Written by OUA
Photo by OUA
NORTH BAY, Ontario – Not everyone has welcomed the snowy weather with open arms, but when the best of the best from the university Nordic skiing scene head up north for their banner season outing this weekend, they’ll most certainly feel right at home on the snowy terrain. Coming into this year’s OUA Nordic Skiing Championships, the Lakehead Thunderwolves and Carleton Ravens might be feeling a little bit more comfortable, as they enter the competition as reigning champions, but the 10-team field will have their eyes on the finish line to top this year’s pack at the Nipissing Trails (Nipissing University).
The defending women’s champions, Carleton Ravens, are not only back for continued success in the snow, but are doing so with a strong contingent of returning skiers. Leading the flock of talented black birds is Zoë Williams (Cantley, Que.), who took home top spot at last year’s 5km Classic Interval Start by nearly one minute, 10km Mass Start Free Technique race, and led the Ravens to a first-place finish in the Classic Relay. She’ll be joined by fellow podium-finisher Alyssa Stowe (Almonte, Ont.), who alongside the likes of Williams and fellow Ravens Emily Jones (Chelsea, Que.) and Maggie McClure (Halifax, N.S.), helped the Carleton contingent flood the women’s top-10.
While the Ravens women were able to repeat last year, the men could not complete the same feat, although they made their way onto the podium once again with a third-place result overall. Hoping to power the team back to the top of said podium is one of the best in the business – Aidan Kirkham (Kanata, Ont.). The 10km Classic Interval start gold-medalist a year ago knows what it’s like to bring home the provincial banner, which is exactly what they’ll hope to get back to this weekend.
Spoiling the Ravens’ quest for back-to-back double-gold performances at the provincial finale were the Lakehead Thunderwolves, who came away with a gold-medal performance on the men’s side.
Leading the charge for Lakehead then, and heading into this year’s event, was Gavin Shields (Thunder Bay, Ont.), who found the podium in the 10km Classic Interval State (silver), and Noah Thompson (Parry Sound, Ont.), who finished third in the Men’s Mass Start Free Technique a year ago. The dynamic pair, along with fellow top-10 finisher Noah Taylor (St. Johns, NF), should once again make the T’Wolves a threat for the podium this year. The women’s team, who compiled a fifth-place total a year ago, will look to jump on the podium buoyed by the likes of Holly Fleming (St. John’s, NFL), Erika Mihell (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.), and more.
The runners up on the women’s side – the Guelph Gryphons – will be skiing for yet another podium finish when they hit the Nipissing Trails this weekend. The team is a fixture on the Guelph campus even when the weather is hot and sunny, and now with one of their best finishes in recent memory under the belts and plenty of off-season training to boot, they’ll look to once again make the Gryphon community proud.
If they want to do so, however, they’ll need to replace a couple foundational pieces, but head coach Matt Underwood is full of optimism. Two of the reasons he remains positive about this weekend’s outlook are Madeline Aarts (St. Mary’s, Ont.) and Robert Simpson-Spook (Mississauga, Ont.). The former had a strong season in 2018 and has become one of the leaders on the group, helping now to usher in a new era upon the graduation of Celeste Noble and Elise Huet. The latter, meanwhile, blossomed at last year’s events, just missing the podium in 2018. Simpson-Spook remains one of the team’s leaders, but they’ll also relay on middle-distance specialist Graham Daly (Ottawa, Ont.) and decorated rookie Declan Barber (Toronto, Ont.) to contribute on the men’s side.
While one of the Guelph squads found a spot among the top-three a year ago, both the men’s and women’s skiers from Nipissing were able to crack the podium, so as they welcome the rest of the field as hosts this year, they’ll surely look to represent with more medal-worthy efforts on their home soil.
Alexander Maycock (Orangeville, Ont.), who was part of the silver-medal winning squad a year ago and a member of Team Canada for the upcoming 2019 FISU Games in Russia, will be among those looking to impress once again in his second year, but he won’t be the only individual hoping for a sophomore surge. Emily Drake (Stratford, Ont.) will hit the trails for the reigning bronze-medal winning Nipissing women’s squad this weekend, and with some strong early season efforts to her name, the second-year standout will hope to build on last year’s banner season and deliver a winning effort for the hometown fans.
Fellow northern squad, Algoma, is also taking their talents to the Nipissing Trails, and will do so with their sights set on building for the future. Experience is the name of the game for the Thunderbirds as the team hopes to improve on last year’s result, and they will see the likes of Marissa Ditoro (Omaha, NE) and Andrew Arndt (Cambridge, Ont.) take part in this growth. While this is the fourth year that Ditoro has competed at the event, this will be the first for Arndt, who is not only new to the championships, but new to the sport.
Similar goals highlight this weekend’s Waterloo squads, as they look to turn the tables on their seventh and ninth-place results from a year ago. While the team has some success in the sport over the years, it has been over two decades since their last title, but there’s no time like the present to start skiing for the podium once again.
One such skier that will do just that is Hannah Goodings (Thornbury, Ont.), who is hoping her strong training translates to equally impressive returns at her final championships. Goodings, one of the team’s captains and veterans, will be joined by a first-time competitor for the Warriors, albeit it someone who has plenty of experience in the sport. Isaac Alexander-Cook (Ottawa, Ont.) was a previous club athlete at Nakkertok Nordic in Ottawa and brings a great deal of technical skill and experience to the table. He has goals of beating his brother, Julian, from Queen’s University – who will also head to Nipissing to take part in this year’s championships after their men’s team finished fourth a year ago – and will be using his new position with the black and gold to accomplish just that.
Just off the podium a year ago on the women’s side, the Laurentian Voyageurs will hope that Lydia Harris (Peterborough, Ont.) and company can power them into the top three in 2019. The 15th-place finisher at last year’s championships, now in her fourth year, Harris has her eyes on continued success to help her Voyageurs bridge the mere 18-point gap that kept them without medals a year ago. Harris also has a 22nd-place results at Eastern’s this year.
Finishing just inside the top-20 at that same event this year, fellow Voyageur Matteo Reich (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) will be a key contributor once again at the provincial finale; an event at which he placed 17th overall in last season. And with the Laurentian men’s team wanting to improve on their sixth-place status in 2018, Reich will certainly be at the forefront of the Voyageurs championship contingent.
Joining the aforementioned squads on the Nipissing Trails this year are also the Toronto Varsity Blues and, for the first time in two decades, the Ottawa Gee-Gees, who will turn to Paul Place (Chelsea, Que.), Zeke Williams (Cantley, Que.), and company on the men’s side, as well as sisters Emilie and Katherine Denis (New Liskeard, Ont.), Emily Heroux (Gloucester, Ont.), and more on the women’s team.
The three-day competition will start on Saturday, February 16 at the Nipissing Trails (Nipissing University), with the women’s and men’s classic mass start on day one, the women’s and men’s free individual start on day two, and the women’s and men’s free relay on the final day of action on Monday, February 18.