The McMaster University golf team was in Ottawa last weekend for the Ontario University Athletics Golf Championships at Loch March Golf & Country Club.
The two-day event is the only tournament that is officially recognized by the OUA, but universities hosted invitationals thought the year determine if teams meet the qualifying standards in order to be eligible to play in the OUA championships.
“Typically over a four-week snapshot the players are playing 14 tournament rounds,” explained McMaster head coach John Najev. “It’s fairly condensed, and it varies from us traveling to Ottawa with Carleton, down through Kingston with Queen’s, University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa and the London area for Western.”
Their last tournaments before the championships included Mac’s very own invitational on Sept. 28 and the University of Toronto’s Invitational on Oct. 6.
The 2017 season is Najev’s first as head coach. Last year, he was brought in to co-coach the team fairly late, so the team missed several events and was unable to truly get things organized. His main goal for this year was to bring the team up to standard.
“This year we finally have it structured to where I think a true team needs to be,” said Najev. “We have the proper apparel and we are playing a full schedule, which all helps our representation out there.”
Throughout the season, events hosted by different universities allow individual players to come, but not necessarily every player on the team. So when coach Najev has the opportunity to send everybody to an event he does.
“We have a great young squad and the team has bonded really well,” Najev said. “So although nine players are only eligible to play in the OUA championships, we’re taking the entire team because I look at it as being an entire team event.”
Though the competition in the OUA is tough, Najev believes the team will use this year as well as the next few years to grow to hopefully become a top calibre team.
“We’re not quite there yet, but I can see us being there in the next year or two,” said Najev. “We’ve had a third-place finish so far this year on the men’s side as well as the women’s side. And the women have had a couple fourth-place finishes, so we have been very competitive this season.”
It was not too long ago that McMaster’s women’s team was a one-woman team when Katie Schmidt was the women’s team first member. During her time at Mac, she was able make an immediate impact on the province, winning the OUA women’s individual golf title in 2002 as well as in 2003. Fast forward 14 years later and the Marauders women’s team currently has five women on it.
“Last year we only had two ladies and they had to compete as individuals,” said Najev. “The way the ladies’ competition works is that you send four players and the best three count. So now they are able to compete as a team.”
As for the men’s team, there are five returnees and six new players this year. Some notable returnees are Ethan Hurst, a third-year player and team captain, John McPherson, who is also in his third year, and Andrew Pearson who individually finished in sixth place in last year’s OUA Championship.
“It’s been a transition and learning experiences for a lot of the guys,” said Najev. “We’ve gone through some coaching and some fundamentals changes within their mechanics of their golf game, as well as their golf swings, to try to build and progress as we move forward for spring and the following years.”
This year, the Toronto Varsity Blues and the Western Mustangs dominated the OUA championships. Toronto’s Laura Upenieks won the women’s individual title while Charles Fitzsimmons of Western took home the men’s individual title. As for the team events, Western’s men brought home the team title, while U of T’s women won the women’s title.
Although the Marauders were not able to take home any trophies this year, they hope to take the team down south to get in some more playing time in the offseason.
“We’re looking to do some things in the springtime, like possibly going away somewhere in the sunny south during reading week,” said Najev.
Hopefully, with the lessons learned from this year’s championships, and experience from the invitationals in the U.S, they will be more than equipped to take on the OUA championships next year.