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A trio of Gaels discuss the close of their careers

Brendan Sloan was a forward on three straight OUA men’s rugby championship teams.
Brendan Sloan was a forward on three straight OUA men’s rugby championship teams.
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Women’s hockey captain Shawna Griffin claimed two OUA titles in five years with the Gaels.
Women’s hockey captain Shawna Griffin claimed two OUA titles in five years with the Gaels.
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Melissa Jung scored the OUA title-winning penalty kick for the Gaels in November of 2011.
Melissa Jung scored the OUA title-winning penalty kick for the Gaels in November of 2011.
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In university athletics, players have only five years to don their school’s jersey before their eligibility runs out and they graduate.

Every team loses a handful of players each year at Queen’s. While the holes they leave on the depth chart get filled by incoming recruits, the impact on the programs they played for aren’t as easily replaced.

A trio of Gaels – all of whom captured multiple university championships – will see their time at Queen’s finish after this year. The Journal sat down with men’s rugby forward Brendan Sloan, women’s hockey captain Shawna Griffin and women’s soccer defender Melissa Jung to discuss the end of their collegiate careers.

What was it like coming into Queen’s as a first-year athlete?

Sloan: The Queen’s rugby club has so many guys – it’s a massive club. That was very good for a first-year, because even if you aren’t playing at the top level, you’re playing with some of the older guys that maybe aren’t at the top-team level – which I wasn’t in my first year.

Griffin: I was very lucky to be part of a big storybook championship run, so it was a pretty amazing experience. The amazing history going down with that was a pretty special experience for me, and something not many first-years are able to say.

Jung: Tough. I think most people can say that. I think it’s really hard to balance a varsity sport with school, especially since you’re focused on practicing and on the next game you’re playing.

What was your greatest accomplishment while you were at Queen’s?

Sloan: The championships that we won. We just capped off a third consecutive championship and doing that in my last year, it was a great send-off for myself and a lot of the older boys, because we were an older group.

I started on one of these lower teams – I didn’t come in and play all five years. Queen’s rugby really makes their guys work for it, and when you do something like win a few championships, it really means a lot personally.

Griffin: Making it to fifth year and being named captain was a pretty big accomplishment for myself. I always thought I was someone everyone could look up to. It’s very special to me to have led this team for the past year and show my leadership skills and hopefully integrate everyone into the team as best I could.

Jung: Not a lot of players can say they won back-to-back nationals and then silver at nationals, and I’m really humbled by that fact.

But for me, I think the most special thing was coming in first year, not knowing what to expect and then being able to play on the team and bring it all the way to nationals and win it in overtime. Just the team that year, a special chemistry and special connection with them.

What’s it like to win an OUA or CIS championship?

Sloan: The experience comes in just the memories. It’s not like anybody really looks at you differently — it’s just how you interact with the boys on your team. It’s unreal to talk and reminisce about the crazy games and the crazy times that you’ve had winning those championships.

Just knowing that all of your bodies put in the same amount of work as you did over the years and eventually it all paid off towards a similar goal.

Griffin: Being two-time [champs] was pretty amazing. Both times were completely different experiences, even though both came with a wave of emotions.

It was indescribable being able to be named an OUA championship, especially in my first year. The story that was told with that one, winning every game in overtime and first win for the Queen’s Gaels in 32 years.

Jung: It’s very humbling. Not a lot of players are able to say they did that. A big part of it is being on a team and doing it with other people. To put all that work into training and transferring everything that we do in practice with the coaches into the game and being able to succeed in that is very rewarding.

How do the less successful years contrast to your championship seasons?

Sloan: It’s not the way you want to end the season – not winning a gold medal. When you do win a gold medal, it seems like everything comes together. All that hard work from late August and all that work from the off-season, it makes it seem worth it.

Griffin: Each season, it’s not defined by the end. I don’t look back at those seasons and say they were failures, I say those seasons in particular were building blocks towards something that came in my third year and something that will come hopefully next year for the Gaels.

Jung: It’s more challenging mentally and emotionally when you’re not winning, but at the same time, every year is so different. Every year, you connect with different players. I call my team my family and I got to be part of five different families.

We didn’t perform as well as we wanted to this year, but I got to play the sport I absolutely love, playing with other people who absolutely love playing the sport. I have no regrets in that.

What was the one defining moment or play of your career at Queen’s?

Sloan: The first time that I started a championship game. Just when that final whistle blew and seeing the whole club with their orange toques rushing onto the field. I’d been in the crowd and seen finishes like that, and I always wanted to be part of it.

Griffin: Winning the OUA championship in my first year. Winning it in overtime against Guelph. That moment of knowing we just won the OUA championship was one of the most memorable moments I’ll ever have — something I’ll be able to carry with me forever.

Jung: Scoring the winning penalty kick in OUAs in my second year. All I had to do was place it in, and that was really special, to finish it off and win OUAs that year. Afterwards, I figured out that my boot had a huge hole in it when I was taking the penalty shot, so I’m glad that didn’t really screw anything up.

What is it like to leave your program?

Sloan: It’s something that I’ve thought about a lot. You always kind of think as an older guy and you talk with some of the other graduating players about [if] you’ve left this sport or this team in a better place.

Taking that next step and knowing that I personally will probably never be playing rugby at this high of a level ever again in my life — that’s definitely sad, but that’s part of growing up. Just holding on to those memories and just consciously trying to leave this club in a better place, that’s the important thing.

Griffin: I’ve had five amazing years, and no one can take away those two championships and those memories I have. It’s sad to leave and I know in September I won’t be coming back to see all my teammates again.

But I know there’s much beyond hockey and my future looks bright without it, and I’ll be cheering the Gaels on no matter what. It’s bittersweet to leave, but I know my time is up here.

Jung: To actually to have it be real that I‘m actually leaving Queen’s — especially because I said it’s been the best couple years of my life so far — it’s going to be really hard to say goodbye to the friends that I made here and to the institution that gave me so much in terms of soccer and academics. I can say that I’m really proud to be a Queen’s alumni.

What was it like putting on the Gaels jersey for the final time?

Sloan: I didn’t even really try to think about it until it was over. Reflecting on it now, after all that time, playing that one final game, with the guys that I did and the guys in the crowd who were cheering us on – I couldn’t think of a better way to end my career than with those fellows.

Griffin: It was emotional when I put it on for the senior night, knowing that I stood on the bench four years before watching all my seniors graduate before me, thinking that’s so far away and I don’t know what I’d do as a senior. I’m very sad to say that that Queen’s jersey will no longer be on my back and on the ice.

Jung: It’s kind of hard to say what I felt beforehand, because we weren’t sure it was going to be our final time putting on that jersey. Right when the final whistle blew, I had a flashback of all the memories I had as a player at Queen’s.

I’m just so proud of everything that this team has accomplished in the last half-decade. It’s tough to let go but it’s time to move on, as hard as that is.

What was the room like after that last game?

Sloan: The energy was high. The boys were really, really fired up. That alone is a great memory.

Griffin: We were very emotional in the room, especially myself knowing that it’s not ‘okay, next year we’ll do it’. It’s ‘that was it, and that was the last game I played for Queen’s’. It was tough and it took me a little bit of time to get over it – although I’m not quite over it.

Who had the greatest impact on you at Queen’s?

Sloan: I think there’s some older guys, some former captains and older guys that really took me under their wing and showed me the ropes when I was a younger guy. I’ve tried my best to replicate that and take some of the younger guys under my wing and give them some guidance.

In four or five years on the rugby team, so much can happen. If you put the hard work in, the Queen’s rugby club is going to reward you for it, in one way or another.

Griffin: I guess it’d definitely be [head coach] Matt [Holmberg]. He’s impacted me on the ice, and even off the ice, he’s taught me never give up on the academics, no matter how hard it might be. He’s been one of my biggest supporters here and has been influencing me to become a better player and I think that he’s been the one who’s brought me to the player I am today.

Jung: Coming into first year playing defence – because I came in as a midfielder and I was stuck into defence – I think [former teammate] Brie Shaw made a really big difference to me playing centre back but to the right of me. And then [former Gaels midfielder] Riley Filion for four years playing with her was incredible and she was right in front of me to the left.

I think those two players made a really big impact on me because I got to play around them, and because they’re incredible players who went to FISU and represented Canada. But I can go on — there’s so many players who have made an impact on me as a player and a person.

What’s the greatest lesson you learned during your time at Queen’s?

Sloan: To all the younger athletes that are starting their careers: don’t get discouraged and just put the hard work in because you want to put in as much in as you possibly can. Just don’t take anything for granted, because your time here is shorter than you think.

Griffin: To understand how to take failure and turn it into a positive.

Jung: Keep working hard through adversity and stay humble are probably the biggest lessons I learned.

What do you want your legacy at Queen’s to be?

Sloan: What I really aspired to do was just come in here and be a regular starter and win a couple of championships, and I’ve achieved all that and more. I think my greatest legacy will be being a part of those teams, those championship teams.

Really more than anything, as much as it’s been suiting up and playing rugby with the boys every weekend, the things that you’ll really remember is the friends and the camaraderie and all those great times we shared. That’s how I hope the fellows remember me.

Griffin: I kind of hope my legacy is that I’m the hardest-working player on the ice, and off the ice, I’m the best friend I can be to anyone and I’m open to be a friend to whoever is new to the team.

I hope that number 18 is seen as she has the most passion and the most desire to put in all the effort, everything that she can to towards getting the team further and get towards the goal we’ve all set for the team.

Jung: Leaving this program I’d like to be remembered as someone who put everything out there on the practice field and on the game field. Our successes speak for themselves – especially my first- to third-years.

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