The Blues wrap-up

A summary of the year with U of T sports ­– from CIS championships to disappointing seasons

The Blues wrap-up

Men’s Track and Field

The Varsity Blues men’s track and field team started their season with disappointing finishes at a Cornell tournament, with only James Turner medaling with a gold in pentathalon. At the Can Am Classic, the Blues were more successful, as Michael Trnkus and Sasha Smart placed second and third, respectively, in the men’s 600-metre.


At the Fred Foot Classic, the Blues team continued to improve, as Turner came back with gold once again, Brett Georgevski won the high jump, and Pierce Lepage topped the field in the men’s triple jump. Georgevski then brought home the Blues’ only medal at the McGill team challenge — a bronze in the high jump.

Next came the York Open, which resulted in three silver medal finishes for the Blues including Trnkus in the 600-metre, Zain Ahmed in the 3000-metre, and Nathan Tesfu in the high jump. At the Ohio SPIRE Division Indoor invitational, the squad brought home three medals. Smart broke a U of T record while also winning a bronze medal in the 1000-metre. Smart also finished third in the 800-metre, as Trnkus finished fifth in the men’s 600-metre.

At the Hal Brown meet, Toronto swept the men’s 60-metre with Tim Arbido in first, Raphael Ihunaegbo in second, and Jermaine Davis-Wilson in third. In the men’s 3,000-metre Alex Denault took home silver, as Jam He finished third in the 60-metre hurdles. The Blues’ 4×400-metre relay team finished first, and Jason Wurster won gold in men’s pole vault. Brett Georgievski finished first and Tesfu third in the high jump.

At the OUA championship, Turner won the men’s pentathlon, while Trnkus finished third in the 600-metre. Georgevski finished second in high jump, as the men’s team finished sixth overall.

At the CIS championships, Turnus had a disappointing finish and was not able to make the podium in the men’s pentathlon. Georgevski finished fourth in the high jump, while the 4×800 relay team of Smart, Trnkus, Ethan Davenport and Connor Outhit claimed bronze for Toronto. Townsend Benard won the bronze in the pole vault, and Trnkus finished third in the 600-metre.

Women’s Field Hockey

The Blues women’s field hockey team had a very successful regular season, with a perfect 12–0 in conference play.


The Blues entered the OUA championship in first place, and faced the University of Waterloo Warriors in the OUA semi-finals. The Blues defeated the Warriors 4–0 to move on to the finals against Guelph, a team that they have met six times in the OUA finals since 2005, with the teams splitting the series. This time, after a tie to end the first half, the Blues pulled away in the second, and came away victorious, with a 5–2 win. It was the second year in a row that the Blues took home the title. Defender Kaelan Watson and midfielders Tegan Stairs and Amanda Woodcroft were named OUA all-stars.

The Blues moved on to the CIS playoffs, which were hosted by U of T. The Blues headed into the tournament in second place, with the ubc Thunderbirds in first. The top two teams faced off in the first CIS round-robin game, with the Blues leading as the game wound down. However, the Thunderbirds were able to score in the final minutes, ending the game in a tie.

U of T was more successful in their second round-robin match against the Western Mustangs, winning 6–0, with five different Blues players marking goals. The team had already beat the Mustangs twice during the regular season, winning both of those games.

The third Blues game of the CIS tournament was against the Guelph Gryphons, who the Blues had beaten in the OUA finals the preceding weekend. Despite this win, and two other wins against the Gryphons during the regular season, Guelph was able to defeat the Blues, in a 3–2 upset.


In their final CIS round-robin game, the Blues defeated the Victoria Vikes 1–0, ensuring their place in the CIS championship game against the top ranked ubc Thunderbirds. Unfortunately, although the Blues fought hard in the match, they couldn’t defeat the Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds took the game 3–0, ending their season undefeated.

Although the Blues ended their season with a loss, they brought home the CIS silver medal. Midfielder Stairs was named a CIS second team all-star, as fellow midfielder Woodcroft and defender Watson were named CIS first team all-stars.

Women’s Swimming

The Varsity Blues women’s swim team had success this year, placing first in five swim meets, and second in two.

U of T hosted the OUA championships, and the home pool advantage seemed to give the Blues an edge. The 2012 OUA Female Swimmer of the Year, Vanessa Treasure, broke the OUA record, which she set herself in 2011, in the 200-metre im preliminaries, and went on to place second in the race, while teammate Margot Cunningham took bronze. Andrea Jurneovskis captured first place in the 100-metre back stroke, as former OUA Female Rookie of the Year Bridget Coley won gold in the 400-metre freestyle. Cunningham took third in the 200-metre backstroke, while Treasure took second in the 100-metre breaststroke. Bridget Coley won gold in the 800-metre freestyle, while Esther Haines took bronze in the event. The women’s 400-metre medley relay ended with U of T in second place, and the 200-metre medley relay gave the women another medal, this time, gold. Coley and Jennifer Tapley won silver and bronze respectively in the 200-metre freestyle, Alexandra Kalman finished third in the 50-metre breaststroke, and Jurneovskis won silver in the 50-metre breaststroke. Treasure took home another medal, this one gold, in the 400-metre im. Treasure was also awarded the women’s 2013 Dr. Jeno Tihanya Awards for Individual Medley Excellence. Blues swimmer Jurneovskis was also honored, winning a Graduating Athlete Award of Distinction. The women finished second overall.

At the CIS tournament, Jurenovskis won a bronze in the 50-metre backstroke, as Treasure claimed silver in the 400m im. Treasure also placed second in the 200-metre butterfly. U of T’s 4×200 freestyle relay team, took home the bronze, as Coley won the U of T women’s final medal of the tournament, a bronze in the 800-metre freestyle. The women won the team bronze for the second year in a row.

Women’s Hockey

The Varsity Blues women’s hockey team ended their season with a 15–11–0 record, seated in fifth place in the OUA despite losing their final game of the regular season 3–2 in overtime against Brock University.  In their 26 regular-season games, the team had a total of 65 goals. Leading the scoreboard for the team was fourth–year Kelly O’Hanlon with 12 goals and 15 assists, for a total of 27 points.

The Blues advanced to the quarter-finals of the OUA on the basis of that record, but fell to the Western Mustangs in two games. Despite this early defeat, the team competed in the CIS championships as hosts.

The team opened the CIS Women’s Hockey Championships with a 1–0 loss to Montreal in game one before rebounding with a 5–4 shootout victory over ubc.  The women ultimately fell short of bronze in game three against St.FX in a 3–2 overtime defeat.

Both teams were scoreless in the first period, until the second period, when U of T forward Amanda Ricker opened up the scoring. By the end of the period, St.FX came back to score, tying the game. Early in the third period, St.FX took the lead by scoring on a power play, when Rebecca Danford was given a penalty for body checking. Late in the third period, forward Sonja Weidenfelder evened the score to take the game into overtime. The X-Women won the game on an overtime power play goal in the first seven minutes. Blues goaltender Nicole Kestersis had an impressive 27–save performance. Toronto native Sonja Weidenfelder was the top scorer of the match, and was named Player of the Game.


Men’s Swimming

The Blues men’s swimming team had an amazing season, triumphing at both the OUA and CIS championships.

U of T’s men led the three-day OUA Championships from start to finish, with a combined team score of 891 points. On day one of the meet, Blues swimmers broke a number of records. Zack Chetrat broke the record previously held by teammate Frank Despond in 2012 (3:48.63), in the Men’s 400-metre freestyle with a time of 3:47.87. Chetrat then broke his own record in the 200-metre butterfly, shaving off almost three seconds for a new time of 1:56.34.  The men’s 4×800-metre freestyle relay team consisting of Chetrat, Despond, David Riley and Kent Kikot, broke the record in a time of 7:23.84.

Day two saw the Blues keep their lead. Record times continued to be broken, bringing in six more records including Mike Smerek breaking a 2004 record (24.83) in the 50-metre butterfly with a time of 23.86. Olympian Luke Hall helped his team of Matthew Myers, David Riley and Edward Liu in the 4×400-medley relay to win gold with a time of 3:43.28. The Varsity Blues won their tenth consecutive OUA championship in men’s swimming.

At the CIS championships, the Blues sat third with 163 points after day one of the meet. Jeremie Holdom came from behind in the 400-metre individual medley event to place second overall. The men’s team consisting of Smerek, Lee, Hall and Myers finished the day with a bronze-medal in the 4×100-metre freestyle relay.

After day two, the Blues sat in first place with 395 points, ahead of ubc, the defending champions. Smerek opened the day swith U of T’s first gold medal of the meet in the 50-metre butterfly. Despond continued winning gold medals for the team, with a two second margin of victory in the 400-metre freestyle.

Heading into the final relay of the night, Chetrat, the OUA male swimmer of the year, helped the Blues move 27 points ahead of ubc by placing fourth in the 1500-metre freestyle. Although ubc won the final 4×100-metre relay event, the Blues team of Chetrat, Riley, Myers and Lee placing fifth, earning them enough points to win the title and bring the trophy home to Toronto.

Women’s track and field

The Varsity Blues women’s track and field team finished their season as OUA and CIS silver medalists.


At the end of day one of the OUA championships, the Blues sat in third place with 68 points. Rachel Jewett won her second consecutive pentathlon title to kick off the meet, with the Blues coming first in the 800-metre, third in the 60-metre hurdles, third in shot put, and tied for fourth in high jump. Toronto’s Alicia Brown and 2012 Olympian Sarah Wells finished first and second in the women’s 300-metres respectively. Individual podium finishes included Hayley Warren with a silver medal in the 60-metre hurdles and Rosa Serafini,who placed third in the 1000-metre race.

The Blues finished the OUA championship in second place with 147 points, placing them just one point behind the tournament champions, the Guelph Gryphons. For the second consecutive year, Natalie Geiger, Wells, Jewett, and Brown won gold in the 4×400-metre relay, crossing the finish line at 3:42.21. The team added seven more medals by the end of the tournament, including 300-metre silver and 600-metre gold for Wells, 600-metre silver for Gieger, and gold for rookie Khamica Bingham in the 60-metre sprint.

The silver medal win meant that the team regained their number one CIS ranking going into the CIS championships, with 104.5 points. On day one of the championships, Toronto sat in second place with 21 points, just five points behind Calgary. Bingham earned the gold medal in the 60-metre sprint, while Jewett won the bronze medal in the pentathlon. After day two, the team had 68 points, placing them second, just eight points Calgary in behind first-place. Individual medal winners included Brown, placing first in the 300-metre race and Wells placing second, as well as the 4×800-metre relay team of Serafini, Jewett, and the Hennessys earning silver. The Blues finished second overall, just 3.5 points shy of the champions, the Calgary Dinos.


Federal government to absorb loss as unpaid student loans reach $540 million

The federal government has announced it will write off 44,000 loans this year, meaning taxpayers are set to pick up the tab on $540 million in unpaid student loans.

“Amounts being written off are debts for which all reasonable efforts to collect the amounts owed have been exhausted,” read a statement from the Treasury Board.

The Canada Revenue Agency attempts to collect unpaid loans by sending notices and withholding income tax refunds, and in some circumstances they may also garnish wages or seize assets. The Crown, however, loses legal authority to collect these debts after a six-year limitation period.

The department has stated that approximately 87 per cent of all student loans are repaid within this limitation period.

With files from

Google acquires U of T start-up

Google recently acquired the University of Toronto start-up company DNNresearch Inc., the brainchild of computer science professor Geoffrey Hinton and his graduate students Alex Krizhevsky and Ilya Sutskever.

The start-up’s research focuses on deep neural networks that are capable of developing digital speech recognition. Under their new arrangement with Google, the DNNresearch Inc. team will split their time between Google’s Mountain View, California-based headquarters and Toronto.

Google had previously invested $600,000 into the start-up’s research, though the details of the new deal were not released.

“The deal with Google allows me and my students to work on whatever we like and to publish whenever and whatever we like … It doesn’t put any constraints on what we work on and when we publish,” said Hinton in an interview with the Toronto Star.

Google currently uses deep learning as part of the Android 4.1’s speech recognition, an area that is to be further developed by this University of Toronto team.

With files from the Toronto Star


Surprising method of survival observed in extremophilic algae

An extremophilic type of algae has the ability to survive in extreme environments such as the high temperatures of pristine hot springs or the toxic and corrosive environment of decrepit mine shafts. Recently, this algae has been discovered to use a genetic technique never before seen in eukaryotes.

The red algae Galdieria sulphuraria uses horizontal gene transfer to adapt to extreme environments, by acquiring genes from other bacteria instead of simply depending on genes inherited from its ancestors.

Although horizontal gene transfer is common in the evolution of bacteria, it was not expected to occur among organisms that contained nuclei since these organisms could rely on sexual reproduction to produce recombinant genomes in their offspring.

Many characteristics of G. sulphuraria, such as the ability to withstand high temperatures, co-exist with heavy metals like arsenic and mercury, tolerate high salt concentrations, and accept a variety of food sources came about through genes it acquired from other bacteria or archaebacteria.

The findings, which were determined by using comparative gene sequencing, were reported this month by a group of 18 international scientists in the journal Science. Gerald Schoenknecht, one of the study’s lead authors, thinks “the results give us new insights into evolution,” while co-author Martin Lercher added, “Why reinvent the wheel if you can copy it from your neighbour?”

Although the question of how G. sulphuraria accomplishes this feat is still unanswered, the fact that it could integrate genes taken from an entirely different organism and develop qualities to improve its own survival opens the door to many exciting possibilities in genetic engineering and biotechnology.

With files from ScienceDaily

Amplified greenhouse effect causes the north to appear more like the south

An international team of scientists has found that amplified greenhouse effects in the Arctic have resulted in northern seasons and vegetation looking more like those of the south.

The nasa-funded study shows that loss of snow cover and sea ice increased Arctic temperatures, and that colder seasons are warming more quickly than the summer. This means decreased temperature and vegetation seasonality in the north — a greener Arctic.

“As a result of the enhanced warming over a longer ground-thaw season, the total amount of heat available for plant growth in these northern latitudes is increasing,” says Dr. Compton Tucker, a senior scientist at nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. “This created, during the past 30 years, large patches of vigorously productive vegetation, totaling more than a third of the northern landscape — over nine million kilometers squared.”

These effects may grow more extreme. Seventeen state-of-the-art climate models predict that by the end of the century, Arctic seasons may resemble areas 20° in latitude to the South when compared to the seasons recorded between 1951 and 1980.

These changes could mean loss of food and timber for local communities in addition to global effects, as greenhouse gases are released from thawing permafrost.

The implications could be far-reaching, says Dr. Scott Goetz, deputy director and senior scientist at Woods Hole Research Center, USA. “Any significant alterations to temperature and vegetation seasonality are likely to impact life not only in the North but elsewhere in ways that we do not yet know.”

With files from ScienceDaily and Nature

Some animals sniff to smell, others sniff to assert dominance

When dogs or other animals sniff each other, the obvious assumption is that they are trying to smell each other. But Dr. Daniel Wesson, a researcher at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, recently showed that the act of sniffing also serves as a form of communication meant to establish social hierarchies between rats.

Wesson’s research, published in the latest issue of Current Biology, was inspired by the knowledge that rats formed social hierarchies, much like humans do. The aim of his research was to elucidate the mechanisms by which these hierarchies were enforced.

Wesson’s team found that when one rat encountered another, the amount of sniffing exhibited by either rat depended on its relative standing on the social ladder. In other words, a rat of higher social standing would sniff the rat of lower standing at a greater frequency in order to communicate its dominance. Conversely, the subordinate would sniff less frequently to indicate its lower standing. Furthermore, Wesson and his team discovered that if this system was not respected, the dominant rat was more inclined to exhibit aggression towards the subordinate rat.

This discovery is pivotal to explaining the various ways animals behave and provide social cues to each other, and may prove to be a useful model of human interaction. Hopefully, by studying this behaviour and how neurological disruptions alter a rat’s ability to conduct itself ‘appropriately,’ we can expand our own understanding of the relationship between the human brain and social behaviour. Research in this area could help identify specific neural centers responsible for modulating social behaviour and how complex social disorders arise when damage or improper regulation is sustained.

With files from ScienceDaily.

Research estimates over 100 billion planets in milky way

As we gaze into the night sky it is not hard to notice the numerous stars that stretch across the beautiful landscape. We know that there are at least 100 billion stars in the Milky Way, but a recent study at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has estimated that there are at least 100 billion planets in our galaxy as well.

The Caltech team studied planets orbiting a star in our galaxy called Kepler-32. The star is an M dwarf, and the majority of stars in the Milky Way are classified as M dwarfs. NASA’s Kepler space telescope discovered five planets roughly the size of the Earth orbiting Kepler-32. These planets are similar to planets that orbit other M-dwarfs, and making them great models in studying the formation of planets.

The planets orbit the star in a rare, edge-on orientation, meaning the starlight of Kepler-32 is blocked once a planet moves across it. This allowed the scientists to determine the planets’ sizes and orbital periods.

Although it is not known how the Kepler-32 system was formed, there is evidence that suggests the planets first formed further away from the star than their current locations and over time moved closer to the star.

Though the researcher’s estimation of 100 billion planets include planets that are in close orbit to M-dwarfs, this does not include planets further out in orbit or orbiting other stars. In light of this, the actual number of planets could be much greater.

Source: Science Daily

Stem cells can “mass-produce” patient’s own cancer-fighting immune cells

Researchers have used stem cell technology to produce large quantities  of cultured cells that can attack and kill cancer and viral infections. These can potentially be injected back into the patient’s body to support exhausted immune systems against cancer, HIV, or viral infections.

Our bodies naturally produce T cells, a type of white blood cell that recognises and attacks cells with the markings of infection or cancer. However, their short life spans and limited numbers make them ineffective against aggressive invasions.

The researchers took these T cells from patients’ bodies and reprogrammed them into stem cells. These were then grown under ideal laboratory conditions for growth and an improved lifespan. The stem cells were reprogrammed back into T cells that had the same cancer and HIV-infected cell targeting ability, but in much larger numbers and with much longer lifespans.

One study was carried out on an HIV-positive patient, while another was carried out on a patient with skin cancer. Although the studies successfully ‘mass-produced’ the required cells, the artificially-generated T cells must still be shown to be clinically safe. It is currently unknown whether they will kill healthy tissue cells as well as the targeted cells.

The researcher teams, from the University of Tokyo and the Riken Research Centre for Allergy and Immunology, published their results in Cell Stem Cell.

Source: Science Daily, BBC Science