of 12 wins and zero losses. The team also finished first, second, and third in the OUA scoring race. This seasonwill be one to watch, with Tory Wasson, a transfer from an NCAA Division I school in Vermont added to the roster, and Jeska Eadens, who was awarded Most Valuable Defence Player by the OUA, returning. The team is led by Head Coach Todd Pepper, who was the 2009 OUA Coach of The Year,
OUA bronze medals were snatched up by both the men’s and women’s tennis teams last season. The women will be relying on two-time OUA all-star Daria Zakharchenko to lead them to victory this year. On the men’s team, second-year standout talent Stefan Srnic is a talented player expected to be on the prowl, having been named an OUA all-star this past year.
###GolfThe men’s and women’s golf teams will once again be led by veteran coach Chris Tortorice. Scott Samuel, a 2010 individual silver medalist who also finished in 13th at the Canadian University/College championship, is expected to give a strong showing this season. The women’s team was comprised of four rookies last year and came out on top and won the OUA championship. They are led by 2010 OUA individual silver medalist and 2009 OUA all-star, Laura Upenieks. Na Eun Park was a first-time OUA all-star in 2009 and Christine Ho received the honour for the second time.
Both the men’s and women’s cross country teams boast some of the best runners in the country. Despite losing four-time U of T athlete of the year Meagan Brown, the women’s team looks strong and will be relying on the leadership of Tamara Jewett, who established herself as one of the top contenders in the country in her early days at U of T. Incoming recruits include Tamara Jewett’s younger sister Rachel and Colleen Hennessy, who was gold medalist at last year’s OFSAA track and field meet. The men’s team will be led by Michael Del Monte, a two-time OUA all-star who helped the team to a fourth-place finish at the OUA championships in 2009. Veteran Head Coach Ross Rissucia has delivered a solid team in the past, and this season should be no exception.