By Martin Cleary
Excuse me for a moment, but my world is spinning rather fast these days.
Everywhere I look, Ottawa athletes are winning championships, reaching finals and stepping onto medal podiums all around the world.
This past weekend was a perfect example.
Experienced doubles player Gabriela Dabrowski played a key role in Canada winning its first world women’s tennis championship at the Billie Jean King Cup in Spain.
Cassandre Prosper and Syla Swords helped Canada advance to the 2024 Olympic women’s basketball qualifying tournament with a perfect 3-0 record in Colombia.
Ivanie Blondin opened her World Cup long-track speed skating season in Japan with one gold medal and had another one get away from her.
Rachel Homan reached the final of another Grand Slam of Curling event in Nova Scotia, but fell one point short of victory and a 14th title.
On the university playoff scene, Katie Newlove completed her post-secondary season in London, ON., by winning the U Sports women’s cross-country title.
And those are just the highlights. So, let’s get into it.
DABROWSKI INSTRUMENTAL IN CANADA WINNING FIRST BILLIE JEAN KING CUP
Excuse me hockey and soccer fans, tennis should now be the talk of sport in Canada.
Less than a year after the Canadian men’s team won its first Davis Cup championship, the national women’s team responded with a “We-Can-Do-That-Too” message by winning the Billie Jean Cup in Seville, Spain.
With an interesting roster of experienced and young players, Canada went undefeated in the 12-country world team championship, which earned Tennis Canada the $2.4-million grand prize from the $9.6-million jackpot. The prize money was equal to the 2022 men’s Davis Cup financial structure.
Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski was one of the cornerstone players on the Canadian team along with singles sensations world No. 35 Leylah Annie Fernandez and No. 258 Martina Stakusic.
Dabrowski won all three of her doubles matches and improved her career doubles record in the world women’s team championship, formerly the Federation or Fed Cup, to 15 wins and seven losses.
Canada defeated Italy to win the historic final 2-0 on Sunday. Stakusic, playing the opening match for a fourth straight time, defeated world No. 43 Martina Trevisan 7-5, 6-3, and Fernandez turned back No. 31 Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-3 to spark the unprecedented Canadian celebration.
Dabrowski, whose first Fed Cup match was in 2013, wasn’t required to play in the final, but her role was greatly appreciated by Team Canada in semifinals. After Canada and Czechia split the two singles matches, world No. 8 Dabrowski and Fernadez teamed to outlast highly-ranked Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova 7-5, 7-6(3) for a 2-1 decision and a berth in the final.
In the round-robin, Canada blanked Spain 2-0 and Poland 2-0 and Dabrowski had a pair of straight-set doubles wins with Eugenie Bouchard.
“It’s a really great moment for us,” Dabrowski said during an on-court interview after the final match. “I think playing for a country like Canada, we’re all very proud to do so. We come from a really great nation, we have a lot of great backgrounds and ethnicities. And we’re really grateful to have the chance to play on this stage in front of Billie Jean and in front of everyone who’s come.”
CANADA REACHES OLYMPIC WOMEN’S BASKETBALL QUALIFYING TOURNAMENT
Capital Courts Academy grad Cassandre Prosper and Syla Swords, the daughter of former national men’s team player Shawn Swords of Ottawa, had almost identical stats as Canada charged its way through a FIBA Olympic pre-qualifying women’s basketball tournament in Medellin, Colombia.
Canada advanced to the 2024 Paris Olympic qualifying tournament with convincing efforts that saw it defeat Venezuela 81-39, Colombia 70-53 and Puerto Rico 77-68.
Prosper averaged 15 minutes of floor time and registered 8.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists. Swords had similar stats – averaging 15 minutes of playing time, 8.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists.
BLONDIN WINS MASS START GOLD, LOSES MIXED GENDER WIN
Ivanie Blondin has returned to the long-track speed skating World Cup wars for another season and left Obihiro, Japan with one gold medal and a lost gold medal.
On the opening day, Blondin excelled in one of her favourite races, the women’s mass start, and placed first in the 22-skater field in 8:25.11.
In the last race of the final day, Blondin and Antoine Gelinas-Beaulieu appeared to have posted the fastest time in the three-heat mixed gender race, which is a new feature on the circuit.
But in the dash to the finish, Wesley Dijs of The Netherlands fell and slid through the final timing station as Gelinas-Beaulieu placed first. But officials disqualified Gelinas-Beaulieu because they ruled he did not hold his line on the final straight.
Blondin was Gelinas-Beaulieu’s teammate in the mixed gender race.
As usual, Blondin kept herself busy in her 2023-24 World Cup debut, earning a silver medal with Ottawa’s Isabelle Weidemann and Valérie Maltais of Saguenay, PQ., during the team pursuit in 2:59.03, placing sixth in the 3,000 metres in 4:05.68, and finishing 11th in the 1,500 metres in 1:58.31.
Weidemann struggled to ninth place over 3,000 metres in 4:08.56 and 14th in the 1,500 metres in 1:59.22.
Cumberland’s Vincent De Haitre was 11th in the men’s 1,000 metres in 1:09.31, which was the identical time of the 10th-place skater. He also was eighth in the 1,500-metre B final in 1:48.07.
TEAM HOMAN PLACES SECOND IN KIOTI NATIONAL CURLING FINAL
One end, one point and one missed opportunity prevented a record-extending 14th Grand Slam of Curling title for Ottawa Curling Club’s Rachel Homan.
After winning four straight round-robin matches and a pair of playoff encounters during the Kioti National in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, Team Homan reached the final against Korea’s Eun ji Gim. It was a catch-up match the entire way for Homan as her rink fell 7-6 in the championship game.
Using the hammer, Gim scored two in the first end. Homan responded with one in each of the next two ends to even the match 2-2. But Gim counted two more in the fourth, which was matched by Homan for a 4-4 score after five.
Gim struck again with two in the sixth and Homan replied once again with another two to tie the seventh and enter the eighth and potentially final end at 6-6. Gim had the hammer and scored one for the victory.
In the playoffs, Homan scored a pair in the first, fourth and seventh ends to defeat Kerri Einarson of Gimli, MB., 7-4 in the quarterfinals, and notched four multiple-point ends for all her points to turn back Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg 9-6 in the semifinals.
NEWLOVE WINS NATIONAL CROSS-COUNTRY RUNNING TITLE FOR UBC
The University of British Columbia Thunderbirds won the women’s and men’s team titles at the U Sports cross-country running championships in London, ON.
Katie Newlove of Ottawa and the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club was a big part of the success of the women’s team. She won the women’s eight-kilometre race in 29 minutes, 6.8 seconds and finished 11.4 seconds ahead of Université Laval’s Catherine Beauchemin.
Her individual victory also earned her a share of the women’s team aggregate title and selection to the U Sports first All-Canadian team. Newlove entered nationals as the Canada West Conference champion.
Ottawa’s Kara Fitzgerald also is part of the Thunderbirds women’s program, but didn’t race at the national championships.
University of New Brunswick’s Olivia Baggley of Ottawa was 60th in 30:05.8, and Ottawa’s Elizabeth Vroom of Queen’s University took 66th in 31:14.8.
The top Ottawa runners in the men’s eight-kilometre race were Will Cox of Queen’s, 19th in 25:25.7, and Andre Alie-Lamarche of the University of Ottawa, 28th in 25:35.6. Cox helped Queen’s finish third in the men’s team standings.
EARLY EXITS FOR GEE-GEES, RAVENS AT U SPORTS SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIPS
The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s team and the Carleton University Ravens men’s team could sense a medal entering the U Sports soccer championships.
But they finished far from the medal podium, combining for only one win in the five games between them.
The Gee-Gees dropped their opening game in Kingston 1-0 to eventual champion University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. Cassandra Provost and Jenna Matsukubo saw three of their four shots apiece stopped by Thunderbirds goalkeeper Dakota Bennett.
In the consolation round, the Gee-Gees defeated St. Francis Xavier University X-Women 2-0 on goals by Maya Dussault and Eva Bouity and the shutout goaltending of Cassidy Joslin. But in the fifth-place game, the Western University Mustangs won the Battle of Ontario, posting a 1-0 decision over Ottawa, which had only one shot on goal.
The Thunderbirds won the gold medal with a 1-0 win over Trinity Western University in double overtime. Third-year arts student-athlete Jade Taylor-Ryan of Ottawa was on the UBC roster.
Meanwhile, the Ravens needed penalty kicks in their opening game in Sydney, Nova Scotia, and lost to the Université de Montréal Carabins.
Daniel Assaf tied the game 1-1 at the 58:58 mark, but there was no more scoring in regulation and two overtime periods. The deciding penalty kicks went seven rounds and ended 5-4 for the Carabins. Raphaël Garcia, Luca Piccioli, Eric Yoseke and Kevin Kaba scored for the Ravens.
Carleton was eliminated from the national championship, when it lost its first and only consolation game 2-1 to St. Francis Xavier X-Men. Brady Curkovic scored the Ravens’ goal in the 90th minute, after the X-Men’s Blake Fenton counted what proved to be the game-winning goal at 88:26.
The host Cape Breton University Capers shut out the Carabins 1-0 in the gold-medal match and the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds used the same score to earn the bronze medal over the Mount Royal University Cougars.
Former West Ottawa Warriors midfielder Jason Hartill played a majority of the championship contest and was a starter in his rookie year for the Capers.
Ottawa’s Eric Lajeunesse is a defender for the Thunderbirds.
GEE-GEES SWEEP 4 BASKETBALL GAMES AGAINST WESTERN, WINDSOR
The defending national champion Carleton University Ravens and the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s teams each won a pair of OUA basketball road games. Carleton and Ottawa are in second and third place respectively in the OUA East Conference at 3-0 and 2-1.
The Ravens defeated the Western Mustangs 72-46 and the University of Windsor Lancers 57-52.
Teresa Donato came off the bench to lead the Ravens against the Mustangs with 20 points, five rebounds and three assists. Kyana-Jade Poulin led the Ravens in the win over the Lancers with 12 points and six rebounds, while Tatyanna Burke had 11 points and nine rebounds, Kali Pocrnic connected for 10 points and six rebounds and Jacqueline Urban contributed nine points and 15 rebounds.
The Gee-Gees also were unbeaten in Southern Ontario, defeating Windsor 74-58 and Western 65-54.
Natsuki Szczokin had 17 points and five rebounds and Emily Payne added 15 points and four rebounds for the Gee-Gees in their win over the Lancers. Melina De Iulio paced Ottawa against Western with 20 points and seven rebounds.
Meanwhile, the national-champion Carleton men’s basketball team had a rare two-loss weekend, falling 98-92 to Western and 82-68 to Windsor, dropping the Ravens to fourth place in the OUA East Conference at 1-2.
Aubrey Dorey-Havens came off the bench against Western and recorded 24 points and eight rebounds for the Ravens.
The No. 1-ranked Gee-Gees improved to 3-0 and second place, after defeating Windsor 81-68 and Western 84-77. Brock Newton was the Gee-Gees’ standout in both games with 25 points and six rebounds against Windsor and 28 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Western.
NATIONAL TITLE FOR 4 OTTAWA WOMEN’S HOCKEY PLAYERS
Four local players celebrated a gold medal with Team Ontario Red at Hockey Canada’s Nov. 5-11 National Women’s Under-18 Championship in Dawson Creek, B.C.
Defender Tristan Thompson scored a goal and three assists, Lexi Bertelsen contributed two goals, Jessica Cheung had a goal and an assist and Grace Outwater got two assists in Ontario Red’s six wins in seven days.
The tournament final against Quebec went to overtime before Ontario Red quickly ended it on the powerplay for a 3-2 win and a sixth consecutive gold medal.
LAST, BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST
· Pan-Am Games team silver medallist Amy Millar of Perth was named the leading Canadian rider and the leading lady rider at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. She was fourth in the $80,000 Canadian Open International Speed Challenge with GCS Athena and sixth with Christiano in the $250,000 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup.
· The Kristy Watling rink of Winnipeg surrendered five points in the final three ends and lost 7-6 to Kim Rhyme of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the final of the MTC Curling Cup. Ottawa’s Emily Deschênes plays second on Team Watling.
· Canada defeated Brazil 15-25, 25-21, 25-22, 25-20 in the opening game of the WPV sitting volleyball World Cup in Cairo. Anne Fergusson of Carleton Place is on the Canadian roster.
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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