Golden double in sight for tricolour

Familiar foes await Queen’s at Nixon Field and in Quebec City, with a pair of titles just a few wins away

Men’s rugby cruised past Western on Sept. 28 by a score of 36-18 en route to a perfect regular season.
Men’s rugby cruised past Western on Sept. 28 by a score of 36-18 en route to a perfect regular season.
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The Gaels’ Lauren McEwen was named Russell (East) Division MVP this season.
The Gaels’ Lauren McEwen was named Russell (East) Division MVP this season.

Men

Men’s rugby has found themselves in a rematch of epic proportions.

The Gaels will host the Western Mustangs tomorrow at Nixon Field in the 2013 OUA championship game.

This is the second straight season these adversaries have met in the league final. Last year, the Gaels took home the top prize with a 29-18 victory.

This season, both teams have been heavyweights in their own rights. Queen’s has had an undefeated season (7-0), outscoring their opponents by a combined 303-50.

Comparatively, the Mustangs have had a nearly perfect season (6-1), with their only loss coming by a score of 36-18 to the Gaels on Sept. 28. They sit second in the OUA with 296 points for and 71 points against.

The Gaels aren’t going to have an easy time securing a victory at Saturday’s game. As head coach Peter Huigenbos has said, the playoffs are an entirely new season, so the question remains whether the team can bring home another OUA banner.

Huigenbos thinks this year’s team is equal to, if not better, than last year’s squad, and victory is a likely possibility.

“This year’s team is very focused on individual accountability and making sure every player is prepared to do his job on the day — just a lot of ownership,” Huigenbos said. “The team is going to work if you have committed individuals working hard, knowing what to do and being mentally prepared to do what you need to do on game day.”

Huigenbos emphasized the club’s defensive improvement since September’s meeting with the Mustangs.

“We gave up a lot of line breaks to Western,” he said. “They have talented players that got outside us and scored some tries. Since that game, we’ve been much better at defence on the outside.”

Huigenbos also said the team has improved as the season has continued.

“Set piece work with our forwards has improved every week since that Western game,” he said. “It is a relatively short season, so you want to be better in a lot of facets of the game each week.”

Fourth-year player Jacob Rumball is confident the Gaels’ forwards will dominate Western physically and lead Queen’s to victory.

“Perfection in line-outs and scrums, on both sides of the ball, is our goal for Saturday,” Rumball said.“It’s essential that the forwards are able to be physically dominant. Outworking Western will allow our backs to capitalize on their speed and skill outside.”

Like last year’s final, the game will take place at Nixon Field. Rumball said home-field advantage will be a benefit for the Gaels tomorrow.

“There’s nothing better than playing for gold in front of a home crowd,” he said. “It’s days like Saturday that we play rugby for.”

Back-to-back championships have become a rarity in OUA rugby, with no team bringing home banners two years in a row since the McMaster Marauders in 2006.

Still, Rumball is confident that his team is well-trained and ready for anything.

“Preparation throughout the week is essential — we’ll be practicing and fine-tuning many aspects of our game so that we can come out on Saturday ready to deal with anything that occurs on the pitch,” he said.

Erin Stephenson

Women

Coming off the biggest win in program history, women’s rugby’s first national medal is within grasp.

A 19-15 triumph over the five-time defending OUA champion Guelph Gryphons last Saturday gave Queen’s their first-ever league banner and a number two seed at the CIS championships.

For a Gaels side boasting fifth-place CIS finishes in 2010 and 2012, it’s a chance to finally reach the national podium.

“The focus has been really great,” said Gaels head coach Beth Barz. “They had a chance to celebrate, and enough of the girls have been to CIS before that they understand the grueling schedule that it is. They’re focused and ready.”

Queen’s enters this year’s CIS tournament — which runs throughout the weekend in Quebec City — ranked atop Pool B, alongside the third-seed Alberta Pandas and the number six Laval Rouge et Or.

The Gaels had never won a round-robin match at nationals until yesterday, when they topped the host Rouge et Or 19-17 in their first of two preliminary games.

They’ll face the Canada West champion Pandas tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. If Queen’s wins, they’ll advance to Sunday’s gold medal game.

“We know we’ll have some good rugby on our hands and some good players across from us,” Barz said. “Once you get to this point in the year, all the teams are going to be gifted and good and have their own strengths and weaknesses, as well — more strengths than weaknesses.”

Guelph is pooled with the top-seeded St. Francis Xavier X-Women — who beat the Gryphons 37-0 in last year’s national final — and the fourth-ranked McGill Martlets, champions of the Quebec conference.

National championship seeds are determined by the classification of the previous year’s tournament, rather than a subjective ranking system.

Guelph’s status as national runner-up in 2012 ensured this year’s OUA champ would enter as the second seed.

Queen’s fifth-place finish guaranteed that slot for the other OUA qualifier, but the Gaels’ win last Saturday earned them the higher position.

“It was great that Guelph’s performance last year meant we could be seeded second,” Barz said. “We feel like we’ll be able to represent that seeding well.”

With one of the country’s deepest rosters, Queen’s is well-stocked heading into nationals.

Five Gaels were named Russell (East) Division All-Stars this season, while third-year centre Lauren McEwen won divisional MVP honours.

As the OUA’s second-highest scorer in the regular season, McEwen led the league in individual points during the playoffs.

Rookie wing Karley Heyman finished second on the club in scoring, while fourth-year props Claragh Pegg and Devon Stride and third-year forward Loren Baldwin were also tabbed as All-Stars.

Despite losing Nadia Popov, the 2012 OUA Rookie of the Year who’s currently training full-time with the Canadian national program, this Gaels squad has gone further than any before.

“The biggest thing that I can see is the belief of being able to win,” Barz said. “The girls were [physically] strong before 2012, they were strong before 2013. I think it’s the mental strength that’s really making a difference for us.”

On the cusp of history for the second time in as many weeks, Barz said her team is fixated on the season’s final stretch.

“Earlier in the year, we were chatting a little bit more about gold medals and stuff, and that died down a little bit,” she said.

“I think the expectations are [that] we don’t really need to talk about it. Keep going and win each game.”

Nick Faris

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