Blues basketball teams split doubleheader against Brock

Men win home opener while women yet to win in OUA play

Blues basketball teams split doubleheader against Brock

The Toronto Varsity Blues basketball teams went 1–1 against the Brock Badgers in their double-header home opener on Saturday, November 2. The women’s team lost in the first game, and the men’s claimed victory in the second.

Women’s team 

The women’s side took the court first, seeking their first Ontario University Athletics (OUA) victory of the season, following a tough loss on the road the previous night to the York Lions.

Brock drew first blood in the opening quarter after a fast break layup by the Badgers’ Meagan Charbonneau in the second minute. The Blues responded, however, as Nada Radonjić connected from distance on back-to-back possessions. The Blues led by as many as five points in the quarter and held an 18–16 lead after 10 minutes of play.

Toronto continued to dictate the pace into the second quarter, throwing out an ever-changing concoction of aggressive zone, press, and defenses to frustrate Brock’s shooters. The Blues limited the Badgers to just one field goal over the first five minutes of the quarter, and turned defense into offense, where they got great looks off of penetration.

Christine Jurcau, tasked with the unenviable assignment of guarding OUA All-Star selection Melissa Tatti, held the star Badgers guard to just four points on three field goal attempts in the first half — far from Tatti’s typical average of 16.6 points per game. The halftime score was 34–30 in favour of Toronto.

Toronto forward Sarah Bennett — averaging a near double-double of 9.3 points and 8.5 boards per contest thus far in her comeback season from injury — was benched with her third foul just 10 seconds into the third quarter. The two teams traded buckets briefly before Radonjić pushed the Blues’ lead back to six with 7:10 minutes remaining on the clock by hitting back-to-back three-pointers.

However, the injury-plagued Blues, who have seen up to seven of their 16-woman roster sidelined at some point this season, showed signs of fatigue and inexperience later in the game, while Brock’s shooters were hitting shot after shot. The Badgers went four-for-four from a distance in the quarter, and went on an 11–0 run before Jurcau stopped the bleeding with only 4:59 minutes left in the quarter, sinking a pair of free throws. Unfortunately, that was the last of the Blues’ scoring for the period, and the Badgers pieced together a 12–0 run to make it 58–43 for the visiting Badgers after three quarters.

The Blues continued to fight into the final quarter but ultimately could not recover from the deficit. They cut the lead to as little as 11 points, with 7:26 minutes to play on a three-point basket by Jurcau. Unfortunately, Brock’s shooters could not be denied, hitting a blistering 64 per cent of their three-point attempts in the second half and 50 per cent of their field goals overall. The final score was 78–59 in favour of the visiting Badgers.

Radonjić posted a double-double with a team high of 20 points and a game high of 11 boards, while fellow veteran Bennett wound up with 14 points and seven boards. Fiorella Granda led the team in assists with four, and first-year forward Nakeisha Ekwandja was solid with six points and six boards in only 29 minutes of action. Jurcau was a workhorse for the Blues, logging a career-high 40 minutes on the night and contributing 10 points to the scoring spread.

“I thought we opened up the game with a lot more energy. We played pretty well; we shared the ball well,” noted Coach Michèle Bélanger after the game. “Defensively, we were really alert, we rebounded the ball well. We boxed out. So those were all really great positives.”

Jurcau said that she was “extremely proud” of her team’s efforts, commending the work of rookies Ekwandja and Sarah Cumby in particular. Jurcau sees room for improvement but has faith in the team’s promise.

“I think people are starting to step up more… We have moments and spurts where we show [promise]… we’re just not at that consistent spot yet… We’re still a fairly new team and [have] a lot of stuff to deal with already, like injuries, but I definitely think… slowly but surely, we’ll be working together very well,” explained Jurcau.


Men’s team

In the second game of the doubleheader, the Varsity Blues men’s basketball team bounced back from a heartbreaking one-point overtime loss the night before to take down the Brock Badgers in a stunning comeback fashion.

Daniel Johansson opened up the scoring for the home side 1:43 minutes into the first quarter with a three-point bucket, and the teams traded baskets for much of the quarter. The Badgers took a one-point lead heading into the second with the score at 14–13.

In the second quarter, the Badgers continued to gain easy buckets in the paint off of some clean back cuts and crisp ball movement, quietly increasing their lead to as much as nine points with only 5:22 minutes remaining on the clock before the home side caught fire. The Blues swung the momentum on the backs of a 9–0 run over the span of just 70 seconds into the quarter, as Elie Mouyal breathed life into teammates and fans alike with back-to-back three-pointers and rookie Alec McGregor added another three-ball on the next Blues possession. The Blues and Badgers once again kept the contest neck-and-neck, and the Badgers maintained a 36–35 lead at halftime.

Just 15 seconds into the third quarter, Toronto’s Eric Rwahaire accomplished a rare four-point play as he caught a cross-court pass from Evan Shadkami and connected from beyond the arc on the right wing, while being bumped and sent to the ground by his defender.

After Rwawhire hit the ensuing free-throw to put the Blues ahead with a score of 39–38, the Badgers went on a mini 6–0 run. Shadkami responded, hitting a triple with 7:17 minutes left in the period. However, the Blues’ shooting suddenly went cold, and Shadkami’s three pointer would be Toronto’s last field goal of the quarter. The Badgers held their largest lead of the game, 53–42, after three quarters of action.

The Blues found a second gear in the fourth, a testament to their veteran experience and leadership. Iñaki Alvarez and Shadkami respectively sunk a layup and a three-point shot on the Blues’ first two possessions to open the frame, and then Johansson made good on a crafty Eurostep through two Brock players in the low block to cut the lead to 53–49 with 8:29 minutes left to play.

The Blues threw out a stifling 1-2-2 match-up zone that proved to be highly effective, forcing the Badgers to turn the ball over and take contested, low-percentage outside shots. Some timely scoring from Anthony Daudu, Shadkami, and Johansson tied the game at 63 apiece, with only two minutes left in the game.

The Badgers clung to their 66–65 lead with under a minute left. Though, when they failed to convert, the Blues regained possession with 24 seconds left on the clock. The home squad would end up getting statistical contributions from every player that saw floor time, but in the end it was the Blues’ dynamic fifth-year duo that secured the victory for their team.

Johansson would sink the go-ahead basket with about 12 seconds remaining, a clutch face-up long range jumper near the top of the arc that sent the crowd into a frenzy and gave the Blues a 68–66 lead.

After Godsman Kwakwah threw up a prayer on the ensuing Badgers possession, it was none other than fellow fifth-year, floor general Chris Barrett — the smallest player on the court in stature, but clearly not in heart — secured the crucial rebound on the miss. Barrett was sent to the line to stop the clock and calmly drained both foul shots, icing the game and capping off 28 points for Toronto in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, the final score was 70–66 for the Blues.

The win marked Toronto’s first OUA victory, moving them to 1-2, and was also their first win of the year over a nationally ranked team. Shadkami had a team-high 19 points, including five three-pointers, on 7–13 shooting from the field, and added five assists. Daniel Johansson added 18 points and eight boards, and the Blues got 18 of their 70 points from the bench.

Assistant Coach Mike De Giorgio was pleased with the team’s perseverance, noting that “last year, we kinda quit when we got down. And this year, when we [get] down, we [fight] back.” He noted, however, that the team will continue to work on being “more consistent with our effort… at the ‘smart things,’” including “trying to follow the game plan, trying hard to take the right shot, [and] not just the easy shot… really working hard at boxing out and going to get the ball.”

In addition to fifth-years Johansson and Barrett, the Blues are also enjoying the services of Division 1 transfer Eric Rwahwire, who De Giorgio has credited for vocal leadership on the court.

Blues break losing streak against Rams in quarterfinal matchup

Men’s soccer team win 3–1 against rivals, courtesy of Tesker, Stakic, Russo

Blues break losing streak against Rams in quarterfinal matchup

For the Varsity Blues men’s soccer team, the old proverb ‘third time’s the charm’ rings true. Courtesy of excellent goals from Artem Tesker, Nikola Stakic, and Nicola Russo, the Blues claimed an impressive Ontario University Athletics (OUA) quarterfinal victory against the Ryerson Rams on Sunday evening. The victory comes after having suffered the ignominy of being dumped out by the Rams at the OUA quarterfinal stage in both 2017 and 2018. 

Beyond that, the win also marks the end of the Blues’ three-year winless streak against their Toronto rivals, as their previous win against the Rams came 1,085 days prior to this one. Yousef Helmy, Kenny Lioutas, and Stakic are the only remaining players from that team.

The former two are in their final year of eligibility, meaning that this game could have been their last with the team. Fortunately for them, however, this win means that the Blues will live to fight another round, against the York Lions on November 1.

In truth, the 3–1 scoreline flattered the Rams, who looked lethargic and insipid throughout much of the match. In contrast, the Blues started on the front foot, playing with courage and showing a clear commitment to head coach Ilya Orlov’s tactical plan. This plan consisted of a structured press when defending, was quick to transition, and played wide when attacking. 

The majority of the opening 20 minutes was spent in the Rams’ half, with the Blues pinging the ball around effectively and breaking down the Rams’ attacks before they could develop. Tesker and Atchu Sivananthan again played as the Blues’ forward two. They linked up well, reading each other’s runs and effectively drawing defenders away from one another.

It is perhaps no surprise then that the two of them were involved in opening the scoring in the 27th minute. Receiving the ball near the halfway line, Sivananthan drove forward at the Rams’ defenders, who were unable to cope with his direct running and dribbling.

As he progressed toward the Rams’ goal, he unleashed a powerful shot that the keeper could only parry into an onrushing Tesker’s path on the right side of goal. Tesker then slammed a shot into the top left corner of the net to make the score 1–0.

The goal seemed to awaken the Rams, who began to press forward for the equalizer, and almost found it in the 35th minute. A corner kick was delivered into the Blues’ box and was headed goalward, only for the Blues to scramble it away with a fine goal-line clearance.

While the Rams continued to look for a goal, the Blues did not relent in their own attacks, as Sivananthan played a creative tour de force, inspiring all of the Blues’ attacks. He was involved again as the Blues scored their second goal in added time of the first half. The goal was almost identical to the first as Stakic received the ball on the right side of the opposition box and slammed the shot into the top left corner, beyond the keeper.

The Rams finally got their act together to start the second half, nearly scoring in the 48th minute after forward Kyle Laborde-Ayres hit the post. The Rams exerted intense pressure on the Blues, who found it difficult at times to play the ball forward.

When the Blues finally did break forward, they made it count. Sivananthan and Tesker combined well to evacuate their defensive half, and Tesker embarked on a good run against the diminished Rams defence. It seemed as if his chance was gone when more defenders returned to their positions, but Tesker found Russo on the outer right edge of the box with a perfectly weighted pass. Russo ran onto the ball and hit a first-time volley to score the Blues’ third of the match.

Apparently not content to protect a 3–0 lead, the Blues continued to commit men forward, pinning the Rams’ defence back. While they continued to look threatening going forward, their defence began to crumble under greater Rams pressure.

In the 66th minute, the Blues lost the ball in the attacking third, falling victim to a quick counter-attack. The Rams hit the post in the ensuing attack and the Blues, in the chaos of attempting to clear the ball from the crowded box, conceded a penalty. Rams captain Abdallah El-Chanti — who for large portions of the game was unable to help the Rams move forward effectively despite tidy passing — stepped up and hit the top left corner, above the dive of Blues keeper Stefan Dusciuc.

After conceding the goal, the Blues seemed to realize that they were already winning and subsequently did not have to commit so many players forward. They returned to the tight defensive structure that they started the match with, diminishing the Rams’ attacks. 

The Blues soaked up pressure well in the closing 15 minutes of the game. The Rams again hit the post late after Dusciuc misjudged a shot, but they ultimately did not add to their consolation goal. The ever-impressive Sivananthan continued to torment the Rams when the Blues did break and could easily have added to his five-goal tally of the season in added time, only for the goalkeeper to save well.

Much of the match was marred by poor refereeing, with both sets of players, coaches, and fans vocally criticizing the referee and his assistants. However, in the end, the Blues will be grateful that they were able to relegate the referees’ errors to a footnote in their sweet revenge story.

Up next for the Blues are the York Lions in the OUA semifinal. The Lions finished first in the OUA West conference and have won the OUA in each of the last two years. The Blues’ last win against the Lions was in 2011, and their last four matches against them have all ended in defeat.

The Blues were able to end their three-year winless run against the Rams in an impressive fashion, so what’s stopping them from ending an eight-year one against the Lions?

Disclosure: Michael Teoh previously served as The Varsity’s Volume 138 Deputy Senior Copy Editor and Volume 139 Business Editor.

Editor’s Note (November 10, 1:24 pm): This article has been updated to reflect the author’s former affiliations with The Varsity.

Blues women’s soccer triumph 1–0 in nervy contest against Ridgebacks

Women’s soccer team advance to OUA quarter-final matchup against Gaels

Blues women’s soccer triumph 1–0 in nervy contest against Ridgebacks

For the second time this season, the Varsity Blues women’s soccer team welcomed the University of Ontario Institute of Technology Ridgebacks to Varsity Stadium. And for the second time this season, the Blues emerged victorious against their Oshawa-based opposition.

While the Blues had previously claimed a 3–1 victory against the Ridgebacks on September 13, this Wednesday’s hard-fought 1–0 was much more impressive. The victory also ensured the Blues’ advancement to the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) quarterfinals, where they will face the Queen’s University Gaels in Kingston on Sunday.

While the game’s lone goal was scored via a header from the ever-impressive Miranda Badovinac in the 17th minute, the Blues had to remain alert at the back throughout the 90 minutes to ensure victory. Ridgebacks forward Taijah Henderson, who missed the previous clash between these two teams, was a constant threat to the Blues’ defense. Henderson led the Ridgebacks’ intense high press early in the game, while the Blues struggled to impose themselves.

At the other end of the pitch, the Blues’ forward trio of Badovinac, Erin Kelly, and Jenny Wolever struggled to break past the Ridgebacks’ disciplined defensive line until the 13th minute. A 45-yard goal kick by Blues goalkeeper Vanna Staggolis bounced favourably for Kelly, who booted the ball toward Wolever on the left flank.

Wolever’s initial cross into the box was blocked by a Ridgebacks defender, but Badovinac was aware of the situation, and claimed the loose ball. She cut in front of Ridgebacks defender Mikaela Tierney, who was adjudged by the referee to have fouled her inside the area.

Blues captain Maddie MacKay stepped up for the ensuing penalty, knowing that a goal could ease the building tension in the team and force the Ridgebacks to loosen their defensive shape in search of an equalizer. Ridgebacks goalkeeper Alicia Chisholm had other plans. The first-year keeper dove low to her right to palm away MacKay’s effort, sending the boisterous Ridgebacks supporters into raptures.

MacKay made up for her miss a few minutes later, intercepting a loose ball from the Ridgebacks and lobbing it toward Badovinac, who laid the ball off for Kelly. Brushing off a challenge from Tierney, Kelly unleashed Wolever down the left flank. Wolever’s delivery this time was inch-perfect for Badovinac to head into the far corner of the goal.

The Blues established a greater foothold into the game as the first half progressed, giving it a more exciting end-to-end dynamic. Both teams suffered a few defensive lapses in concentration but neither were able to capitalize.

In the 26th minute, Blues defender Daniella Cipriano played a corner to Mackay, who found herself in acres of space 23 yards away from the goal. She launched a looping ball toward the goal that beat Chisholm but rebounded off the crossbar. In the ensuing counter-attack, Henderson displayed good hold-up play and earned a foul from Blues defender Anna Crone from 18 yards out. Ridgebacks defender Julia Listro then sent a shot to the bottom right of the goal, forcing a good save from Staggolis.

The Ridgebacks spent much of the second half camped in the Blues’ half but they were unable to find an equalizer, despite the Blues’ nervy defending. In the 85th minute, Listro received the ball from a throw-in and lobbed it into the box, beyond four Blues defenders. Ridgebacks midfielder Melanie Hoekstra received the ball ahead of Crone and fizzed a shot across the face of the goal. Despite a barrage of late attacks, the Blues held on to book their place in the OUA quarter-finals.

After the game, Associate Head Coach Angelo Cavalluzzo praised the Blues’ defensive organization but said that their aerial defending was poor. “Not super pleased with [the defending], I think we could have been a lot better. We have been a lot better. That’s a positive that we still kept a clean sheet even though things weren’t as tight as… they should have been.”

“If you watch our performances from the beginning of the season compared to now, it’s totally different,” he added. “I think we’ve improved leaps and bounds, and I think [the Ridgebacks have] improved leaps and bounds. They gave us a game tonight, and they were a lot better than the team we faced earlier in the season.”

The Blues will face a tough away game with the Gaels in the quarterfinal. Their record against the opposition is poor, having last won in 2014. In their 10 games against the Gaels since that victory, they have lost eight times and drawn twice.

The Blues will need to execute their defensive plan against the Gaels perfectly if they are to advance to the OUA final four. Otherwise, they will need to hope that their front three can add to their 18-goal tally, and, given their performances over the course of the season, Blues fans have good reason to expect that one of them will find the back of the net.

Disclosure: Michael Teoh previously served as The Varsity’s Volume 138 Deputy Senior Copy Editor and Volume 139 Business Editor.

Blues cruise to 6–0 victory over lackadaisical Lakers

Men’s soccer team advance to OUA quarter-final matchup against Ryerson

Blues cruise to 6–0 victory over lackadaisical Lakers

Eighty-eight minutes into this one-sided affair, Blues midfielder Nikola Stakic received the ball in acres of space on the halfway line, sauntered forward 15 yards, and nonchalantly dinged a perfectly weighted ball over a brittle Nipissing Lakers backline to unleash winger Jacob Doroszkiewicz.

By the time Doroszkiewicz caught up to the ball on the right flank, three of his Blues teammates populated the opposition box completely unmarked. Doroszkiewicz fizzed a cross first time across the face of the goal, allowing forward Matthew Roberts to poke the ball into the back of the net. There were four Lakers defenders in the box too, but by this stage in the game they had long forgotten the concept of defending. This was the final goal in a lopsided affair which the Blues won 6-0 to cruise their way to a quarterfinal berth.

Of course, the disparity in quality between the two sides was no surprise: the Blues had finished the regular Ontario University Athletics (OUA) East season in third place with 30 points, while the Lakers had finished in sixth with 16 points. The teams were drawn against each other here for the OUA playoffs, a preliminary round for the teams in third through sixth place to determine who plays the first- and second-ranked teams in the quarterfinals. Still, the Blues deserve credit for an inspired and ruthless 90-minute performance.

The Blues started the game on the front foot, moving the ball forward and forcing the Lakers into errors with a high forward press. Two minutes into the game, the Lakers gave the ball away from a throw-in, allowing the Blues to take control and switch play to the right flank. Weak clearance from a Lakers defender allowed midfielder Nicola Russo to intercept the ball and deliver it to Stakic.

The midfielder deftly pulled three opposition players out of position with his dart infield before delivering a defense-splitting ball onto the path of attacking midfielder Atchu Sivananthan, who slotted the ball into the net.

“Once we get the first goal we’re a difficult team to play against,” head coach Ilya Orlov said in a post-game interview. “I think that [goal] settled us down and also just enhanced our confidence.”

Indeed, the Blues’ confidence was on full display as they continued to torment their opposition with an effective press and a compact structure. The Lakers, meanwhile, continued to invite pressure with subpar passing and poor positioning. In the 14th minute, Lakers defender Cody Vaillancourt passed the ball straight to Blues midfielder Yousef Helmy on the edge of the box. Helmy, somehow completely unmarked despite there being seven Lakers defenders in the box, scored with a powerful shot into the far corner, bringing the score to 2–0.

Fourteen minutes later — and, remarkably, with eight Lakers defenders in the box — Nicholas Osorio received the ball from Helmy in the same position. He buried a shot into the near corner to increase the Blues’ lead to 3–0.

The second half started in similar fashion to the first as the Blues continued to bear down on the Lakers’ goal. Sivananthan, playing the number-10 role, combined exceptionally well with centre forward Artem Tesker throughout the game, weaving in between the Lakers’ inattentive defense. In the 48th minute, Sivananthan, receiving the ball 45 yards away from goal, embarked on a mesmerizing solo run that culminated in his second and the Blues’ fourth goal of the game.

The Blues’ next goal came courtesy of yet another defensive lapse from the Lakers as Jamal Brown passed the ball straight to Tesker in the 71st minute. The first-year forward found Russo, who squared the ball for Doroszkiewicz to claim the Blues’ fifth of the night.

First-year striker Roberts was brought on for Tesker two minutes later. The former Swansea City U18 player saw his first minutes on the field since his injury on September 1 in a game against the Gaels, and capped off a fine cameo performance with the team’s sixth goal.

The Blues will now face the Ryerson Rams in the OUA quarterfinals for the third year in a row.

“We’ll see tactical adjustments based on how they play but I think if we come out with this kind of energy and this kind of performance, we should be fine,” Orlov said. “It’s a Toronto derby so of course it’ll be a good one as always.”

While the Blues’ games against the Rams are often exciting affairs, their record against their Toronto rivals is poor. The Blues have lost six and drawn two of their past eight encounters. This season, the Blues drew 0–0 with the Rams at home and lost 2–1 away.

Progression beyond the quarterfinals for the first time since 2016 will be a tough task for the Blues, but this 6–0 victory certainly sends a strong message of intent.

Disclosure: Michael Teoh previously served as The Varsity’s Volume 138 Deputy Senior Copy Editor and Volume 139 Business Editor.

Blues drop final game of the season to Guelph

Senior players get warm send-off, Sequeira breaks long-standing Blues record

Blues drop final game of the season to Guelph

The Toronto Varsity Blues closed out their 2019 campaign with a 40–26 loss against the playoff-bound Guelph Gryphons. The game began by celebrating the senior players who were playing their last game of the season. This included Mathew Duffy, Jeffrey Lam, Christian Krcilek, Matt Loenhart, Ethan Shafer, Malcom Campbell, Julian Romano, Eddie Nam, Jordan Gillespie, Matthew Renaud, and Damoy Robinson.

“I just wanted them to go out and enjoy the experience,” Head Coach Greg Marshall said of his senior players. “I wanted the rest of the guys to go out and battle hard for them and finish this off the right way… But if we’re not going to get a win, at least play hard and show some guts, and I thought we did that.”

Guelph and Toronto both went two and out on their first drives, before quarterback Clay Sequeira threw a bomb to receiver Will Corby for a 99-yard touchdown on the first play of Toronto’s next drive. With this pass, Sequeira broke a Varsity Blues record for most touchdown passes in a single season, a record which was previously held by former NFL player Dan Feraday, who had 22 touchdowns in the 1981 season.

“He’s had a great year,” Marshall said of his quarterback. “We ask a lot of him. He really responded well and the exciting part is we get him back for another year hopefully — and he had an outstanding year.”

At the next kickoff, the Guelph receiver slipped in the endzone, which gave Toronto an extra point. Guelph marched down the field and made a field goal to bring the score to 8–3 for Toronto. This would be the last time Toronto had the lead in the game, as Guelph would drive down the field after a Toronto two and out and tack on another touchdown to take a 10–8 lead.

Guelph was also able to score on their next drive, bringing the score to 17–8. On Toronto’s next drive, the bad field position led to Sequeria being pressured by the Guelph defense in the endzone, and forced him to throw the ball away. The referee called intentional grounding on this play, and Toronto gave up two points and the ball.

Toronto was able to force two turnovers, with a fumble recovery, and an interception by defensive back Jamal Johnson, but were unable to capitalize on either opportunity. However, Toronto was able to get a touchdown and a two point conversion just before half-time, with Sequeria finding receiver Nolan Lovegrove on both plays.   

On the first play of the second half, Guelph was able to march down the field and score another touchdown, making it 26–16. After Toronto was forced to punt on their next drive, Guelph made it all the way to Toronto’s one-yard line on first and made a field goal. The Blues defense stopped Guelph from running the ball into the endzone on first down, and forced a fumble on second down to prevent Guelph from getting any points from the play.

After a beautiful pass to around the midfield from Sequeira, Guelph was able to secure an interception. While Toronto’s next drive saw them get a field goal, Guelph was able to answer with a touchdown, bringing the score to 33–19.

Guelph missed a field goal on their next drive, but managed to secure a fumble and was able to tack on another touchdown, to give their offense 40 points. On Guelph’s last drive of the game, Toronto recovered a fumble inside the Gryphons’ five-yard line, and Sequeria threw the short touchdown pass with no time left on the clock to make the final score 40–26.

“[Guelph’s] a good football team. Our kids battled hard, they just made a few more plays than we did. We were running out of bodies there at the end a little bit on the [defense] line, and the linebackers. We had three [defensive linemen],” Marshall continued.

“I give our kids credit — they battled hard, they never gave up. And I’m proud of them for that,” he remarked.

“Obviously we moved the dial. We are… a better team at this point in the season than we were last year, so we’ve gained a little momentum in that regard,” he said on the growth that the Blues have seen this season. “A lot of our young guys have gotten experience. We need some more work in the weight room and on the field, and hopefully we’ll be better next year for it.”

Blues win high scoring affair against downtown rivals

Nathan Hodgin scores overtime goal as Toronto outlasts Ryerson

Blues win high scoring affair against downtown rivals

The University of Toronto Varsity Blues men’s hockey team defeated their most fierce rival this Saturday in a thrilling fast-paced matchup. This win gave the Blues a 3–2 record, and vaulted them a point above Ryerson University in the Ontario University Athletics standings early in the season. 

Early in the first period, forward Oliver Benwell made a cross-ice pass to Toronto’s leading scorer David Thompson and one-timed the puck past Ryerson goalie Troy Timpano for an early 1–0 lead. The play got physical fast, and after a scrum in front of the net, Toronto forward Scott Kirton, and Ryerson’s Holden Cook were assessed offsetting roughing penalties, while Blues defenseman Riley Bruce was given an extra slashing penalty.

Though Toronto was able to kill off the Ryerson powerplay, Ryerson got a quick goal shortly after, as a shot from Cavin Leth was tipped in by forward Marcus Hinds. After Ryerson’s Matt Mistele was given a minor penalty, Toronto struck right back when a point shot from Toronto defenceman Evan MacEachern soared over the glove of Timpano to give Toronto a 2–1 lead. However, Toronto was unable to stay disciplined, as penalties from Riley Bruce and Scott Kirton gave Ryerson a 28-second five-on-three, which was all the time they needed to score the equalizer before the end of the first period.

In the second period, Kirton almost had a chance at redemption, stealing the puck from Ryerson defender Jered Walsh on the blue line to give himself a breakaway, but was ultimately unable to capitalize on it. Toronto was able to break the tie when Nathan Hudgin made a cross-ice pass right in front of the Ryerson net and gave Thompson an easy tap-in for his second goal of the game.

After a scramble in front of the Toronto net, Ryerson was able to put up another equalizer when Blues goalie Alex Bishop seemed to think it was kicked in, but after discussion between the referees it was ruled a goal. Toward the end of the period, Blues forward Kyle Potts used his size and speed to beat the Rams’ defenseman and tuck it in the net, regaining the lead.

In the third period, Ryerson was once again able to tie up the game, with a deflection in front of the net by forward David Miller. The Blues answered back with another goal of their own, with forward Hunter Atchison making a crisp cross-ice pass to Nathan Hudgin, who sniped it past Timpano for the go-ahead goal. Ryerson was able to get one more goal — a rebound shot in by forward Mathew Santos — to force overtime.

As is typically the case in three-on-three overtime, the play was very fast paced, with odd-man rushes going back and forth, and chances happening at each end. The Blues broke the deadlock when Hudgin made a backhand pass to defenseman Brendan Bornstein. Bornstein made a beautiful spinning backhand give-and-go pass back to Hudgin, who then corralled the puck with his skate and shot it past Timpano for the winning goal.

Thompson and Hudgin each had two goals, while forward Joey Manchurek quietly tallied three assists, and goalie Alex Bishop made 31 saves for the win. Toronto’s next home game will be on November 2, when they take on Laurentian University.

Football team drops close game to McMaster, loses playoff spot

Blues unable to find the endzone, racking up fourth loss of the season

Football team drops close game to McMaster, loses playoff spot

The Varsity Blues football team dropped their game against McMaster University this Saturday, losing a 16–8 contest in a game with major playoff implications. The Blues dropped out of a playoff spot with two games left in the season before their next game against York University.

In Toronto’s first drive of the game, quarterback Clay Sequeria threw the ball into double coverage and was picked off. McMaster was unable to capitalize and went two and out on their ensuing drive. On Toronto’s next play, Sequeria fumbled a snap deep in the Blues end, which was recovered by McMaster and set them up in great field position.

McMaster went two and out again on their drive, and were forced to settle for a field goal. Toronto had to punt on their next drive, but the ball was dropped by the McMaster returner, and Toronto recovered the ball. Sequeria made a few plays to the endzone, one of them almost being a touchdown, but the receiver was ruled out of bounds. Toronto was forced to settle for a field goal, and tied the game 3–3.

In the second quarter, Blues linebacker Daniel Solaroli made an interception, but Toronto was unable to use the opportunity. McMaster got the ball back, and made a pass from around midfield into the endzone into double coverage for the touchdown. McMaster was also able to get another field goal to bring their lead up to 13–3 to end the half.

In the third quarter, the Blues were able to get another interception, this time defensive back Jamal Johnson, but they were unable to capitalize, as Sequeria was sacked multiple times. Sequeria faced immense pressure from the McMaster defence, which often resulted in a sack, or a rushed pass.

“We’ll have to look at what they were doing and check and see what we’re doing in protection and help [Sequeria] out a little bit,” Blues head coach Greg Marshall said in a postgame interview. “Obviously that’s the plan with everybody is to disrupt his timing, and we were doing a pretty good job the first few weeks. It seems like the last couple of weeks, they’ve shown us a couple things we need to adjust.”

At the beginning of the fourth quarter, McMaster was pinned deep in their own zone, and when they reached the third down, they opted to take the intentional safety to prevent Toronto from gaining good field position. In the next Toronto drive, they were able to hit a field goal to bring it to a one score game at 16–8.

Toronto would have one more drive to tie up the game, but they were unable to do so, even with a few good looks in the endzone. McMaster was able to run out the clock and end the game.

“Our guys played well in all areas,” Marshall continued. “That was a good football game. Not the usual high-scoring affair, but it was more of a defensive slug fest. And there [were] a lot of guys making a lot of plays. It just happened to be on the defensive side for both teams.”

Nikola Stakic on leading the men’s soccer team

The Blues captain talks soccer, friendships, balancing school

Nikola Stakic on leading the men’s soccer team

The Varsity Blues men’s soccer team is currently tied with rival Ryerson Rams for second place in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) standings. The team holds a 7-1-2 record, only trailing the Carleton Ravens who have a perfect 10–0 record. This year, Blues captain Nikola Stakic is looking to lead his team to the OUA Championship.

Growing up, Stakic was immersed in soccer. His love of the sport began when he was five. “I started playing for Scarborough Blizzard house league,” Stakic said in an interview with The Varsity. Similar to a lot of athletes, Stakic comes from an athletic background. “My dad, well he’s from Bosnia. He played professionally back there and when he was growing up. And my brother played a little bit.”

Being able to play for the University of Toronto is like being at home for Stakic, who grew up in the Scarborough Bluffs area. When he was younger, Stakic used to play at Birchmount Stadium with his father and brother.

Stakic, who plays the centre midfielder position, started out as a centre back when he was younger. When asked about players he idolized growing up, Stakic told The Varsity that he watched Gerard Piqué of FC Barcelona.

The transition from high school to playing for one of Canada’s top universities was exciting for Stakic. He was originally part of the Toronto FC Academy, the youth development program for the Toronto Football Club. “The coach of the Varsity Blues at the time was the coach at Toronto FC as well. So we linked together and he gave me an opportunity to play for U of T,” Stakic explains.

When asked about any pressure coming into the Varsity Blues, Stakic said it was a smooth process. “I knew a lot of the players already here, so it was an easy transition.”

Stakic is currently in the kinesiology program at U of T. He enjoys the freedom that his program gives him to explore his passion for soccer within his academic life. “It’s very athlete driven, the program,” Stakic told The Varsity.

On the correlation between the program and being a varsity athlete, the Blues captain noted that “everything they teach us, I can kind of incorporate into what I do on a daily basis, being on the varsity team. I kind of link what we’re learning in class, and take it on the field and in the gym.”

Although Stakic enjoys his program, he also mentioned the challenges that come with being both a student and an athlete. Stakic is currently in fourth year, so he has many years of experience dealing with tight schedules. “Keeping high grades and balancing that with soccer, it’s really hard.”

Like a lot of students, Stakic has classes most days of the week. “[I’ve] got Friday off [class] but we train Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday,” Stakic explains. “And then usually you have two games during the weekend.”

To ease the stress of being a student athlete, Stakic focuses on having fun as well. “I enjoy going out with my friends,” Stakic told The Varsity. “I like video games too. I play a lot of Call of Duty [and] Fortnite with my teammates.”

Being the team captain carries a lot of meaning to Stakic. He acknowledges what it means to be a leader both on and off the field. “I like to set an example for the younger players coming in, for the other players on the team,” Stakic said. “You know, to work hard, the ethic and the bond that we build. Make sure that’s the key of being a Blue.”

Stakic also remarked on just how rewarding playing for the Blues has been for him. “Just the brotherhood, the family that you build in the change room, on the field. You know, I’ve made such great friends from the coaching staff [and] the training staff, and these relationships are going to carry on for the rest of my life,”

“We spend so much time together, and a lot of us have played together for years, even before U of T. So we all have each other’s backs. We look out for one another.”

When asked about any goals for the rest of the season, Stakic focused on the team specifically. “Currently we’re tied for second. So you know, push, hopefully get that top two finish, so we can have a bye-week,” Stakic said. But similar to most athletes, Stakic has his eyes set on bringing home a banner. “Our goal is to win the OUA Championship,” Stakic said.

“After I’m done here, [I’ll] hopefully sign a contract somewhere, with [the Canadian Premier League]. Hoping to get into one of those teams,” Stakic told The Varsity. “But if not, then continue with schooling. Maybe do teacher’s college. Do more coaching for sports.”