Which team has impressed the most?

Journal staff debate which Gaels varsity team has made the biggest impact so far this winter season

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Women's Hockey

The powerhouse women’s hockey team is the diamond in the rough of Queen’s Athletics.

The rough, of course, is the Memorial Centre: the moth-eaten antique of a hockey rink. Fans are a rarity, but the few who attend rarely leave disappointed. At 16-2-1, the Gaels are one point behind the Laurier Golden Hawks for the OUA lead.

Men’s basketball might be a Cinderella story in the making, but the women’s hockey team is out to redeem themselves.

Head coach Matt Holmberg last led the Gaels to an OUA gold medal in 2010, followed by last year’s playoff disappointment. A first-round loss to the fifth-place York Lions was a premature exit.

Sitting fifth in the weekly CIS rankings, they were ninth back in early October. Why they were ninth to begin with is anyone’s guess; their upward progression was no surprise to those familiar with this group.

It begins with the McHaffie twins. Fourth-year All-Star forwards Brittany and Morgan McHaffie provide scoring in bulk.

Morgan’s 28 points in 19 games keeps her in the hunt to defend her 2011-12 OUA scoring title. With 117 career points and counting, her scoring touch is invaluable.

Second-year Taryn Pilon is the skilled beneficiary of the second highest scoring forward line in the OUA, contributing 21 points of her own. First-year sniper Courtenay Jacklin’s 11 goals in 19 games extend scoring depth beyond the vaunted first trio.

Katie Duncan’s her own machine. She plays defence with a forward’s mentality — with four tallies and 16 points, her offensive prowess makes her a rare breed. Along with blossoming first year Alisha Sealey — first in OUA rookie defence scoring — the Gaels’ offensive threats are endless.

Netminders Karissa Savage and Mel Dodd-Moher provide any hockey team’s dream: reliability between the pipes. Savage and Dodd-Moher are first and second in goals against average in the OUA, while Savage’s .940 save percentage is a goal-scorer’s nightmare.

Recurrent division rival Laurier, ranked fourth in the CIS, is the sole obstacle to an OUA championship.

Coming off a disappointing 2011-12 campaign, expect a return to nationals.

— Peter Morrow

Men's Basketball

Men’s basketball hasn’t exceeded all conceivable expectations this winter — they’ve destroyed them as emphatically as a Greg Faulkner dunk.

Queen’s sits at 9-3 just past the midway point, good for fourth in the loaded OUA East. After topping last year’s win total in the second weekend of the season, the youthful Gaels are far ahead of schedule.

The despondence of last season’s 2-20 finish has disappeared. By landing Faulkner, a third-year Carleton transfer, and assembling a fearless nine-man recruiting class, head coach Stephan Barrie has engineered a full-scale culture change.

Barrie’s earned rave reviews from Geoff Smith, the former Gaels’ bench boss and devoted superfan. Smith’s enthusiasm encapsulates the increased buzz surrounding this year’s team — something women’s hockey has failed to achieve.

The basketball program’s remarkable improvement starts top down, but it hinges largely on Faulkner.

The Kingston native escaped the depths of Carleton’s championship roster to emerge as a veritable franchise player at Queen’s. He’s third in the OUA in scoring, consistently pacing the Gaels’ offense and ferrying the young team through the grind of the league season.

Queen’s offense sits second in the OUA — an abrupt turnaround from last year, when only the feckless RMC Paladins ranked lower in points.

Faulkner’s shooting prowess has been supplemented by the play of first-year guard Sukhpreet Singh, who has shown panache uncharacteristic of most rookies.

The remnants of last season’s team — particularly forwards Nikola Misljencevic and Mackenzie Simpson, as well as recently returned guard Ryan Golden — have embraced their roles as supporting actors in Barrie’s star-studded cast. The Gaels transformed their entire identity in a single offseason, making their immediate ascent all the more impressive.

Upcoming games against Carleton and Ottawa will determine the team’s playoff potential, as will a rematch with nationally ranked Ryerson, who barely outlasted the Gaels on Jan. 6 in double overtime. At the very least, Queen’s won’t quit — and they’re set to challenge for OUA supremacy far into the future.

Unfettered hunger trumps sustained success. Women’s hockey could challenge for a championship, but 2013 will be remembered for the rise of men’s basketball.

— Nick Faris

Women's volleyball

When your two best players leave, it’s easy to lose wind. But the women’s volleyball team just took it as another obstacle to overcome — one which has resulted in seamless success.

Last year, the team surprised everyone by wining their first-ever OUA championship. They suffered from the loss of Natalie Gray and Becky Billings coming into this season, but their train isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

Even with the loss of veterans, the team’s shown the ability to adapt by welcoming a class of well-rounded recruits with setter Ali Shamie, middle blocker Shannon Neville, left side hitter Brett Hagarty and libero Becky Wilson.

The men’s basketball team is reaping the benefits of a change in team culture this year, having brought in 10 new players. Compared to last year, they’re doing great.

But women’s volleyball already made that transformation last year, bringing in 12 new rookies after losing All-Stars Katie Matthews and Lorna Button. Now there’s nowhere to go but up.

Last year, the women capitalized on an early winning streak and were 6-3 by the December break.

They’re similarly consistent this year, currently riding a seven-game winning streak to sit third in the OUA.

It’s that same determination which will secure them a spot in the OUA playoffs. The Gaels will soon play a much-anticipated game against the second-place Ottawa Gee-Gees, which will determine the team’s fate.

Although the Gaels have yet to meet the Gee-Gees this year, their record against the team last regular season was 1-1, with the Gee-Gees coming up short against the Gaels in the OUA playoffs. The score will be tight, no doubt.

The Gaels have lost their top two scorers, while the Gee-Gees’ Karina Krueger Schwanke ranks third in points in the OUA, just above Gaels’ outside hitter Colleen Ogilvie.

But if the Gaels continue to take advantage of their winning streak, team depth and ability to come through in tight situations, they’ll be able to squeeze out a win against the Gee-Gees.

This could mean a spot in the OUA playoffs and the possibility of a national medal.

— Labiba Haque

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