Officially speaking, the Ontario Collegiate Equestrian Association (OCEA) is not a formally recognized sport, at least not under the umbrella of the OCAA (Ontario Colleges Athletic Association). That said, there may not be a more inclusive collection of like-minded folks in all of post-secondary sports.
In order to help grow what is obviously a relatively niche market, the boundaries of OCEA eligibility require only that a given rider have attended any competing college or university, in the province, within the past three years.
As a long time representative of the Foothills Farms competitive crew in Chelmsford, Leah Blanchette is thankful for the opportunity to take part, having now moved on from a couple of years of Dental Hygiene program studies at Cambrian College, looking currently at a degree in Commerce. There is, after all, something to be gained by all of the athletes who comprise this somewhat unique circuit.
“It's different in the sense that you don't know what horse you are going to ride,” explained Blanchette, returning for a second year as co-captain of the team, and third season in terms of her OCEA involvement. “You can prepare as much as you want, but you're not necessarily going to be prepared for that horse on that day.”
“You don't get a warm-up, you don't get anything. You show up and are told this is the horse that you are on. Even for entry level riders, this is only going to improve your riding. It's good to get a feel for other horses.”
The size and scope of the OCEA may come as a surprise to many.
A total of 20 teams are donning school colours from across Ontario, with the Laurentian University/Cambrian College Equestrian team one of seven who constitute the Central region. With riders sub-divided into categories that include entry, novice, intermediate and open, the field is a large one, with the LUCC grouping one that is 18 horse enthusiast large, as coach Paige Leclerc shows the way.
For Blanchette, Leclerc and company, the 2018-2019 campaign will mark a third one with a local entry, the squad having kicked off their schedule this past Sunday, at their home venue. Another six events are slated between October 14th (2018) and March 3rd (2019), with the OCEA championships to follow.
“The past two years, we wanted to finish top three in our zone,” explained Blanchette. “We were one of the smaller schools, just starting off, and we were new to this. Now, we've had the past two seasons to get that under us and we know what it's all about. We've had two really successful seasons, so we hope to go up from there.”
The team is back in action twice more this month, competing at Tiara Equine (Georgian College – Barrie) on October 14th, and at the Pickering Horse Centre (York University – Toronto) on October 28th.***************************************************************
Coming off a 3-3 tie with the George Brown Huskies one week ago, a game in which the Cambrian Golden Shield women's soccer team squandered a 3-0 lead, coach Evan Phillips and company did not need to be reminded just how important their rematch Saturday in Sudbury would be.
With playoff placement on the line, the locals spotted the Huskies an early 1-0 lead (Cynthia Pellegrino - 1st minute), pulling even in the 14th minute (Chelsie Sargeant) and picking up the critical game-winning goal in the 72nd minute, courtesy of rookie forward Julia Jajkowska.
“It was a beautiful through ball (from Taylor Bellini),” recollected Jajkowska, a 19 year-old native of Elmira. “It was a bit of a tough one, because I knocked it up, it hit their player and then bounced back to me, and I luckily got behind the ball and kicked it in. It was definitely an exciting goal, for sure.”
A member of the Guelph Jr Gryphons (level 1) team that advanced to the Ontario Cup finals a couple of years ago, Jajkowska clearly understood the focus on the coaching message this week, one which centered on the Shield failings from one week ago. “Mentally, we had to really focus,” she said. “We seem to struggle with what we call the “Fab Five”.”
“That's the first five minutes of the first half, then coming into the second half, the first five minutes, and then the final five minutes. This game, we really improved our Fab Five.” That, understandably, requires a complete team commitment, right across the pitch. Defensively speaking, freshman Becca Martin (Drayton, Ont) earned the coach's praise for the transition that she has made to an outside fullback position.
“I've mostly played forward, previously, so it was definitely different being back there today,” said the 18 year old student in the Dental Assistant program. “I can use my aggressiveness in both areas, but you have to learn to stay back a lot more as a defender than a forward.” With the win, Cambrian improves to 3-3-1 (10 pts), good for third place in the OCAA Central, three points clear of George Brown (2-4-1).
As for the Cambrian men, a sweep at the hands of the Huskies did not necessarily dampen the team's post-season aspirations, with a key home match-up with the University of Toronto – Mississauga Eagles closing the Shield regular season schedule on October 14th. Filipe Vilela was a one-man wrecking crew for George Brown on Saturday, netting a natural hat trick between the 42nd and 76th minutes.
David Nurali and Fares Akkari rounded out the scoring for the visitors, with Cambrian (2-5-0) hoping to hold on to fourth place and a play off spot ahead of the Eagles (1-5-0) when all is said and done.