Defending champ U of A tennis looking for first championships

    U of A won in 2014, but now seeks first titles in new format

    By Matt Gutsch on August 12, 2015

    The University of Alberta Golden Bears and Pandas tennis teams are well positioned to win their second consecutive Tennis Canada University Championship title as the 2015 tournament gets underway on August 14 at the Aviva Centre in Toronto. 

    The event, which coincides with the Rogers Cup women’s championship running from August 8-16, has a new format this year however. The six previous iterations of the Canadian championship tournament saw competing teams play a mixture of singles matches (three men and three women) and doubles matches (two men, two women, and one mixed) for an overall match score, and a shot at one overall championship title.

    That format forced competing universities to have strong men’s and women’s programs if they were to have a shot at the title, and under that format the Université of Montreal won four of the six championships, while McGill won in 2013 and the U of A claimed the title in 2014.

    But, in 2015, the competing universities will now be able to compete for separate men’s and women’s titles, so while the Golden Bears and Pandas are defending champions, they are also gunning for the program’s first men’s and women’s respective titles.

    “Both the Golden Bears and Pandas teams are approaching the upcoming national championship from the perspective that they would like to be the first school to win the new format,” said long-time U of A head coach Russ Sluchinski. “I am sure however, that the other schools still see us as the defending champions and will be very motivated to defeat us.”

    The championship victory last season was the first national championship title in the history of Golden Bears and Pandas tennis, and represented the first time a school outside of the province of Quebec won the title. Although, in the six years of the previous format, the U of A dud accumulate four medal performances, including three consecutive silver medals from 2011 to 2013. Prior to that, the Evergreen and Gold tennis program competed in the NAIA against predominantly American programs at championship tournaments held in various places throughout the US.

    The Pandas will begin their quest this year on August 14 at 9:00 a.m. EST when they take on the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, while the Golden Bears will see first serve at around 11:00 a.m. EST against Western.

    Both the Golden Bears and Pandas are strong contenders for the men’s and women’s titles this weekend in Toronto thanks to a wealth of returning championship veterans and a solid influx of new talent.

    “Marko Laschuk, a fifth-year with the Golden Bears and fourth-year Pandas Britt and Erika Voaklander all have championship experience three or four times over and will be counted on to lead their respective teams,” said Sluchinski. “But, our new recruits, including Mark Hamill, Jeffrey James, Sidney Yap and Keith Lam for the Golden Bears and R.J. Gan and Maki Oba for the Pandas are also exceptional players,” he added. “We will need our rookies and veterans to have a great weekend if we hope to bring home the championship trophy.”

    The new format also means an increase in the amount of championship competitive teams. Whereas before, competing teams needed to have strong men’s and women’s programs in order to win the title, now, with respective men’s and women’s titles up for grabs, universities with strong programs in either gender are now legitimate national championship contenders.

    “We’ve always strived to consistently have strong men’s and women’s teams which was a big advantage with the old combined format,” noted Sluchinski. “With the new format more teams will be in the mix to win the championship, and teams which have great depth in their line-ups will have a better chance of winning as more players will compete in each dual match and you need to win more singles and doubles matches in the new format. But, ultimately I like the fact we now have a chance to compete for two national championships instead of one.”

    Count the U of A among the teams competitive for a shot at the hardware, but Sluchinski expects the field to be pretty strong as well.

    “I expect all the men’s teams to be tough opponents,” he noted. “Laval’s men’s program is making its first appearance at the national championships, but on paper could be one of those teams that really benefits from the new format. On the women’s side York, Montreal and Toronto are all really strong, and all of those programs had strong men’s and women’s programs in the past, so I expect they will all be very competitive this year as well.”

    The championship tournament gets underway on Friday, August 14 and concludes on Sunday, August 16. Full tournament schedule is below.

    University Tennis Championships

    Friday August 14, 2015 – Aviva Centre

    York University vs. Universite de Montreal – 9:00 a.m.
    University of Toronto vs. University of Alberta – 9:00 a.m.

    Western vs. University of Alberta – 11:00 a.m.
    University of Toronto vs. Laval University – 11:00 a.m.
    Saturday, August 15, 2015 - Rexall Centre
    CONSOLATION MATCHES - Starting at 10:00 a.m.

    Sunday, August 16, 2015 - Rexall Centre
    Women’s championship – 10:00 a.m.
    Men’s championship – 12:00 p.m.