Going up against perennial powerhouse squads from U of T and Western, the Gryphons swimming teams proved that they belonged to be mentioned among the province’s best schools at the OUA Championships last weekend in St. Catharines.
Led by a several dominant individual performances by Andrew Ford and Chantique Payne, who were both named OUA all-stars following the meet, Gryphon swimmers combined to win six gold, one silver and seven bronze medals over the four-day event, hosted by Brock University.
Ford’s gold medal haul began on Friday with a winning performance in the men’s 200m individual medley, and followed that up with another gold medal win in the 100m backstroke race on Saturday. Ford finished the tournament magnificently with two more individual gold medals in the 400m IM and 200m backstroke on Sunday and his four-day winnings of four gold and two bronze medals gave him the male Dr. Jeno Tihanyi IM award, along with his all-star nomination.
“Andrew is a world-class athlete and his goal is to make the Olympic team,” said head coach Don Burton. “To win all of his events at the OUA level fits right in with that plan.”
Will Wright, Matthew Stephenson and Ben Roberts, who also received an OUA all-star nod, were the other Gryphon individual medal winners as the men’s team finished with 468 points, good for fourth place overall and an improvement over last year’s fifth-place finish.
On the women’s side, Payne continued to assert herself as one of the country’s most prolific athletes, particularly in the butterfly events, as she won a pair of gold medals in the women’s 50m and 100m butterfly races, along with a bronze medal in the 100m freestyle competition, earning her OUA all-star status.
“Chantique’s 50m butterfly time was hundredths of a second away from being her personal best,” said Burton. “Considering she didn’t have her best turn or finish, it was a very fast time for her final result and it shows that she has potential to go even faster.”
“I’ve been working really hard on my turns and usually they’re pretty good,” said Payne. “For some reason, my split times were way off [at OUAs] but it pulled together ok.”
Payne’s spectacular performances, along with a bronze medal finish by Bethany Flemington in the women’s 50m backstroke were enough to earn the Gryphon women a seventh-place finish with 262 points.
Payne’s 2009-10 season has been nothing short of outstanding. The third-year swimmer appears poised to make numerous appearances on the podium at the CIS national championships in Toronto later this month, where she qualified for no fewer than ten different events, yet in accordance with league rules, is only allowed to compete in four. Payne will be among the favourites in the butterfly and freestyle strokes, both at the 50m and 100m distances.
“I’m really excited for these CI [championship races],” said Payne. “This year, I swam a lot faster at the beginning of the season and I’m really looking forward to the next step.
“Two years ago, I won bronze in the 50m butterfly and last year, it was silver. The girl who beat me both times has now graduated so we’ll see how things go. I really want to move up to the gold.”
Payne will be joined at the CIS championships by Ford, Stephenson, Wright, Roberts, Flemington, Scott Van Doormaal, if he is capable of competing, and any other Gryphon qualifiers between now and Feb. 19, when the events begin.