New beginnings for women’s rugby

Women’s rugby welcoming new coaches, young blood to help improve on previous success

Center Nadia Popov was selected to be an OUA All-Star last season.
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It’s a season of new beginnings and fresh starts for the women’s rugby team. 

Earlier in the summer, Queen’s welcomed Dan Valley as the women’s rugby coach, who will look to build on the success Beth Barz provided the program over the course of her tenure. Further, the team boasts a strong new crop of \first-year players who are expected to bring an added energy to a leadership-strong team.

With 14 first year’s joining the team, the Gaels will be filled with new faces. In an interview with The Journal, Valley was firm about the fact that this wasn't a gamble on a younger generation. Rather, it was the way the cards fell when training camp came to a close.

“First year, second year, third year, fourth year, fifth year, I didn’t really care coming in. It was looking at athletes that were going to try and play the game that I think I would play it and athletes that were going to be willing to put the work in. That was our big sort of look-for, it wasn’t necessarily about going with a younger side versus an older side,” Valley said.

Of those who returned from last year, it’s clear that Queen’s has a lot of talent across the field. Team-leading scorer and centre Nadia Popov, alongside lock McKinley Hunt and wing Lauren Murray were all named OUA All-Stars last year. 

Scrum half Jordi Di Nardo was also named OUA rookie of the year. Di Nardo was the first Gael to win the award in the program history since Popov did so back in 2012-13.

To build the foundation of the program, the team will have a lot of their new players take part in key roles. Earlier this summer, Queen’s welcomed Sophie De Goede to the program. Unlike most athletes who play one sport, she will be playing for the varsity basketball team in the winter term. The back row player impressed in her first OUA, posting 16 points against Guelph.

The Gaels are coming off of a strong season in which they finished fourth in OUA after losing to Western in the bronze medal game. While some coaches would look to build on this result, Valley’s main focus is to instill a strong level of work ethic to the team before they look at results.

“It’s really easy for teams to talk about the standards that they want to uphold…to me, it is the actions day-to-day and actually personifying those ideas,” said Valley. 

It’s a change he knows won’t happen overnight.

“We could be successful this year but I think as far as achieving sustainable success, this year’s about building the foundation,” he said. “If that means winning an OUA championship, fantastic, but if it means setting the precedent as far as our expectation day-in, day-out, even better.”

In expressing the culture he wants to bring to the team, Valley was very blunt.

“A hundred per cent accountability, zero excuses.”

The Gaels season is already underway, as they nearly pulled off an upset against the defending OUA champion Guelph Gryphons on Saturday, despite falling by a score of 38-31. The women are set to play the Western Mustangs this Saturday afternoon in their first home game of the season.

 

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