By Martin Cleary
The role models are firmly in place for the newly-promoted University of Ottawa Gee-Gees men’s and women’s squash teams.
The Gee-Gees’ squash program was recently upgraded by the athletic department to competitive sport club status from its previous rating as a student federation club. Tennis has followed the same progressive path.
At last month’s OUA squash championships, both Gee-Gees teams saw what it takes to be champions from a pair of legendary programs.
The University of Western Mustangs were crowned the OUA men’s team champion for the 39th consecutive year, while the Queen’s University Gaels made its eight provincial women’s titles in a row.
While the Gee-Gees finished at the bottom of their preliminary pools at 0-3, the men’s team defeated the McMaster University Marauders 4-3 in the seventh-place match at the eight-school championship. Ottawa’s women’s team was eighth, losing to Brock University Badgers 6-1.
As the Gee-Gees head into the future with some funding from the athletic budget, the men’s and women’s teams are guided by one of the top OUA coaches over the past 12 years. The program also will do its own fund raising, recruit sponsors and accept all donations to cover its expenses.
For the seventh time in his career, Vinit Kudva was selected an OUA coach of the year at the 2023 championships. He was named the top coach in the men’s division, which he previously won five years consecutively from 2014-18 with the University of Waterloo Warriors. He also was coach of the year in the women’s division in 2012.
By having status to play in the OUA, Kudva, who has been developing squash at the University of Ottawa since 2018, hopes to attract some international student/athletes.
“Previously, international students, who were elite junior players in their home countries, might have given lesser consideration to uOttawa compared to other Canadian schools, where squash has official university backing and status,” Kudva said in a news report posted on the Ottawa District Squash Association website.
“Now, however, uOttawa stands to attract these students as well as Canadian-raised top juniors, who when looking at a university, want an institution where they can continue to play and to develop.”
The University of Ottawa has 21 competitive sport clubs. The Gee-Gees’ Tier 1 varsity sports are basketball, football, hockey and swimming for men and basketball, hockey, rugby, soccer, swimming and volleyball for women. Its varsity club sports are cross-country running, men’s golf, rowing, men’s rugby and track and field.
As a competitive sport club, student-athletes on the squash and tennis teams can now wear Gee-Gees’ colours in the OUA league, which is recognized for its elite-level competition.
Last October, the Gee-Gees used their promotion to competitive sport club status to play in their first OUA tennis championships. The last time the tennis program had recognition from the Gee-Gees’ athletic department was in 1991, according to the OUA.
Tennis club president Ryan Zanganeh and head coach Zhenya Kondratovski were the driving forces behind the Gee-Gees earning competitive sport club recognition and being one of seven universities at the OUA championships.
At the OUA annual general meeting in the spring, the Gee-Gees will request returning its women’s hockey and women’s volleyball teams to the OUA from the Quebec-based RSEQ.
“We have declared our intent, but it needs OUA approval in May,” said Roger Archambault, the university’s associate athletic director, varsity sports. “It should be a formality for inclusion in the 2024-25 season.”
The OUA is the University of Ottawa’s home conference and Archambault wants the players on the two women’s teams to have a more diverse and competitive experience in larger leagues.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 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 High Achievers “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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