For sports fans and non-sports fans alike, attending collegiate sports events is one of the best ways to increase school spirit and get the full ‘university experience.’ However, sports are far more enjoyable when you have some idea of why you should care. To that end, here is a brief rundown of some of the most interesting UNB sports storylines to follow over the upcoming year.
Return of women’s hockey
Varsity women’s hockey will make its long-awaited return to UNB this fall, ten years after the administration downgraded the team to a sports club. While they cited funding issues to justify the cut, former player Sylvia (Bryson) Dooley argued gender discrimination and filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. The administration agreed to reinstate the team mid 2016 after the New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board ruled in Dooley’s favour.
UNB hired Sarah Hilworth as head coach in June 2017; she has spent the past year building the team’s coaching staff and roster from scratch. While the team is likely to face challenges considering the roster is made up entirely of rookies, Hilworth stated she believes the team is capable of reaching the playoffs this season.
The team will play its first regular season game on Oct. 13 against Mount Allison at the Aitken Centre. The following afternoon will mark the return of the ‘Battle of the Hill’ as UNB hosts rival St. Thomas.
Men’s hockey aiming for third national title in four years
UNB men’s hockey suffered a heartbreaking semi-final loss to St.FX this past March, dashing their dreams of winning a third straight U Sports championship. Despite this painful ending at nationals, the team experienced a dominant season and will likely return to the ice stronger than ever. Nearly every core player from last year’s team is returning and will be joined by another strong class of rookie recruits.
Headlining the team’s incoming rookies is Philadelphia Flyers draft pick Sam Dove-McFalls. Joining him are Mark Rassell – a forward who scored 50 goals last year as captain of the Western Hockey League’s Medicine Hat Tigers – and former Kamloops Blazers defenseman Joe Gatenby, who made his professional debut last season with the Atlanta Gladiators of the ECHL. Rounding out the Varsity Reds new recruits are forwards James McEwan and Matthew Boucher; Boucher is the son of long-time NHL defenseman Philippe Boucher. Former Toronto Marlie Patrick Watling is also making his debut on Aitken Centre ice after sitting out the entirety of the 2017-18 season for his redshirt year.
The greatest reason for optimism this season is the likelihood that key players from last year’s team, such as Kris Bennett, Tristan Pomerleau and Tyler Boland, will continue to improve after a year of U Sports play. Their performance last season played a major part in UNB’s dominance, despite the belief that the team would struggle in the wake of their departing veterans.
How will men’s basketball fare without Javon Masters?
Mere months after claiming their first Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference championship since 1967, UNB varsity men’s basketball team appear to be entering a rebuild year due to the departure of fifth year guard Javon Masters. Masters closed out his legendary U Sports career in fitting fashion last March, as he played a key role in ending the team’s 51-year championship drought and became the all-time scoring leader in the history of Canadian men’s varsity basketball. He was also named AUS MVP for the third time in his career.
Certainly, it is unrealistic to expect any player to fill the shoes of a once-in-a-lifetime star like Javon Masters. The team’s fitness and depth, which Masters credited for their title win against St.FX last March, will become critical factors for the 2018-19 season. The Varsity Reds have also brought in Jaden Matthews, a 6’1” point guard hailing from Edmonton, to help fill the void left by Masters. Matthews is considered a versatile and hard working player; he once scored an incredible 71 points in a single game in high school.
Women’s volleyball looks to rebound after winless season
2017-18 was a season to forget for UNB varsity women’s volleyball as they finished in last place in the AUS conference with a record of 0-20. The team’s head coach of six years and former AUS coach of the year, Jilliane Portelli, then announced her resignation in order to focus on her family. Former University of Alberta Golden Pandas assistant coach Christine Biggs was announced as Portelli’s successor in early June. Biggs’ past experience includes working as assistant coach with the Canada women’s sitting volleyball team during the 2016 Paralympic games and serving as head coach of Team Alberta’s silver medal-winning U18 team at the 2017 Canada Summer Games. She will now take on the challenge of shaping up a team that has finished last in their conference for the past three seasons.
The team does have significant reason for optimism after successfully recruiting fifth-year veteran Siobhan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is transferring from University of British Columbia Okanagan, where she proved to be an important player for one of the top teams in the country. The team also added to the roster rookies Katie MacDonald of St. John’s, NL and Frederictonian Catherine Burns.