Champs primed for repeat

Reigning title holders focused on continued performance despite new obstacles

Women’s rugby kicked off their title defence with a 61-12 shellacking of the York Lions. 2014 marks the first season in which the Gaels are the defending champions.
Women’s rugby kicked off their title defence with a 61-12 shellacking of the York Lions. 2014 marks the first season in which the Gaels are the defending champions.
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For the first time in Gaels history, women’s rugby is returning to the field as champions.

The team won the OUA title last October, toppling the five-time defending champion Guelph Gryphons 19-15 to take the cup. As an encore performance, Queen’s captured bronze at nationals — their first-ever CIS championship medal.

They’d spent the last few years as a team on the verge. Queen’s finished as OUA runners-up in two of the three seasons before they won the title, including a four-point loss to Guelph for the 2012 championship.

Ten months removed from winning, head coach Beth Barz said her team hasn’t treated the current season any different from the years before.

“The returning players worked extremely hard in the weight room in the off-season and those who were able to stay in the summer made extraordinary gains,” Barz said.

“Even some of our rookie players were able to make it up to train with our strength and conditioning coach this summer,” she added, “which gave them a very good look into what being a [Queen’s women’s rugby player] means and the kind of effort it takes to be a part of our team.”

Since last fall, the women have been working hard in the gym and on the field to ensure last year’s win wasn’t a one-time occurrence. Looking at the team’s season-opening performance against the York Lions — a 61-12 victory — they could be right on track to repeating.

Captain Claragh Pegg said the Gaels aren’t letting last year’s performance interfere with this season’s goals.

“I think winning OUAs last season only pushed us to work harder in the offseason,” the fifth-year forward said. “We’ve come back this year focused and ready, with our sights on CIS gold. We know the competition in the OUA and CIS is strong this year, but we have a group of unbelievably talented and dedicated players with us this year, so we’re definitely up for the challenge.”

Third-year fly half Danielle Underwood said despite having the championship in hand, the Gaels aren’t focused on the other teams looking to claim it.

“I think our past successes have made us set higher expectations for ourselves as a team,” she said. “We’re aware that other teams are looking to beat us, but we’re only focusing on ourselves, improving our system, and coming together as a unit.” There are many challenges the Gaels will face this season, but being OUA champions certainly comes with some benefits. Though Barz said the team’s recruiting model was similar to previous years, the team saw a much larger turnout at training camp than in the past.

The Gaels will face their first big challenge of the season on Sunday against the McMaster Marauders, one of the team’s biggest rivals and competitors in recent years. The two sides have consistently battled for the OUA’s Russell (East) Division title over the past four seasons.

Winning their division means the Gaels would likely avoid Guelph until the OUA final.

Last season, the Gaels beat McMaster 33-21, their closest margin of victory prior to the OUA championship. Sunday will set the tone for the rest of the season and indicate how the Gaels are handling the pressure of returning as champions.

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