The Mustangs badminton team upset the rankings to finish second overall at the 2020 Ontario University Athletics' Championships.
Coming into the tournament seeded third, Western University emerged a victorious underdog in a stiff field of competition.
However, the third ranked seed is not an easy place to stand. As per the structure of the championships, the top two seeded teams have their pool play and playoff matches on separate days, a luxury not typically experienced by the third ranking team.
As the Mustang squad can attest, being in this position is a true test of endurance.
In preliminary rounds of the championships, the Mustangs showed promise with back to back shutouts against the University of Guelph and Ontario Tech University.
The following day, Western took on the McMaster University Marauders, the team they had taken down in the 2019 championships for the bronze medal.
Though the Marauders put up a good fight, the Mustangs found success and walked away with a score of 7-3.
Just hours later, the Mustangs took on the Ryerson University Rams in the quarter final and again sauntered off with quite a convincing win of 6-1.
Things started to heat up in the semi-finals, where the Mustangs took on Waterloo University Warriors in a closely matched competition characterized with much back and forth.
In a number of close matches, Mustangs head coach and fourth-year athlete Sean McGowan took on Waterloo’s rookie, Kevin Wang. The two were locked head-to-head, but McGowan was resilient and clinched the win in the men’s singles with a score of 21-19.
Onto the men’s doubles, McGowan and newcomer to the team Andrew D’Souza competed together to steal a necessary win for the team.
They squared off against the Warriors top doubles team and, although they were the underdogs, their team encouragement pulled them to victory.
“The other matches had finished and we were the only match playing in the gym,” said McGowan. “Once the gym got loud and all eyes were on us, we thrived on the pressure and made it work for us.”
This win sent the Mustangs to the gold medal round, where their most tenacious competitor awaited them.
The University of Toronto has won the past five consecutive OUA championship titles, virtually uncontested. In past championships, the Blues have been accustomed to winning the gold medal round in a shutout.
Though the Mustangs suffered a 6-2 to the Blues, they were able to disrupt Toronto’s cushy sphere of dominance.
“A lot of teams haven’t touched them [Toronto] in the past few years, I think they are definitely scared of us moving into next year,” said McGowan.
Nevertheless, the Mustangs were able to supersede their original ranking in a triumphant conquest for the silver medal.
As for individual performances, Western had two athletes recognized for major awards and four given OUA All-Star status.
D’Souza was awarded OUA most valuable player honours for his stellar performance at the championship. By failing to drop a single match throughout the entire tournament, D’Souza proved himself the dominant player in the OUA.
Though a technical rookie to the team, D'Sousa has a long and decorated history with the sport. A former national men’s singles champion, D’Souza was a game-changing addition to the team’s roster.
After suffering an injury in the 2016 season, D’Souza turned his attention away from athletics and towards academics. Now working on his PhD at Western, he has found his way back to pursuing both.
First-year athlete Stanley Feng donned OUA rookie of the year honours for his consistent and impressive performances.
Further, OUA all stars included Cara De Belle, Samantha Zheng, Sean McGowan and Andrew D’Souza.
Needless to say, a season of such success proves that the team continues to be a force of contention.
“Next year, I definitely think if we get a full season under our belt with this momentum we will contend for the championship again,” said McGowan.