Ontario Tech Ridgebacks Looking to Shake Up OUA in Inaugural Season

Eniojukan, Christa
Christa Eniojukan has assembled a talented roster ahead of the 2019-20 season for the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks. (Source: BoxScore News) (Header: Ontario Tech Ridgebacks)

OSHAWA, Ont. — If you’re reading this, it’s not too late.

The 2019-20 basketball season is right around the corner, and we’re here to help you get set for what will surely be an incredible journey.

While we’re still looking back on an incredible 2018-19 season, one that saw two teams win their first-ever National Championships in school history, it’s also the perfect time to look ahead. The 2019-20 season promises to deliver a heightened level of excitement, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the new campaign.

To get fans across the country ready for the new season, we’ve taken on a challenge that hasn’t been done before. In the coming weeks, we will preview every team from coast to coast ahead of the 2019-20 season.

That’s 111 different programs, if you’re keeping a tally.

From August 8th through to October 6th, every team will be previewed in some capacity. For institutions that have both men’s and women’s basketball, a separate preview piece will be done for each team.

Rosters will be dissected and a look back at the year that was will help us determine what the team looks like this time around as every team begins with a blank slate in the standings.

Without further adieu, here is today’s preview on the women’s basketball program for the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks ahead of their inaugural season in 2019-20.

The 2019-20 season marks an exciting time for the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks, Not only did they launch a re-brand from their UOIT days, they will also take to the hardwood for the first time. The Ridgebacks are getting set to compete in the OUA for men’s and women’s basketball for the first time, pushing league membership to 18 teams.

With the league now home to 18 programs, the conference has gone back to three divisions with six teams apiece. The Ridgebacks will be in the East Division with the likes of the Ottawa Gee-Gees, Carleton Ravens, Queen’s Gaels, Nipissing Lakers, and Laurentian Voyageurs.

Here’s how the Ridgebacks are shaping up ahead of their inaugural season in the OUA.

Head Coach

Ontario Tech announced that Christa Eniojukan would serve as the Ridgebacks’ first women’s basketball Head Coach in program history back at the end of August, and the program has come together ever since. With her roots in the area, Eniojukan brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table for the Ridgebacks.

Prior to coming to Ontario Tech, Eniojukan served as the Head Coach of the Team Ontario U17 program from 2014 through 2017. Over that time, she helped guide the team to National Gold Medals in 2014 and 2017, while also winning Silver Medals in 2015 and 2016.

Most recently, Eniojukan has served as the Head Coach of the ASAD Durham Elite program for the last two seasons. Over that span, the team has seen six players graduate to Division I programs in the NCAA, while another two have made the move to U Sports institutions.

On top of her coaching, she founded Active Scholars in January. Active Scholars operates summer camps and other programming that utilizes the combination of sport development and STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – in interdisciplinary studies.

Highly regarded across the basketball community, the hiring of Eniojukan was a home run move for the Ridgebacks. Since her appointment as Head Coach, she has assembled a 10-woman roster that will look to cause a shakeup in the OUA East Division this season.

Incoming Talent

On the court, Coach Eniojukan and her staff have added a mix of experience and talent to their inaugural roster. A mix of transfer players with post-secondary experience and true freshmen fill out the first 10 spots on the roster. They have women with post-secondary experience, but they also have players with their share of talent.

Here’s a look at the 10 players Francis has added thus far.

Jade Lyons (Ottawa, Ont.) will go down in history as the first woman to commit to the Ridgebacks women’s basketball program. The 5’10” power forward brings versatility to the lineup with a strong inside-out game. Lyons served as a co-captain with her Canada Topflight Academy team, and will bring leadership to the court in Year One at Ontario Tech.

The first of two hometown players to commit to the Ridgebacks was guard Jolesha Allen (Oshawa, Ont.). Allen is familiar with the coaching style and systems of Eniojukan, as she has played with ASAD Durham Elite with Eniojukan as her Head Coach. The 5’9” guard is known as a good facilitator of the offense, and with her size in the back court, she gives the Ridgebacks a proven scorer.

Rounding out the pair of hometown recruits for Ontario Tech is fellow guard Christine Yogaretnam (Oshawa, Ont.). The 5’4” guard brings speed to the back court while possessing a high basketball IQ. At the club basketball level, Yogaretnam played for the Whitby Gladiators from 2014 through 2017. In 2016, Yogaretnam and the Gladiators won a Silver Medal at the Ontario Basketball Association (OBA) Championship.

The first of several transfers from the RSEQ for Eniojukan and the Ridgebacks is 5’8” guard Alexanne L’Heureux (Mont-Laurier, Que.). L’Heureux comes to Ontario Tech after playing for Nomades de Montmorency. She helped the Nomades secure a RSEQ bronze medal in 2017 and a provincial championship in 2018. Eniojukan is confident that the experience that L’Heureux gained at the CEGEP level will translate well to the OUA.

Vanessa Budimunda Bilekela (Montreal, Que.) committed to the Ridgebacks after a stint with the Champlain – St. Lambert Cavaliers in the RSEQ. Last season, Budimunda Bilekela and the Cavaliers lost in the RSEQ Championship game to the Dawson Blues. The 6’2” power forward averaged 8.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in 2018-19, and she will give the Ridgebacks a big size advantage inside.

Guard Bilan Khadar (Ottawa, Ont.) is a player that Eniojukan was familiar with from the high school circuit, having coached against her for three seasons. Khadar, a 5’10” shooting guard, capped off her Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association (OSBA) career with 19 points for Louis Riel, ending her career on a high note. With her length, Khadar can be an impact player on the defensive end for the Ridgebacks this season.

The third recruit to commit to Eniojukan and the Ridgebacks from the RSEQ was Dalyssa Fleurgin (Montreal, Que.). Fleurgin was a teammate of L’Heureux at Montmorency College, adding a level of familiarity to the mix as she joins the Ridgebacks. In 2017-18, Fleurgin averaged 12.5 points per game while helping the Nomades post a 12-2 record. She was also named the RSEQ Women’s Basketball MVP that year.

In the paint, the Ridgebacks picked up a commitment from 6’2” centre Katherine Onunkwo (Ajax, Ont.). During her high school career, Onunkwo was twice named Team MVP at Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School. An impact player on both ends of the floor, Onunkwo gives the Ridgebacks a strong presence inside.

Esongola, Sara
After three standout years with the Dawson Blues, guard Sara Esongola will be looking to help the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks achieve success in their debut OUA season. (Source: Ontario Tech Ridgebacks)

Sara Esongola (Montreal, Que.) comes to the Ridgebacks after three standout seasons with the Dawson Blues. While a member of the Blues, Esongola picked up a pair of silver medals at the 2016-17 and 2017-18 National Championships, plus a bronze medal at the 2018-19 National Championship. Esongola stood out on the defensive end of the floor, racking up 25 steals in just 14 games, an average just shy of 2.0 steals per contest.

Alyssa Carin (Brampton, Ont.) joins a talented back court rotation, giving Eniojukan another option on the offensive end of the floor. The 5’4” guard has been described as dynamic and crafty in the back court, and her competitiveness will help her make the transition to the OUA. The product of Father Michael Goetz Secondary School gives the Ridgebacks another talented player to run the offense from the point guard spot.

Rounding out the recruiting class thus far is Aprille Whyne (Montreal, Que.). The 5’4” guard is yet another transfer from the RSEQ, coming to the Ridgebacks from the women’s basketball program for the Vanier Cheetahs. This past season, Whyne was a key piece of the Cheetahs’ rotation, averaging more than 21 minutes of floor time per night. She averaged 7.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per contest.

Up and down their roster, the Ridgebacks have a ton of talent with their share of experience. With size in the middle and quickness in the back court, the Ridgebacks are shaping up to be an exciting team in 2019-20.

The 2019-20 season is just around the corner, and while there are still a few pieces left to the puzzle, the Ridgebacks are assembling a roster that will look to shake things up in the OUA this season.

Ontario Tech will open league play on October 25th when they head out on the road to take on the Queen’s Gaels. They return home for their home opener on Sunday, November 3rd when the Laurentian Voyageurs come to town. The Ridgebacks will look to hit the ground running once the 2019-20 season gets underway.

With several players having experience in the RSEQ over the last few seasons, the Ridgebacks will have leaders to fall back on if the times get tough early on. There will be growing pains as a new team, without question. However, the talent level is there for the Ridgebacks to shake up the OUA once the season gets rolling in October.

Be sure to bookmark our 2019-20 Season Previews page to keep up with the previews as they are released online.

– T. Bennett

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