By Anil Jhalli
The nation’s capital has been flooded with Canadian championships competitions to celebrate Canada 150, but a number of Ottawa teams and athletes have continued to capture Canadian crowns in other corners of the country as well this year.
Nepean Nighthawks players got the party started with a historic triumph at the Field Hockey Canada National Championships in Surrey, B.C.
Eastern Ontario sent 4 teams to the July 18-25 event for the first time, and the under-18 boys came back with the region’s first-ever national gold medal.
“Everyone knew that our team was one of the deepest rosters built in years,” says Marek Chopra, named to the national all-star team. “I thought we had a good group of guys with a lot of experience between us.”
Chopra was 1 of 9 local players to compete for the Ontario U18 squad. Chopra, Rajan Singh, Nitty Rewankar, Joshua Kuempal and Adam Sourges all earned the opportunity to represent Canada on upcoming tours and events, while Akash Tantra, Jeremie Fradette-Roy, Evan Davidson and Shaylen Naidoo were also on the team.
The group earned a 3-2 victory over B.C. in the championship game to improve on their bronze medal performance at last year’s nationals and 5th-place finish the year before.
It was quite the accomplishment for a team that only practiced all together once right before the tournament started, but Chopra notes that most of the players were already familiar with each other’s style of play having come through the program together.
“We knew this was coming because we have been working for this for years,” highlights the past Canadian junior indoor team member. “To be in this spot and to finally be here with the same guys that finished 5th 2 years ago makes everything that much sweeter.”
Sandeesh Singh, head coach of the U18 boys’ team, had initially set his sights on a top-3 finish.
“I truly believed we could compete for the gold medal, but knew that the B.C. team would be extremely competitive. They had a group of players that went to India in December to play in the U21 World Cup,” Singh outlines, underlining the significance of the victory for local field hockey. “It not only validates our training program, but will allow us to reach out to other kids and show them the path to be competitive with the best players in the country.”
The Nighthawks were the driving force behind getting all 4 Eastern Ontario squads (U18 girls and U15 girls and boys were the others) to the nationals, including nearly $30,000 in fundraising to help get the teams to B.C.
“For our relatively small program to produce results like this is really incredible considering the size of programs in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver,” signals Marek’s father Sandeep Chopra, who founded the Nepean club 9 years ago. “This was an incredible effort and truly a community effort. Ottawa has the best volunteers around.”
A silver medallist for Team Canada at June’s FIBA Americas U16 Women’s Championship, Merissah Russell continued her standout summer in winning gold with Team Ontario at the July 24-29 Basketball Canada 15-and-under national championships in Regina.
The Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School student was a first-team national all-star, while fellow local player Isabella Gaudet was 4th in scoring for the undefeated team, coached by Ottawa’s Fabienne Blizzard.
Local players Darius DeAveiro, who played the third-most minutes for the team, and Isaiah Pemberton helped the Ontario U15 boys to gold as well. The 88-71 final against Quebec was the closest game they had in earning 5 straight wins.
Josh King was crowned king of the Henley as the Ottawa Rowing Club athlete won 4 gold medals at the Aug. 6-13 Royal Canadian Henley in St. Catharines, which featured more than 2,400 rowers from 137 clubs from across North America.
The 24-year-old captured national titles in the senior men’s single, lightweight single, the championship single and the lightweight pair with teammate Jason Sukstorf.
ORC’s Lilianne Page won gold in the lightweight women’s single dash.
At the Aug. 11-13 Canadian Legion youth track-and-field championships in Brandon, Man., Ottawa Lions runner Joe Fast won a silver medal in the midget men’s 2,000-metre race.