Women’s rugby make presence on national stage

Gaels finished in tie for fifth at U Sports Championships

Credit: 
Lethbridge Athletics

Women’s rugby’s U Sports Championships campaign didn’t come without some bumps, bruises and a little bit of frostbite.

Their first national championship appearance since hosting the event in 2015, the Gaels finished the tournament in a tie for fifth place. The conditions in Lethbridge, AB — where the four-day event was held — were less than favourable. As the Gaels played, temperatures that often fell to negative 20 degrees were coupled with snow on the field.

“We will be able to leverage a lot of the experiences and trials and tribulations to make some really positive steps forward for our program,” head coach Dan Valley said following the tournament.

In their first match against the University of Calgary Dinos, Queen’s was stifled by their opponent’s attack. Despite keeping the match close for the opening moments, the Dinos scored first with a try in the 24 minute. Calgary capitalized on the momentum shift and took a 19-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.

The second half saw few signs of light, with the Gaels getting on the board in the 43 minute off a try from Molly Labenski. This was the first and final time Queen’s found the end zone in the match, with the score sitting at 41-5 at the final whistle.

With a consolation match scheduled for the following day, Queen’s arrived at the field and saw multiple centimetres of snow. As they were preparing to set foot into the cold, the referees notified both teams they would be postponing the match to Saturday due to a dangerous wind chill.

“When we got to the pitch and saw the conditions, everyone was a little nervous to play,” Kara Gani, third-year fly half and OUA All-Star, said of her teammates’ reluctance to compete in the frigid Alberta weather. “It was definitely not detrimental at all [to have it postponed].”

When Saturday rolled around, Queen’s was ready to go. 

Despite the quick two-day turnaround, the Gaels came out and put every last inch of themselves into the match.

“It was just one of those games that we knew that it was our last game of the tournament; we just wanted to give it our all. It was so much fun to play and a great way to end our season,” Gani said.

Led by U Sports women’s rugby Rookie of the Year Sophie De Goede, the Gaels stormed out to a 21-0 lead in the first 22 minutes and never looked back. De Goede accounted for Queen’s first two tries and helped the Gaels ultimately celebrate a 38-10 victory.

Albeit a convincing win, Gani said the team still felt the ill effects of below-freezing temperatures.  

“You never want to blame the conditions, but it was pretty hard to play the dynamic rugby we [play] when you’re playing in minus-20 [degrees] and the snow is blowing in your face,” Gani said describing the conditions. She said conditions in the consolation match were very similar to the day prior, with a sheet of snow still covering the turf.

“The ball would be dropped and you’d pick it up and your hands would be covered in snow,” Gani continued. “It took a lot to get used to, but we definitely played the best we possibly could in those conditions.”

“[The conditions] were unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my 15 years of coaching,” Valley said after completing his first full season as coach of the team. “I thought we did a nice job of acknowledging that everyone was going to have to play in it.”

The season was a success on many levels for Queen’s. Valley said it showed him that the future is bright for his team. 

“Everyone was super happy to be in that position and be able to go to nationals because only eight teams in the country get the chance to have that type of experience,” Gani said. 

“I think we were happy with that result — we’re just one big family as this point.”

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