Ontario finds winning strategy

OUA conference picks up 12 of 21 national titles after finding ways to keep athletes in the province

The women's soccer team won the OUA and CIS titles this season.
The women's soccer team won the OUA and CIS titles this season.
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The OUA is getting serious about winning.

This season, the conference posted its best results so far this century, securing 12 of 21 Canadian Interuniversity Sport titles. Ontario teams dominated their usual sports — track and field, men’s basketball and wrestling — while winning titles in areas where they usually struggle, like women’s basketball, football and women’s soccer.

“It’s one of the best years the conference has had,” OUA sport programming co-ordinator Bryan Crawford said. “There’s been some sports where we’ve always been strong, but now there are other sports where we’ve planted ourselves in the national scene.”

Crawford said a number of OUA institutions have raised their Athletic standards, specifically citing Queen’s. He named the Queen’s Centre as one of the many new high-class facilities across the province.

“Western’s just opened an Athletic Centre, there’s a new one at Ryerson, McMaster just opened a new facility … and a number of [other] schools are beginning projects,” he said. “It’s a great thing for our conference to see.”

Crawford said OUA officials have conducted a comprehensive review over the past few years to respond to growing and emerging provincial sport trends.

“We’re looking to expand if there are sports that are prepared for it,” he said, adding that women’s fast-pitch is up for consideration. “We’re also reviewing Algoma University’s entrance application … it would be an increase from 19 to 20 members.”

In December, the OUA’s Board of Directors increased the maximum provincial athletic scholarship from $3,500 to $4,000 per year. Men’s volleyball head coach Brenda Willis said this sort of increase proves that the conference has upped its standard — in 2001, the maximum financial award was only $1,500.

“Most schools, if not all, have invested substantially in sports, “ she said. “There are more full-time coaching jobs, and with the increase in [financial assistance], we’re able to retain more top athletes in the province.”

Ontario athletes are also benefitting from the provincial government’s Quest for Gold Ontario Athlete Assistance Program (OAAP), an initiative to improve Ontario athletics as a whole. Specifically, OAAP’s objectives are to help Ontario athletes compete at the national level, to keep them in Ontario to train, to compensate athletes for intensive training on the summer break, and to allow athletes to pursue excellence while at school.

This season, the men’s volleyball team came fourth at nationals, its best-ever finish at the Canadian championship. Willis said up to six of her current players have received up to $7,500 each from OAAP in the past few seasons.

“It’s a substantial amount of money,” she said. “This year, I’m only aware of one Ontario athlete that went west — all the other blue-chippers stayed home.”

This year, women’s hockey forward and OUA leading scorer Morgan McHaffie received a $4,000 athletic scholarship as well as a Quest for Gold bursary that she expects to be between $7,000 to $8,000. Although McHaffie had committed to Queen’s before finding out about OAAP, she said it was a significant factor in keeping some of her friends at home in Ontario.

“We lose a lot of our athletes to the [U.S.] because they offer full rides,” she said. “[OOAP] is huge and it definitely keeps our athletes in Ontario.” McHaffie said keeping Ontario women’s hockey players at home also helps the national program.

“The Olympic program wants to have players playing in Canada,” she said. “If we can keep players here, the hockey would be much more competitive.”

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