Nixon teams shine amongst fall squads

Both rugby sides set to dominate their respective sports, while the other teams vie for title shots

Billy McPhee’s 2,140 passing yards ranked fourth in the OUA last season.
Billy McPhee’s 2,140 passing yards ranked fourth in the OUA last season.
The Gaels have captured the last two OUA titles and three of the last four.
The Gaels have captured the last two OUA titles and three of the last four.
Last season’s 19-15 victory over the five-time defending champion Guelph Gryphons gave the Gaels their first-ever provincial title in women’s rugby.
Last season’s 19-15 victory over the five-time defending champion Guelph Gryphons gave the Gaels their first-ever provincial title in women’s rugby.
The women’s heavyweight eight won silver at the OUA championships in 2013.
The women’s heavyweight eight won silver at the OUA championships in 2013.
Breanna Burton has tallied 15 goals over the last two seasons.
Breanna Burton has tallied 15 goals over the last two seasons.
Forward Tommy Hong (left) was an OUA All-Star in 2013.
Forward Tommy Hong (left) was an OUA All-Star in 2013.
Both Queen’s teams missed the podium at the provincial level in 2013.
Both Queen’s teams missed the podium at the provincial level in 2013.

Football

The Gaels will be in tough to return to the OUA title game in 2014.

After falling 51-22 to the Western Mustangs at the 106th Yates Cup last November, there’s likely to be turnover as the team retools. Queen’s lost multiple starters to either the CFL or graduation heading into this season.

One player who will return to Richardson Stadium is fifth-year quarterback Billy McPhee, who’s improved every season since becoming the full-time starter in 2011. Last season, McPhee threw for over 2,134 yards and 17 touchdowns, with only four interceptions.

If the pivot continues his progression as an accurate and efficient passer, the Gaels may have a chance to equal their 7-1 record from last season.

McPhee has lost numerous offensive weapons, though, including running back Ryan Granberg, the program’s all-time leading rusher. Third-year rusher Jesse Andrews will need to pick up the slack after averaging 8.6 yards a carry in reserve last season.

McPhee also lost his top two receiving targets to the CFL, with Scott Macdonell now playing for the Ottawa RedBlacks and Giovanni Aprile suiting up for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Veterans Doug Corby and Alex Carroll are now the top wideouts for the Gaels, who were the second-highest scoring team in Canada in 2013.

In addition, Queen’s will start five new starters on the offensive line, so players such as third-year Erick Lessard and second-year Stewart Anoya will be called upon to stabilize the trenches.

One of the Gaels’ biggest off-season changes was the departure of long-time defensive coordinator Pat Tracey, the architect of a defence that caused 25 turnovers last season. After joining the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Tracey will be replaced by former Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Greg Marshall.

The defensive side of the ball lost some star power to the CFL, with two-time CIS All-Canadian defensive back Andrew Lue joining the Montreal Alouettes. Fourth-year Yann Dika-Balotoken will lead the secondary after nabbing a CIS-best five interceptions last year.

A defensive lineman to watch is fourth-year veteran Luke Ball, who had 2.5 sacks in 2013. Ball and second-year Natu Myers are expected to lead the defensive line corps, which could be a team strength this season.

The Gaels’ schedule softens up significantly after a bye in Week 6; their final three opponents combined for a 6-18 record last season. The first portion of the schedule includes a juicy rematch with Western at home on Sept. 13

If they survive the beginning, Queen’s will be in the mix to host a home playoff game in November.

— Jaehoon Kim

Men’s rugby

After two straight OUA championships, men’s rugby is primed to become a dynasty — with a new leader at the helm.

Peter Huigenbos stepped down as head coach in April to become a performance analyst for the Gaels, with former assistant coach Gary Gilks taking charge of the program.

On the field, the leader remains the same. Fifth-year captain Jacob Rumball will helm the squad for one more season, flanked by 2013 OUA All-Stars Brendan Sloan, Andrew Carr and David Worsley. Third-year fly half Adam McQueen should continue to build on an impressive first two seasons with the Gaels.

All-Star pair Brendan McGovern and Graham Turner aren’t returning, but depth hasn’t been an issue in past years. That’s due to the club’s reserve team system, in which no candidates are cut during fall tryouts and several teams are maintained throughout the year.

That depth was evident the last two seasons. The Gaels often won without former standout fly half Liam Underwood, who missed several games to commitments with Canada’s senior program.

Underwood played only three games over the past two seasons, and won’t be back this year.

2013 OUA Rookie of the Year Lucas Rumball returns alongside second-year wing Kainoa Lloyd. Both men will have the opportunity to grow from auxiliary firepower into key fixtures of the force.

As in other years, the Western Mustangs will provide the Gaels’ greatest challenge. The squads have met in the last three OUA championship games and will face off again this regular season on Oct. 18 at Nixon Field.

— Brent Moore

Women’s rugby

After seizing the throne last year, the Gaels are in prime position to become the new queens of OUA rugby.

The squad knocked off the five-time defending champion Guelph Gryphons in last year’s final, avenging a loss in the 2012 championship match and paving the way for the Gaels’ first national women’s rugby medal.

Most of the team’s core has returned for an encore performance, with All-Canadians Lauren McEwen and Claragh Pegg leading the charge. McEwen was named the OUA’s Russell (East) division MVP last year, after finishing second in the league with 54 points.

McEwen was a force to be reckoned with during the playoff run, leading the OUA in scoring.

Second-year wing Karley Heyman will look to build on a tremendous rookie campaign, while fellow OUA All-Stars Devon Stride and Loren Baldwin will once again play major roles.

The team will need to fill the holes left by the graduations of four top players. Former All-Canadian Taylor White won’t be back in 2014, along with Bronwyn Corrigan, Natalie Poirier and Kayla Roote.

The most important game of the regular season will come against the McMaster Marauders on Sept. 14. The winner should claim Russell division supremacy and avoid Guelph until the OUA final.

Queen’s will likely roll through their competition, go 5-0 and set up a grudge match with the Gryphons. For the first time in program history, the Gaels might just be the favourite to capture the conference title.

— Sean Sutherland

Women’s soccer

Last season snapped a four-year stretch of CIS championship appearances. It will be at least another year before the Gaels find themselves back in the national picture.

2013 was a disappointing year for Queen’s, especially coming off three straight appearances in the national title game. The team struggled through an injury-plagued season before bowing out with a surprise OUA bronze medal.

While most of the roster is back and healthy, a pair of departures will keep the Gaels from getting back to the next level.

Midfielders Riley Filion and Alexis McKinty, veterans of both the 2011 and 2012 CIS championship-winning squads, both exhausted their eligibility. The loss of Filion is especially daunting, as her six goals tied Rachel Radu for the highest total on a goal-starved 2013 Gaels team.

It’ll be up to the three-headed striking attack of Breanna Burton, Brittany Almeida and Tara Bartram to lead the scoring charge. Burton and Almeida are looking to get back to their 2012 form, in which both tallied 10 goals.

Re-joining the trio is Jackie Tessier, the program’s second-highest all-time scorer. After taking last season off, the 2010 OUA East MVP is back for her final season of eligibility.

On the back end, the Gaels are led by fourth-year Jessie De Boer and second-year Micah Vermeer. Vermeer’s rookie season saw her named to the OUA East second All-Star team, while De Boer was an All-Star in 2012. Madison Tyrell will be between the posts for the third year in a row.

If the Gaels can stay healthy, they’ll be among the top schools in Ontario, as evidenced by their quarterfinal upset of the first-place Ottawa Gee-Gees last season. That said, the departures of McKinty and Filion will be too much to keep the team from challenging for a spot in the OUA Final Four.

— Sean Sutherland

Men’s soccer

The heartbreak of last season’s quarterfinal loss should still disturb the men’s soccer team.

Their match last October with the Carleton Ravens was a winnable game that would’ve sent Queen’s to the OUA East finals. Down 1-0 for much of the second half, the Gaels were buoyed by Andrew Martin’s 89th-minute goal.

That game — and Queen’s playoff hopes — ended with a 2-1 loss in extra time, after a regular season that left the Gaels with the third-best record in the OUA East at 6-5-3.

Several consequential players have moved on, including three-year captain Joe Zupo and fellow centre back David Tom. When coupled with the loss of starting goalkeeper Dylan Maxwell, the Gaels will be forced to shore up their back end.

Longtime backup Max Materne likely won’t have the defensive cushion Maxwell enjoyed as he takes over the starting job. Fourth-year defenders Ben Fenech and Marco D’Elia must embrace their increased responsibility and command larger presences in the backfield.

The squad will be under new leadership this season, after head coach Chris Gencarelli stepped down in the spring. Christian Hoefler, a former coach with the Ottawa Fury, was hired as the replacement in August.

Queen’s faces tough competition in Carleton and the Ryerson Rams, the OUA East’s top teams. The Ravens beat the Gaels in two regular season matches last year before knocking them out of the post-season.

To certify their status as an upper-tier OUA team, the Gaels must handle the Laurentian Voyageurs and Toronto Varsity Blues. Queen’s went 1-1 against the Varsity Blues last season, tying Laurentian twice.

Muddled results like this during regular season play will see the team left behind come playoff time.

— Brent Moore

Rowing

Stability will play a major role on the men’s side, while the women’s team will have to replace some of their top rowers.

Fourth-year Matt Christie will return to captain the men’s lightweight team in 2014. The OUA’s 2013 Oarsman of the Year won gold last season in the lightweight men’s single at the OUA championships.

The men’s squad has won OUA bronze the past five seasons, with silver medal results in last year’s lightweight four and heavyweight eight races.

Pre-season competition at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta saw Stephen Halloway earn second-place finishes in the under-23 men’s lightweight doubles and the senior lightweight quad.

Three other Gaels registered first-place finishes at the event. These results show Queen’s veteran contingency hasn’t slowed up and is still in sync.

For the last 15 seasons, the women’s side has been marked by a Queen’s-Western rivalry. Last year’s Mustangs captured the provincial championship, while the female Gaels finished second, capturing gold in the heavyweight eight.

The loss of Meghan Robinson, who competed with the heavyweight double and eight crews, will be difficult to overcome, as will the departures of three other members of the heavyweight eight.

The men may need a few weeks to integrate new talent, but will likely finish as strong as last year. The women’s side will have to really come together to match last year’s results.

— Brent Moore

Cross Country
Despite the presence of Canada’s top collegiate runner, women’s cross-country will be hard-pressed to match their CIS bronze medal last year.

While national gold medalist Julie-Anne Staehli is back to lead the Gaels, running mate and provincial champion Victoria Coates won’t be returning this year. The pair dominated the cross-country landscape last season, finishing on the podium in every race they ran.

While Staehli is the clear favourite to capture her second straight individual gold medal, losing Coates hurts the women’s chances. Even with the two fastest runners at the OUA championships, Queen’s couldn’t find the podium at the event.

On the men’s side, the podium is the goal for a team that finished just off it at both the OUA and CIS meets.

Jeff Archer, David Cashin and Tyson Loney all posted top-25 times at the 2013 CIS championships, and will look to lead a team that has finished fifth the last two seasons back into the top three.

The Gaels will have home-field advantage at the provincial level, as they host the OUA championships on Oct. 11.

The Guelph Gryphons will once again be the team to beat for both squads. Guelph pulled off their eighth straight sweep of the CIS titles in 2013.

— Sean Sutherland

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