Why the Varsity Blues matter

An introduction to The Varsity 's Sports section

Why the Varsity Blues matter

There’s a simple story regarding how I first started writing for The Varsity’s Sports section.

The July before my first semester, I sat across from then-Sports Editor Emma Kikulis in the lounge at The Varsity’s office and shared my ideas with her, in an enthusiastic and nervous fashion, characteristic of an incoming university student.

Back then, I wasn’t aware that eventually succeeding her was even a possibility. I was just eager to write about sports.

A few days before I attended my first class, I sat in the press box at Varsity Stadium and watched the Blues lose a high-scoring 55–33 game to the McMaster Marauders. Blues running back Divante Smith rushed for 112 yards and scored three touchdowns, while Marauders quarterback Asher Hastings threw for a ridiculous 384 yards and five touchdowns. I couldn’t think of a more entertaining introduction to Varsity Blues athletics.

Blues quarterback Simon Nassar, who towered above my audio recorder during the postgame interview, earnestly answered my questions about Smith’s performance and how the team could rebound from the loss. He even mentioned how cool he thought it was that I was covering the football team for The Varsity and thanked me for it.

Three weeks later, I was back at Varsity Stadium to cover the Blues women’s soccer team. The Trent Excaliburs didn’t provide much of an opposing force on that Friday evening, as striker Natasha Klasios scored a hat-trick to lead the Blues to a 6–1 victory.

However, it wasn’t until I became The Varsity’s Sports Editor as a third-year student that I fully embraced Varsity Blues athletics and understood what the program stands for. That happened after I finished an internship for Vice Sports in April 2017.

At Vice, I was educated on Canada’s sports media landscape while working on a story informed by former Ontario University Athletics (OUA) president Peter Baxter on the importance of varsity-level athletics for student athletes and the need for more coverage.

After being elected Sports Editor, it wasn’t hard to guess how I wanted to spend the next year of my life. I just couldn’t have predicted how incredible the experience would be.

When you reflect on an entire year, you tend to recall the big moments first.

It was an easy decision to skip the first day of class and interview Olympic bronze medalist Kylie Masse. Sitting across from Kylie, who admits, “The most important thing for me is enjoying to swim,” she appears likely to be the happiest person in any room with her positive attitude and constant smile.

I also won’t forget the day that Kylie broke her own 50-metre backstroke Canadian and U SPORTS record in the preliminaries and then again that same night in the finals at the U SPORTS Swimming Championships. Nor will I forget the roar of the crowd that followed her in each race that she competed in over the three-day event.

There was something unique about the brisk fall weekends I spent at Back Campus covering the Varsity Blues field hockey team.

Writing about field hockey was a chance to take a break from covering football and soccer and attempt to write about a sport that I initially knew next to nothing about.

I stood next to parents who were cheering on their daughters, jotted quick notes to describe the fast-paced action, and overheard returning alumni converse about how their weekend was going. It was liberating to step outside of the somewhat isolating nature of a press box and into a setting where one didn’t exist.

During the first game I covered, a parent approached me as I sat in the bleachers and typed notes. He was curious about what I was doing. Like Simon, he thought it was great that I was writing about the game. For the length of our conversation on Blues athletics, I didn’t mind being distracted from the action in front of me.

The interviews I conducted are impossible to forget.

Julia Costanzo looks down the field against the Queen’s Gaels. PHOTO BY MARTIN BAZYL COURTESY OF THE VARSITY BLUES

It was incredible to listen to Blues women’s hockey head coach Vicky Sunohara reflect on her illustrious career and memories of winning two gold Olympic medals and hear Emily Ziraldo’s teammates, Julia Costanzo, Rachel Spogue, and Emily’s twin sister Hilary, describe the incredible person she is on and off the field.

After interviewing Blues second-year swimmers Rachel Rodé, Sarah Polley, Hannah Genich, and Sophie du Plessis, all of whom happened to be roommates and won a combined 19 medals at the 2018 OUA Championships, it was inconceivable not to dub them as the ‘Fantastic Four.’ And before speaking to Hannah, I would’ve never considered the idea of hanging medals on a bedroom curtain rod.

Then, there are the moments I experienced vicariously through the words of my section’s writers, like Kate Reeve’s engrossing narrative capturing the shared experience of novice and veterans rowers — not to mention coxswains — competing at the annual Brock Invitational Regatta from the start of their journey as they departed Toronto before sunrise.

The Sports section came full circle with Julia Costanzo’s reflection on her rookie season as a member of the Blues field hockey team. The year ended with Emily and Blues punter TJ Morton being awarded the inaugural The Varsity Athletes of the Year, as voted upon by the section’s contributors.

Julia’s personal essay, “Notes from the dark room,” in The Physical Issue of The Varsity Magazine was impossible to read without confronting how little is actually known about concussions. It’s also the type of sports writing I would have introduced to Emma as an example of why I want to write for The Varsity.

Julia’s writing speaks volumes about her own resilient spirit; her essay detailed the difficult experience she went through after suffering a concussion, but was later able to overcome — an attribute fitting for the outstanding athlete she is, but also reflective of the character displayed by her and fellow student athletes.

That’s the reason why I believe every U of T student should attend Blues games. Any writer who is passionate about sports, wants to learn more, or is maybe just interested in writing about people should take the opportunity to contribute to the The Varsity’s Sports section for the same reason.

I know it’s the most rewarding decision I’ve made so far at U of T.

Queen’s Gaels earn commanding win over Varsity Blues

Toronto’s sixth straight loss marks disappointing end to men’s football season

Queen’s Gaels earn commanding win over Varsity Blues

The Varsity Blues football season came to an end on Saturday afternoon with defeat in their final home game to the Queen’s Gaels.

The Blues’ offense started off hot as Blues quarterback Clay Sequeira ran for a 30-yard touchdown and later threw a 22-yard-touchdown to Nick Stadnyk to take a 14–0 lead. The Gaels offense quickly put up points in the first quarter however, with Gaels quarterback Nate Hobbs throwing a 73-yard pass to a wide open Chris Osei-Kusi that resulted in a touchdown.

Hobbs later completed four straight passes for 31 yards before capping it off with a 21-yard touchdown to Connor Weir to level the game 14–14.

The Blues managed to score only one touchdown in the second quarter. Hobbs was hit by Blues defender Corey Williams, fumbling the ball — a rare mistake from the Gaels’ offense. Brittley Mokube recovered the football for Toronto, running it back for a 30 yards for a touchdown. The Gaels took over in the second quarter with three straight touchdowns along with a field goal to take a commanding 38–14 lead. Hobbs threw for a pair of touchdowns, while Blues quarterback Christian Krcilek threw a pass that was intercepted by Gaels linebacker Nelkas Kwemo and returned it 61 yards for a pick six.

The Blues’ defense was no match for the Gaels’ high-powered offense as Hobbs had a near-perfect day completing 32 for 40 passes for 436 yards and five touchdowns. Running back Jake Puskas led all players with 22 carries for 118 yards and one touchdown. Wide receiver Osei-Kusi led the Gaels with 12 receptions for 179 yards and two touchdowns.

Sequeira finished the game going 14 for 26 for 282 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the team in rushing with 73 yards. Blues receiver Stadnyk finished with four receptions for 75 yards, along with two touchdowns.

A silver lining in the game was Blues fifth-year punter TJ Morton, who ended 2017 with 3,921 yards, breaking the OUA record for punting yardage in a single season held by Guelph Gryphons punter Norman Nasser in 2000 with 3,621 yards.

After a long and hard-fought season, the Blues finish their season with a disappointing 1-7 record, missing the playoffs. With the help of a Guelph win over Carleton, the Gaels secured the final playoff spot, finishing with a 4-4 record.

Talking first downs and touchdowns with Cole Goodfellow

The Blues running back has dreams of making the CFL

Talking first downs and touchdowns with Cole Goodfellow

Driven, determined, and passionate. In an interview with The Varsity, University of Toronto Varsity Blues running back Cole Goodfellow covers ground on his life and what it means to play football.

From being high school MVP to receiving an entrance scholarship to play football for the Varsity Blues, being able to play football means everything to the number 34 Blue. “I feel like football is such a big part of my life now,” Goodfellow explains. Through tough training and maintaining grades, he’s strongly committed to the game he has loved for years. The opportunity to be on the starting lineup shows the kind of athlete he is and that coaches can trust him to execute plays and be a leader on the field.

“For me, [being a starter] doesn’t affect [my performance]. Either way I’ve got to be in the game, either way I need to be physically and mentally prepared to step in anytime,” Goodfellow says.

Thirty-four has always been his number: “it is really significant to me because it resembles Walter Payton and he wasn’t known for his speed, his power or his height or anything like that, he was known for his heart. That’s what I model my game after.”

Having the opportunity to speak one-on-one with him provides insight on how seriously he takes his role on the Blues. Playing football for many is more than just a game; it’s deeper than just win or loss. Athletes like Goodfellow play their sport out of passion.

One of the hardest lessons learnt from the Varsity experience, Goodfellow says, is “probably resilience and patience, to never give up… Know that hard work doesn’t go unrewarded.”

Goodfellow’s passion for football started as a young kid, when he and his brother would dream of someday playing in the Canadian Football League (CFL), making their love for football a full-time profession. “My goal is to get to the CFL, and to show that coming from a small town you can do whatever your dreams and desires ask, to not be limited or stuck in one position.”

His favourite part of being a running back is getting past a defender and then scoring. He feels there is no better feeling than dominating the other player in the role they were supposed to dominate and then scoring to put your team ahead.

The life of a student athlete isn’t all touchdowns and winning plays — “free time goes toward studying, free time goes to sleeping [and] nutrition to be prepared for practice and games.”

As the season draws to a close, the Blues currently sit in 10th place out of 11 OUA teams.

Through the 2017 football season, the Blues have had some tough luck, winning just one of their first six games. However, the team is still poised to come out strong and be prepared for the next challenge.

On September 23, the York Lions reclaimed their victory in the 48th annual Red and Blue Bowl hosted at Alumni Field, ending the Blues’ four-year win streak. Starting running back Kaleb Leach had some strong plays as he made 14 carries for 70 yards, while Goodfellow rushed seven times for 46 yards in the game.

Although the Blues lost their winning streak and title, Goodfellow explains that winning isn’t everything.“I would probably say just to remember why you do the sport. Remember the enjoyment of it. If you lose the enjoyment of it it’s really hard to continue going, it’s really hard to motivate yourself. But if you remember you enjoy it and you love the game then you’ll keep pushing no matter what happens.”

No matter the outcomes of his games, Goodfellow strives for success. “If it’s a loss I’ve got to put in even more work and really push myself and drive myself to be perfect in my craft,” he notes. “It’s not enough to go out there and do what is asked of you, you’ve got to do above and beyond that.”

The Varsity Blues will play their final home game against Queen’s University on October 21 at 1:00 pm.

York Lions defeat Varsity Blues 41–16 to win Argos Cup

Blues drop fourth game of the season with loss to Lions

York Lions defeat Varsity Blues 41–16 to win Argos Cup

The York University Lions defeated the University of Toronto Varsity Blues football team 41–16 in the 48th annual Red and Blue Bowl to win the Argo Cup at York’s Alumni Field in Toronto.

The Lions put together a dominant performance, nearly doubling their first-half total in their homecoming victory. York quarterback Brett Hunchak put together a calm and collected effort, completing 19 of 27 attempts for 244 yards and three touchdowns. Adam Adeboboye had a standout performance, making 14 catches for 140 yards and hauling in two touchdown passes.

Blues quarterback Clay Sequeira started the second half over regular starter Connor Ennis for Toronto. Sequeira completed 10 of 19 pass attempts for 225 yards, threw one touchdown, and made one interception, while Ennis threw for 54 yards, completing five of nine passes. Sequeira was constantly under pressure and was forced to scramble often, running for 30 yards on three attempts, and he also provided the Blues with their lone rushing touchdown of the night with 10:01 left in the third quarter. Jaykwon Thompson provided the Blues with their best highlight of the game. Thompson made a quick catch and broke free for an 85-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. The rookie receiver made five catches for 130 yards. Blues running back Kaleb Leach returned to action against York and ran for 70 yards for 14 attempts. The Blues return to action October 5 against McMaster University at Varsity Stadium.

Men’s football team loses to Gryphons

Varsity Blues no match for Guelph offense

Men’s football team loses to Gryphons

On Saturday, September 16, the Varsity Blues played host to a dynamic Guelph Gryphons offence, which had put up 81 points the previous week against Windsor. Led by quarterback James Roberts, the offensive juggernaut picked up right where they left off, putting up a total of 333 passing yards and 179 rushing yards. The Blues offense only managed to score six points in a 43–6 blowout loss.

With Toronto’s top two running backs injured, the Blues were unable to maintain a consistent running game and finished the game with a total of 21 rushing yards. Blues Head Coach Greg Gary, however, did not want to use injuries as an excuse. “I think you just always have to be careful whenever you finish a game, and [you have] something go wrong,” Gary stated. “I’m not real big on using injuries as anything other than ‘that’s part of the game.’ The lack of success in rushing is something that we have to fix, but I’m not going to go with the injury card at all.”

Toronto’s only offensive team score came in the form of a field goal at the beginning of the second quarter. Their defence also managed to force Guelph to take an intentional safety, and their special teams managed to score a single off a punt. Toronto’s best offensive performance came from wide receiver Nick Stadnyk, who had four catches for 74 yards, and made their biggest play of the game, catching a 28-yard pass late in the first quarter, leading to a field goal.

Blues quarterback Connor Ennis had 137 passing yards, completed 11 out 23 pass attempts, and had two interceptions. Despite the loss, the Blues roster and coaching staff will maintain a positive attitude heading into the remainder of the season. “I’m confident where our team is going, as far as the evolution… to where we’re moving to with the team’s culture,” Gary added. “Once upon a time, in a game like this, by the third quarter, we’d have been laying down. Is there another level we need to get to on the sideline? Absolutely. And that’s going to come with the way we practice, getting confidence, and the more confidence we have that we can actually be successful, then it’ll be positive throughout the field.”

The Blues’ next game is on Saturday, September 23 at Alumni Field against York University.

Blues beat clock, weather, Windsor Lancers on Labour Day

Men’s football team defeats Lancers 19–12

Blues beat clock, weather, Windsor Lancers on  Labour Day

Despite a 90-minute lightning delay and inclement weather throughout the match, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues football team defeated the Windsor Lancers 19–12 in a shortened game on Labour Day at Varsity Stadium.

“I think when we first came out… we were firing on all cylinders, we ran the ball [and] we were driving a little bit,” said Blues quarterback Connor Ennis. “I think we went out there and dominated the first half; it got a little sloppy but the defense came out pretty well and a win is a win.”

After an agreement was made between both head coaches, the game was called at 11:30 pm with 6:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. Jordan Gillespie proved to be the hero of the night: the third-year Blues defensive back returned an interception 42 yards for a touchdown to put Toronto ahead 19–6.

“Jordan’s interception was huge,” said Ennis. “He jumped in and took it to the crib. The defence, especially the last two weeks, have played really well. They equalize our mistakes offensively and they are dominating out there.”

Ennis completed nine of 15 pass attempts, throwing for 138 yards, and scoring one touchdown. Toronto executed a run-heavy offense throughout the game, and Kaleb Leach ran for 65 yards on 15 carries. Windsor closed out the match with a late touchdown. Lancers quarterback Colton Allen found Daynar Facey in the end zone for the score. Allen failed to follow the play with a two-point conversion before the game was called.

“We appreciate all the fans who stayed and weathered the storm,” Ennis added. “You always want to win at home and put on a good show for the fans.”

The Grey Cup and the CFL: Canada’s lost tradition

Would anyone really miss the CFL?

The Grey Cup and the CFL: Canada’s lost tradition

On November 29, the Edmonton Eskimos defeated the Ottawa Redblacks 26-20 in the one hundred and third playing of the CFL’s championship Grey Cup.

The CFL played its version of the Super Bowl alongside a number of exciting storylines. The Eskimos were looking to capture their fourteenth Grey Cup, 10 years removed from their last. After suffering through a 2-16 record last year, Redblacks’ quarterback Henry Burris helped catapult the team to the top of the Eastern Conference and was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player.

The effectiveness of new rules regarding coach challenges and pass interference introduced at the beginning of the season were also a major topic of conversation, however the most pressing issue up for discussion was a perennial one: will the CFL survive? For as long as the CFL has been around, there have been questions surrounding the league’s financial status.

In an age where the NFL has asserted itself as a cultural phenomenon and money printing machine, the CFL faces down television ratings — the league’s Canadian broadcaster TSN reported a 15 per cent drop in ratings from last season. These factors do not seem to equate to a sustainable franchise. The CFL cannot compete with the NFL in terms of money or branding, but maybe it’s wrong to think of the two as competitors.

The CFL season runs from June to November, the NFL season from September to February. The CFL allows a team with the ball only three tries to make a first down, while the NFL allows a team four. A CFL field is a full 20 yards larger than an NFL field. Where the smaller NFL field and more downs favours running the ball and making high-percentage plays for short yards, the CFL rules force teams to take more risks and look for big plays more often.

Watching an NFL game is like watching a chess match, watching a CFL game is like watching fencing. They require many of the same skills, but the strategies and execution unique to each are what make them entertaining and distinct from one another. The best football players in the world play in the NFL, no question there, but that doesn’t mean that the CFL players are bad.

Kerry Joseph played three years in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks before playing 12 years in the CFL, winning a Grey Cup in 2007 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Most famously, Warren Moon, one of the most successful quarterbacks to ever play football, won five Grey Cups, a Rose Bowl in college, and nine NFL all-star selections, becoming an ambassador for both leagues and a gold standard for football’s most important position. The CFL, however, is more than its players or rules — it’s a tradition.

For over 100 years Canadians have come together to celebrate what makes us who we are at the Grey Cup. The CFL has never been about marketing, or paying the highest salaries, and neither has Canada. We have endured not because we were the most important, but because of an inherent sense of self-importance, proven by that endurance.

Will the CFL grow to eclipse the NFL? No, and we like it that way. Football is about football. And the CFL is about Canada.