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.

Varsity Blues women’s cross country team win U SPORTS championship

Sasha Gollish wins gold while Lucia Stafford places sixth

Varsity Blues women’s cross country team win U SPORTS championship

The Varsity Blues women’s cross country team won the U SPORTS Cross Country Championships in Victoria, BC last weekend, defeating the 13-year running champion Guelph Gryphons. The victory marked the first time in 15 years that the Blues have won.

On a rainy day, the Blues were pitted against top universities from across the country — their main opponents were the Queen’s Gaels and the Gryphons. It was through the Blues’ consistency in remaining in the top five that let them inch closer and closer to the front of the pack, finally leading to a first-place win.

Sasha Gollish, the oldest member of the Varsity Blues team, placed first overall with a time of 27 minutes and 37 seconds. This feat earned her the title of U SPORTS Athlete of the Year and a position with the U SPORTS First Team All-Canadians.

Blues member Lucia Stafford, who ran at 28 minutes and 18 seconds, also qualified for U SPORTS First Team All-Canadians honours. “Due to the fact that it isn’t the most spectator friendly sport, many students at U of T don’t even know that their women’s team just won the national championships – breaking Guelph’s 13 year winning streak and making history,” said Stafford in an email.

Stafford represented Team Canada at the 2016 Under-20 World Track and Field championships, and she was named 2017 Rookie of the Year. She also competed for Canada at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. “We truly became a team this year. Every workout we’d be working together, having fun along the way. We all believed in each other, especially our captain Maddy and coaches Terry and Ross. We knew we had something special and so for what felt like the first time for me, we ran for each other with the title in mind.”

The second-year engineering student beat out many veteran runners in BC and will likely continue to be a strong contender in future races as she continues both her educational and athletic careers at the University of Toronto. “This year has been very exciting and telling for our future,” said Stafford. “The Toronto team has now established itself as a serious and talented program, and intends to keep up this trend. With amazing coaches, training, and facilities, I hope that will continue.”

Starting in 1963 with the men’s competition and continuing with the 1980 women’s competition, the U SPORTS Cross Country Championships honour the best running teams in the country at the national meet. Teams from all over Canada qualified for this year’s race, with an overall participation of about 151 members.

The average time for the meet was 31 minutes and 24 seconds over a distance of eight kilometres, which was changed from the previous six-kilometre race that took place last year. Looking forward, Stafford explained her wariness of the increasing race length moving up another two kilometres from eight kilometres to the male distance of 10 kilometres.

“As a middle distance track athlete with a team mainly consisting of middle distance specialists, it won’t make sense to train for 10km cross country when our main focus is track and the shorter events,” said Stafford. Though she may have few doubts, she seems confident in her team and their abilities.

The women’s team continue to look to lengthen their winning streak and continue to build on their strong foundation.