Back in December, we looked back on some of the Western Mustangs highlights for the 2017 fall semester. Now, with the 2018 winter season starting, it's time to see which teams are worth keeping an eye on over the next few months.

Women’s hockey

The Mustangs knew coming into this season that they needed to be good, perhaps more so than usual. That’s because Western is hosting the U Sports national women’s hockey championship in March, and the host team automatically qualifies.

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Defenceman Emma Pearson attempts to steal the puck during a game against the Windsor Lancers on Oct. 14, 2017.

Unfortunately, unlike with the Canadian Hockey League and the Memorial Cup, the Mustangs can’t stack their team through trades leading up to the tournament. Instead, they’re relying on the talent already in the dressing room.

Thankfully, there’s plenty of that. In fact, Western might be in the mix for the national championship even if they weren’t guaranteed to qualify. The Mustangs have 31 points this season, good for second in the OUA, behind the Queen’s Gaels.

Western’s powerful offence is led by third-year April Clark, who’s first in the league with 11 goals. Rookie goaltender Carmen Lasis is holding down the fort in the back end, with a .924 save percentage and a 1.88 goals-against average.

Even though they’ll be at nationals anyway, the Mustangs would certainly like to make a splash in the OUA playoffs this winter.

Track and field

At last year’s U Sports championship, the Mustangs hung around with all the country’s heavyweights. The women’s track team came third overall, and the men finished fourth.

With a new year just beginning, coach Vickie Croley and the Western team will hope to improve their 2017 results. The season had a promising start in December, when the Mustangs claimed 53 medals at the Bob Vigars meet.

Plenty of new contenders have emerged for Western, including Emilia Grala, a former high jumper who, in her fourth-year, decided to compete in the pentathlon. Michael Petersen, who recently transferred from Fordham University (an NCAA Division I school in New York), looks to be a force in the 600-meter run.

Both the men’s and women’s teams won the 4x200-meter and 4x400-meter relays at the season-opening meet, and Mustangs athletes dominated the shot put and weight throw competitions.

The Mustangs have a lot of medal-hopefuls for the OUA and U Sports championship meets, which will take place in late February and early March in Toronto and Windsor, respectively.

Men’s basketball

The 10-2 Brock Badgers seem to be running away with the OUA West Division, but the Mustangs have a lot to play for this winter. They’re second in the division, currently .500 with a 6-6 record.

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Eriq Jenkins leads the Mustangs with 12.8 points per game.

That may not be particularly impressive on its own, but when you consider their performance at this point last season, it’s a different story. Western has quickly turned into a plucky team that can make some noise come post-season. Of course, they’ll still find it hard to challenge the likes of Brock or the undefeated Carleton Ravens, but things are looking up for the Mustangs.

They’re one of the stronger defensive teams in the OUA, sitting sixth, with an average of 73 points against per game. Offensively, they’re led by second-year Eriq Jenkins, who’s putting up 12.8 points per game and shooting 42 per cent from the field.

Western started the new year with a 78-76 win on Friday over the Laurier Golden Hawks. They’ll hope that’s a sign of good things to come in the next couple months.

Men’s squash

The squash team is always a team to watch at Western. It’s been 35 years since the men’s team lost an OUA championship, and this year, they expect to be just as dominant as always. 

They’ve been good so far this season, winning plenty of competitions before the break. The Mustangs finished the fall semester with wins over Laurier, Guelph and Waterloo at the Jesters event. At the end of November, they went toe-to-toe with some strong competition from the U.S., beating Cornell University and Williams College.

This year, the Mustangs are led by some young talent, with second-years David Mill and Matt Henderson coming off dominant performances at last year’s OUAs. Gavin Maxwell has also been a key member, standing out against Cornell in particular.

The OUA competition will take place during the second weekend in February at Queen’s University, where Western will be trying to defend the title they’ve held for more than three decades.

Women’s volleyball

As usual, the women’s volleyball team is a contender in the 2017-18 season. They’re second in the West Division (despite playing two fewer games than some of their rivals) with a 5–2 record.

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Kelsey Veltman leads the Mustangs with 4.9 points per set and 1.56 blocks per set.

When the season resumes on Friday at Ryerson University, the Mustangs will try to improve on a three-game winning streak that dates back to Nov. 17. They finished the fall semester with some high-calibre performances, beating both Queen’s and the RMC Paladins in straight sets.

Statistically, the Mustangs are all over the OUA leaderboards. Kelsey Veltman is third in the league with 3.33 kills per set. Kat Tsiofas is second with 8.71 assists per set. Western is also the best blocking team in the province, with Veltman and Danielle Grasman sitting first and second with 1.56 and 1.13 blocks per set, respectively.

Western had a Cinderella run last season, qualifying for the U Sports championship and finishing sixth in the country. This year, they could be even better, with plenty of young talent in players like second-years Melissa Langegger and Carly Kimmett.

Just four of their 12 remaining regular season matches will be in London, so they’ll be in hostile territory for much of the 2018 home stretch.

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Charlie is a third year student in Media, Information and Technoculture, and is a second year sports editor for Volume 111 of the Gazette. Follow him on Twitter @charliejclarke or contact him at charlie@westerngazette.ca

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