Starting Five: Bechard, Grant Emerge as Early Player of the Year Candidates

Grant, Leashja
Leashja Grant put together a pair of impressive performances to kick off the 2018-19 OUA season and help Lakehead start 2-0 with a pair of wins over Algoma. (Source: U Sports) (Header: @BechardBurke on Twitter)

SARNIA, Ontario — The season is only a week old, but the race for the OUA title in 2018-19 will undoubtedly be an exciting one.

Over the first week, we saw the defending national champions pass their first big test on their quest to repeat. Three players in particular put forth some impressive performances over their school’s two games to assert themselves as the front-runners for OUA Player of the Year in the early going. Fans were even treated to the first overtime game of the season, as the Western Mustangs needed an extra five minutes to knock off the Laurier Golden Hawks.

It may have been one week, but there was a ton of excitement that had added more intrigue to the rest of the 2018-19 season that’s still to come. A handful of teams are undefeated, and they will look to keep their streaks going as long as possible.

Among the impressive team performances, there were several key individual performances that stood out among the rest. Here is the first edition of the Starting Five, highlighting five players from the week of October 22-28, 2018.

Starting Five – October 22-28, 2018

Burke Bechard – Guelph Gryphons

17 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 6 steals in 70-40 win vs. Western
16 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals in 70-63 win at Brock

Burke Bechard had herself quite the opening weekend for the Guelph Gryphons, helping guide the team to a pair of wins with two complete performances. The Gryphons were at home to start the season with a game against the Western Mustangs, then they closed out the week on the road against the Brock Badgers. When the dust settled, Guelph’s record read 2-0, and Bechard put herself squarely into the Player of the Year conversation.

In her 2018-19 regular season debut, Bechard stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and six steals. Guelph knocked off Western to open the season with a win, 70-40. On the road against Brock, Bechard was a at it once again, helping guide the Gryphons to the 70-63 win with another strong two-way performance. She posted 16 points and 14 rebounds for her first double-double of the year, while adding three assists and four steals. For the week, Bechard averaged 16.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 5.0 steals per game.

Leashja Grant – Lakehead Thunderwolves

16 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 steals in 110-53 win vs. Algoma
26 points, 18 rebounds, 1 assist in 81-60 win vs. Algoma

Leashja Grant and the Thunderwolves kicked off their 2018-19 season with a pair of home games against the Algoma Thunderbirds. Grant wasted little time before asserting herself among the OUA’s best players, posting a pair of impressive individual performances that helped lead Lakehead to a perfect 2-0 start to the season.

In the season opener, Grant stuffed the stat sheet while leading Lakehead to the 110-53 victory. Grant went for 16 points, seven rebounds, three assists and five steals to a strong performance on both ends of the court. The next night, Grant asserted her dominance on the glass, recording her first double-double of the season the Thunderwolves’ 81-60 win. Grant went for 26 points and 18 rebounds to cap off a strong first weekend for Lakehead. Overall, Grant averaged 21.0 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game over the two wins.

Put Grant alongside Bechard as two of the early season candidates for OUA Player of the Year.

Hilary Hanaka – McMaster Marauders

21 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals in 75-33 win vs. Waterloo
21 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals in 74-66 win vs. Windsor

Over the first two games of the season for the Marauders, Hilary Hanaka was a model of consistency, posting nearly identical stat lines in each of McMaster’s wins over the week. The Marauders have their sights set on the OUA title this season and returning to the U Sports Final 8 National Championships, and with a pair of quality wins to their name already, McMaster is off and running early on.

The Marauders opened the year with a pair of home games. Up first, McMaster easily disposed of a young Waterloo Warriors team to open the season, 75-33. Hanaka went for 21 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals in the win. On Saturday, the Marauders were in tough against the always-dangerous Windsor Lancers. McMaster got 68 points from their starting five, and they picked up the 74-66 win. Hanaka went for another 21 points and three rebounds, but added two assists and three steals to flip-flop her totals from the game against Waterloo.

Rachel Woodburn – Laurier Golden Hawks

12 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists in 63-51 win at Brock
15 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists in 68-65 OT loss vs. Western

Entering the new season, Rachel Woodburn was going to be one of the main focal points for Laurier on both ends of the floor with the loss of Nicole Morrison. Through two games, Woodburn appears to be more than ready to take on a starring role with the Golden Hawks, as she posted two solid performances while helping Laurier earn a split in their two games to open the season.

In their home opener against Brock, Woodburn posted 12 points, five rebounds and six assists to guide the Golden Hawks to the 63-51 victory. On Saturday, Woodburn and the Golden Hawks were on their home court for their home opener against Western. While Laurier would fall in overtime to the Mustangs, 68-65, Woodburn flirted with a double-double on the night, posting 15 points and nine rebounds to go along with three assists. For the week, Woodburn averaged 13.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per contest while being selected as Laurier’s Female Student-Athlete of the Week for her efforts.

Kayla Deschatelets – Laurentian Voyageurs

25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals in 86-60 win vs. Nipissing

While they may have had just one game this weekend, Kayla Deschatelets and the Laurentian Voyageurs made sure to start the season off on the right foot. Laurentian’s men’s team finished off their exhibition season this past week, putting the spotlight solely on the women as they opened their regular season with their home opener against the visiting Nipissing Lakers.

Deschatelets was a force on both ends of the court in the Voyageurs’ 26-point victory over the Lakers, 86-60. She posted a game-high 25 points to lead the way offensively, but Deschatelets also added five rebounds, five assists, and four steals over the course of the game. It was an impressive performance that flew under the radar on a national scale, but deserves its share of attention as Deschatelets was key to guiding Laurentian to a season-opening victory.

– T. Bennett

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