Laurier Kickoff weekend ends in mixed results

A year after making a surprising run to the second round of the playoffs, the Golden Hawks football team will need to rely on a stiff defence to make the playoffs again.

A 37-18 win over Queen’s looks impressive until an examination of the box score reveals that Laurier was down 18-16 with six minutes to go in the game. An interception from Godfrey Onyeka was the play that changed the game as Onyeka returned the interception 26 yards for the touchdown.

A Queen’s fumble on the following kickoff gave Laurier the ball at the Queen’s 26. After struggling for most of the game, Julien John threw a touchdown to Mario Villamizar (his fourth career reception). John had thrown four interceptions up to that point, so this throw provided some redemption for the old starter. If you don’t recognise his name from his previous starts, that’s okay. John took two years off before returning this season after Laurier lost both of their starting quarterbacks from last season.

The defence was the real story for the Golden Hawks, however, as they totalled nine sacks while forcing five turnovers. It looks like it will be a long season for opposing offences as Laurier limited the Gaels to only 209 total yards.

With stars returning at every level of the defence, this type of dominance should become the new standard. Defensive End Kwaku Boateng returns after winning the J.P. Metars Trophy for best defensive player in the OUA. Boateng had a strong start with two sacks and three tackles for loss along with consistent pressure along with fellow end Robert Smith. Boateng is expected to be a first-round pick in the next CFL draft so enjoy his dominance while you can.

The man with the game-changing play should be making many more this season, as Onyeka was a first team All-Canadian last season at the cornerback position. Onyeka was all over the field making nine total tackles (8 solos) to lead the defence.

Tied for the team lead in solo tackles with eight of his own was another all-star, Malcolm Thompsom. In his second season, Thompsom could be a breakout star. Unfortunately, he was limping near the end of the game and may have picked up an injury.

The only remaining all-star on offence is receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr. The sophomore is expected to play a large role in the offence this year, and contributed 43 yards on three receptions including a touchdown. On a reverse, Gittens received a pitch and broke away with his elite speed for a 31-yard touchdown, Laurier’s first of the season.

In the backfield, the giant shoes of the legendary Dillion Campbell have been re-fitted for senior Eric Guiltinan, who was able to run for 85 yards on 21 carries, and scored a touchdown late.

Kicker Nathan Mesher continued his strong play for last season when he led the conference in Field Goals made. Mesher scored the first six points for Laurier, including hitting a career long from 49 yards out.

A pair of ties against Guelph and Waterloo is not what many expected from the OUA silver medalist last season, but the women’s soccer team should improve as the season progresses.

Laurier lost a majority of their starting lineup from a squad that advanced to the CIS championships last season, with eight rookies making their debut last Saturday.

The major loss for Laurier was Emily Brown, a five-time OUA first team all-star. Stepping into her role through the opening weekend was Maxine Murchie. Murchie scored two of Laurier’s three goals including a goal in the final minutes against Waterloo to secure the 1-1 tie. Murchie struggled last season, but scored 12 goals and looks to be back in top form.

Another key player returning for the Golden Hawks was midfielder Katie Bishop. Bishop is in her fifth and final year of eligibility, and has been an all-star every year. Bishop was joined by her midfield partner Julie Karn, who is entering her third year.

The defence is one area where Laurier is full of experience with a pair of seniors – Jacky Normandeau and Tierney Dunham. When third-year Pauline McCordic is added to the mix, there are a combined 85 starts between just those three. The back four still has new talent coming in with freshman Jeevan Parhar and Ellie Reid starting both games on the back end.

In goal a big game from returning starter Ashley Almeida helped Laurier hold on against Guelph. Almeida made 10 saves in total with a couple of big saves in the second half to help out her team.

With the possible return of senior Nicole Lyon, an OUA first team all-star last season with 13 goals which tied for the team lead the team could improve. Sophomore Gagan Parhar, who scored seven goals on her way to winning OUA West Rookie of the Year, could also potentially return as the season progresses. A big game against the defending West division champion York Lions on Sep. 3 will be an early season measuring stick.

After an opening weekend of blowouts, Laurier’s men’s soccer team appears headed towards another season of making the playoffs without advancing far once there.

A 4-0 loss to Guelph to open the season was not what the team expected, but a 3-1 win over Waterloo was a positive end to the weekend.

Allowing a goal into the opening minutes to the defending OUA champions is not how Laurier wanted to start their season. A goal near the end of the second half ended the day for returning goalie Ryan Mandryk.

Freshman Jadrien Gomes allowed two quick goals but eventually settled down to make a couple of saves.

The Gryphons’ defence did not give Laurier many chances. Niklas Bauer, the only Golden Hawk to score more than two goals last season, came close, but lacked the finishing touch he needed.

The game against Waterloo got off to a much better start with Junior Nikola Miokovic scoring a penalty for Laurier’s first goal of the season. After scoring six goals in his debut season, Miokovic struggled last year with only two goals, but looks to be on better form early this season.

Bauer set up Miokovic early in the second half as the offence continued to roll. In the final minutes after the Warriors scored to make it a one-goal game, Laurier would end the game with a goal. Miokovic would return the favour to Bauer, who scored his first of the season.

In net freshman Rocco Strazella made four saves and may be the starter moving forward.

The Golden Hawks have seven players returning who started at least 14 games last season on the way to a first-round playoff loss. This group includes Bauer, Miokovic at forward, with Luca Pietropaolo, Callum Fleming and Gurjinder Garcha in the midfield. The defence is led by veterans Brady Kelly and Tahrik Rodriguez.

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