The realignment game

When OUA divisions change, Queen’s teams face new challenges

When women’s basketball didn’t play against schools from western Ontario, their recruiting in the region was hindered, according to head coach Dave Wilson. The OUA schedule since 2001 has changed that.
When women’s basketball didn’t play against schools from western Ontario, their recruiting in the region was hindered, according to head coach Dave Wilson. The OUA schedule since 2001 has changed that.

Over 33 years as head coach of the women’s basketball program, Dave Wilson has seen his fair share of divisional alignments.

The most recent realignment for OUA basketball will come into effect this season. The conference will switch from a two-division set-up to four, with Queen’s playing in the East alongside Toronto, Ryerson and York.

Wilson said the change is a good step forward — but he’ll have to wait until the season takes place to know for sure.

“It’s going to take a run-through, just to see how it actually works out,” Wilson said. “It’s hard to predict how all this is going to go and how it’s going to feel like, having different divisional alignments.”

The changes were brought to the OUA basketball coaches for the first time at their annual meeting in March of this year. Wilson said the coaches later provided feedback to make sure the new system worked best for the teams, and will continue to do so after the upcoming season.

“Anything we’ve done in the past, we’ve had the ability to modify … after going through the run of it,” he said. “It will be interesting to see after a year of people going through it, if they think there are better ways to make this work, and if they think there are ways of adjustment.”

Before this year, the OUA was split into East and West divisions, with all teams in the conference facing off against each other. In the past, there was no divisional crossover between the divisions, limiting the Gaels’ presence in the minds of potential recruits.

For Wilson, facing teams from western Ontario was an important recruiting tool. When the cross-over between the OUA East and West began in the 2000-01 season, he was in favour of it.

“For the early years of my coaching it was very difficult for us to get players west of Toronto,” he said. “So when we went to [east-west] interlock, I felt that we get exposure down there.

“Whether it’s causality or just a relationship, we now have a lot of players coming out of south-western Ontario to Queen’s that in my previous years as coach we didn’t have.”

A major part of conference realignment is the impact it has on the recruiting game. Women’s hockey head coach Matt Holmberg said his team benefits from the OUA’s current single-division set-up.

“I like the fact that we get to see all the teams,” Holmberg said. “We do recruit throughout the province, so I suppose it’s a good thing that we’re being visible in everyone else’s city as well.”

But being lumped in a single, 13-team division isn’t entirely positive. Holmberg said switching to an east-west split would allow the Gaels to cut down on their travel time and costs.

Part of Queen’s additional travel costs come from the fact that the Gaels don’t play the two schools closest to them. Ottawa and Carleton are members of the Quebec-based RSEQ.

Holmberg said he hasn’t been part of any discussions about bringing the five-team RSEQ into the OUA — as is the case in men’s hockey — or the Gaels leaving the OUA to join the RSEQ. He added that he hadn’t heard anything recently about a potential shift happening.

The biggest concern with any form of realignment in women’s hockey, Holmberg said, would be ensuring the Gaels continue to play against western Ontario schools — especially those Queen’s has built rivalries with.

“I’d still like to see some sort of cross-over between divisions because there have been some good rivalries that have been developed,” he said. “I wouldn’t want the first time we play Guelph or Laurier to literally be in the playoffs.”

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