After missing an entire season of formal competition, the Queen’s Men’s and Women’s Rugby teams are eager to resume and repeat their dominant performances of the past.
Women’s head coach, Dan Valley, feels reinvigorated going into the regular season.
“It’s been a really awesome energy,” Valley said in an interview with The Journal. “Everyone’s come in with a great attitude, and we’re slowly putting the pieces in place.”
Undeterred by the cancellation of the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19, both the men’s and women’s teams are displaying a positive energy heading back onto the pitch for the upcoming season.
Valley and his team hope to follow up an undefeated regular season and a second-place finish at the U Sports National Championships with another dominant campaign.
“There’s no one in the country we can’t beat if we show up and work our butts off,” he said.
Despite winning the OUA championship and being the team to beat at nationals, Queen’s fell to Laval University in the final of the 2019 U Sports Championships. A tough loss, Valley is nonetheless keen on utilizing lessons learned from their defeat to bolster an already impressive and experienced squad.
“We learned some valuable lessons from our 2019 final against Laval,” Valley said. “We’ve taken the last 18 months and have been able tweak things, not just to react to how that game went for us, but to come at this [season] in a way that might surprise other teams.”
Queen’s is also set to host the 2021 U Sports National Championships for men’s and women’s rugby. Originally scheduled to host in 2020, Queen’s was unable to oversee the tournament due to COVID-19.
Valley is unfazed by the added pressure of hosting the tournament. He and his team are focusing on the season ahead of them rather than pondering their potential results at Nationals.
“It’s not a matter of looking at this as ‘hey, we’ve got our tickets punched to the National Championships,’” Valley said. “We can’t look to November. We’ve got to look to Sept. 19, when we get to play an exhibition fixture.”
With their first regular-season game against Brock on Sept. 25 approaching fast, Valley cites veteran leadership as crucial to the team’s success long-term.
“We’re on the more experienced end, relative to our peers across the country,” he said. “We’ve got this group of more senior players that can help accelerate the development of our first and second-years.”
Conversely, Valley hopes the athleticism of his incoming recruits will add a strong physical component to the team.
Though their expectations for themselves remain high, Valley and his team are determined to stay humble and work hard. The squad is confident in their abilities heading into the season, though they are aware that nothing comes easy at this level.
“The challenge is, once you’ve achieved some of that success, just remembering how we got there,” he said. “It’s not about the jersey; it’s about the work we put in to fill the jersey.”
Overall, Valley says that the team’s energy is very high, and he and his squad are eager to return to scheduled competition after a year off.
Similar sentiments were echoed by Men’s Rugby head coach David Butcher, who spoke on the electric positive energy heading into the 2021 season.
“The level of energy is incredible,” he said. “We’ve almost had to put a leash on them sometimes from doing too much.”
On par with the women’s squad, the Men’s Rugby team went undefeated in the 2019 regular season and won their third OUA championship in a row to boot. The similarities did not stop at nationals, however, as the Gaels disappointingly lost to the University of Victoria Vikes in the U Championships Sports semifinals.
Butcher’s expectations match the team’s credentials. After three years of dominating the OUA, the team will be seeking to bring their provincial success to the national level.
“Our expectations, our outcome goals, are to win the OUA and to win Nationals,” he said. “It seems very straightforward, but obviously, we have to get past a lot of very, very good teams to get there.”
Motivation hasn’t been in short order on Butcher’s team. He says his players have maintained the desire to work and improve throughout the difficulties posed by the last year. Overall, Butcher hopes his team’s cohesiveness will lead them to success in the upcoming season.
Going into the season, Butcher believes the team’s speed and conditioning will be one of their greatest strengths. Prioritizing team fitness during the 18-month competitive hiatus has been key in forming a high-pace playstyle.
“Our speed around the park and our speed in action is going to be one of our biggest pieces this year,” he said. “I want to see [if we can] still at 82 minutes in overtime be going as hard as we were in the 35th minute.”
Even throughout a year rife with interruptions, Butcher applauded his players’ proactivity and determination.
“They’ve made the best of a bad situation,” he said.
Queen’s will see its rugby season begin this weekend, with both teams facing the Guelph Gryphons in exhibition games on their home turf. The men’s team will take the field on Sept. 18, while the women’s team will see their first action a day later, on Sept. 19.
Men's rugby, Queen's, Season Previews, Women's rugby
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