By Martin Cleary
The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees swimming program celebrated its 50th anniversary at the U Sports national intercollegiate championships last week with a pair of milestone moments.
For the first time in its history, the Gee-Gees won a team medal, when the men’s squad finished in third place for the bronze, after three days of competition in the Saanich Commonwealth Place pool in Victoria.
On the final day, Gee-Gees head coach Dave Heinbuch was named the U Sports men’s team coach of the year, which was another first for the university’s program.
The Gee-Gees gave one of their best-ever performances at nationals by winning four medals, including three in the breaststroke discipline, and reaching 22 A finals in individual events or relays.
Meanwhile, Université Laval’s Danika Ethier, a former Greater Ottawa Kingfish swimmer, won two medals (one gold and one silver) in the breaststroke events and was named the U Sports women’s rookie of the year.
The depth of the Gee-Gees men’s program was highlighted during the championships as Ottawa placed either an individual swimmer or a relay team in 17 A finals. This formed the backbone of the Gee-Gees’ point total of 795 as it outlasted the University of Toronto Varsity Blues at 783 points and the McGill University Redbirds at 745.5 points for positions third through fifth.
The University of British Columbia Thunderbirds won the men’s team title for the sixth consecutive time with 1,158.5 points, while the University of Calgary Dinos were second at 876 points.
The University of Toronto won its first women’s national team title since 2016 and its 16th overall, after accumulating 1,336 points. UBC Thunderbirds, a 24-time team champion, were second at 1,166.5 points and McGill finished third at 872 points.
The Gee-Gees were 10th among the women at 225 points and Lauren Shearer scored a good percentage of the team’s points.
The Gee-Gees had 18 men and 13 women meet time criteria to qualify for the U Sports nationals.
“We’re pretty fired up. That was our dream to be in the top three,” Heinbuch said, after a two-day return trip from Victoria because of flight difficulties. “We thought we had a 50-per-cent chance. We were in second place up until the last day.
“We had a very experienced (men’s) team with seven grads. They realized it was their last chance and they all performed well. That’s the leadership of this team. The most impressive part was our depth.
“The support I get from Sue Hylland (director of varsity athletics) and Roger Archambault (assistant director, high performance) is a big part of this. They bought into my vision and support it.”
A former Olympic breaststroke swimmer and Nepean-Kanata Barracudas Swim Club coach, Heinbuch brought additional glory to the Gee-Gees’ swim program as the Fox 40 U Sports coach of the year on the men’s side. It was a first for Heinbuch and the university. Byron MacDonald of the University of Toronto was selected the U Sports coach of the year on the women’s side.
Before Heinbuch became the Gee-Gees’ head coach 10 years ago, he coached at the University of Waterloo and was twice named the OUA coach of the year.
“It feels good,” Heinbuch said about receiving his individual award. “I don’t know how many more years I’ll be doing this, but it’s validation of the hard work I put in and the work of my coaching staff (three assistants).”
Hugo Lemesle, a native of Nice, France, was a double medallist for the Gee-Gees in the men’s breaststroke event, earning silver over 50 metres in 28.00 seconds and bronze over 200 metres in 2:16.70. He placed fifth in the 100-metre breaststroke in 1:03.25.
In each of his two medal races, he finished one place behind the University of Toronto’s Gabe Mastromatteo, who was named the outstanding male swimmer of the championships. Lemesle trailed Mastromatteo by 0.47 seconds for the 50-metre gold medal.
The 50-metre silver medal gave Lemesle, a finance student, a berth on the U Sports second all-star team.
Lauren Shearer, a fifth-year human kinetics student-athlete from Kitchener, ON., earned her second career national university championship medal, when she was second in the women’s 200-metre breaststroke with a Gee-Gees record time of 2:34.15. Her silver-medal effort also put her on the U Sports second all-star team.
Shearer, a four-time U Sports Academic All-Canadian, won her first U Sports national medal in the same Saanich pool in 2020 with a bronze in the 100-metre breaststroke.
Nathan Beaudin-Bolduc, a third-year speech-language pathology master’s student from Levis, PQ., captured the bronze medal in the men’s 400-metre freestyle in 4:00.19.
A first-year sociology student at Laval, Ethier won gold in the women’s 50-metre breaststroke (31.80 seconds) and seized the silver in the 100-metre breaststroke (1:09.82).
Ethier, who is from Kapuskasing, ON. and attended Louis-Riel high school, missed qualifying in the morning short-course race for the 200-metre breaststroke A final by 0.85 seconds. But she won the B final in a long-course time of 2:33.19, which would have placed her second in the A final behind University of British Columbia’s Emma Spence at 2:33.08 and ahead of the Gee-Gees’ Lauren Shearer.
The RSEQ conference swimming rookie of the year, Ethier became the first Laval athlete to win the national award as the top first-year swimmer. Ethier’s victory in the 50-metre breaststroke also placed her on the U Sports first all-star team.
She was named Laval’s athlete of the month for February, after winning one gold and two silver individual medals at the RSEQ championships as well as one gold and one silver in the relays.
Cam Teasdale was Carleton University’s only qualifier for the U Sports nationals and the best result from his four-race package was a 15th in the long-course 50-metre breaststroke B final in 29.19. He broke the Carleton 50-metre breaststroke short-course record in qualifying, going 28.08.
Here are the Gee-Gees swimmers who qualified for other A finals:
· Allen Zheng: 50-metre freestyle – fourth (23.28 seconds)
· Evan Aguiar-Winter: 100-metre backstroke – sixth (57.03), 200-metre backstroke – fifth (2:06.28)
· Jamie Demers: 50-metre breaststroke – fifth (28.50)
· Alexandre Perreault: 100-metre butterfly – fourth (55.22), 50-metre butterfly – seventh, (24.86)
· Colin Shearer: 200-metre individual medley – eighth (2:08.03), 400-metre individual medley – sixth (4:40.19)
· Women’s 400-metre medley relay: Isabelle Melanson, Lauren Shearer, Abby McKinley & Shaunna Walker-deJong – sixth (4:23.47)
· Men’s 400-metre medley relay: Evan Aguiar-Winter, Hugo Lemesle, Alexandre Perreault, Louis Bertand – fifth (3:45.46)
· Ryan Jensen: 50-metre backstroke – fourth (26.45)
· Lauren Shearer: 100-metre breaststroke – fifth (1:11.67)
· Hugo Lemesle: 100-metre breaststroke – fifth (1:03.25)
· Women’s 800-metre freestyle relay: Isabelle Melanson, Rachel McInnes, Amy Meharg & Kate Hulford – eighth (8:39.13)
· Men’s 800-metre freestyle relay: Evan Aguiar-Winter, Louis Bertrand, Nathan Beaudin-Bolduc & Colin Shearer – fifth (7:37.16)
· Brendan Van Herk: 200-metre butterfly – fifth (2:06.22)
· Women’s 400-metre freestyle relay: Rachel McInnes, Shaunna Walker-deJong, Vanessa Thebarge & Isabelle Melanson – sixth (3:56.42)
· Men’s 400-metre freestyle relay: Allen Zheng, Louis Bertrand, Colin Shearer & Alexandre Perreault – sixth (3:27.41).
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Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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