Reaching for perfection

The winner of Friday’s matchup between Queen’s and Guelph will take the OUA regular season crown.
The winner of Friday’s matchup between Queen’s and Guelph will take the OUA regular season crown.
Journal File Photo

When discussing current rivalries in OUA sport, the conversation tends to lead to the Queen’s and Guelph women’s rugby match-up.

Currently, both teams sit at the top of their divisions, with identical undefeated records (4-0). The two powerhouse programs will clash on Friday, in a top of the table CIS match-up.

In the most recent national ranking, the Gryphons were placed one spot ahead of the Gaels, finishing in second place.

While most see these two caught-up in a fierce rivalry, Gaels head coach Beth Barz tends to shed another light on the situation. 

“I think we have had a very successful friendly rivalry for a number of years between our staff and our athletes,” Barz said. “While some may use the word rivalry as not a positive, I would say that it is a mutually beneficial rivalry for athletes and staff on both sides.”

“We both want to make sure that the OUA is doing as well as they possibly can at the CIS, and the only way we can do that is by helping to strengthenother programs.”

The tough battles on the pitch between these two teams hit its pinnacle just two years ago in the OUA final. The Gryphons were hoping to win their sixth-straight OUA title, and were heavily favoured above the Gaels. After a strong defensive performance, the Gaels would complete the upset, winning 19-15.

In the next year, the Gaels were hoped to repeat as champions, but the dream was ended abruptly in the semi-finals against the Gryphons, 29-21.

To coach Barz, history doesn’t play a factor in this weekend’s match-up. 

“The returning players will certainly remember [last year], but I also think that they remember going [to Guelph] two years ago and winning OUA title there, so I’m unsure of what history has to do with this game coming up.” 

This year, the Gryphons have been a force to reckon with. They have both the number one ranked offense (391 points) and the province’s  top defense, only allowing three points through four games. Spearheading their attack, they have three of Ontario’s scoring leaders — with Alexandra King, Daria Keane and Kendra Blackbourne combining to score 201 points. 

While some coaches would attempt to change the style of their practices to combat the Gryphons dominating play, coach Barz is relying on the team’s current system.

“We are not looking at creating a whole bunch of new things, we are just refining the stuff we have already put into place.”

When asked about what would be key in Friday’s match-up, coach Barz understands that no one thing will win the game for the Gaels.

“We have to be ready to exchange at any point and react to what we see in front of us,” Barz said. “We have to play defense right from the get-go to make sure that we give ourselves the ball in attack as well.” 

“Our team this year has done an excellent job with putting defense first and foremost in their minds,” she continued. “If we don’t defend we will really struggle.”

A catalyst in this season’s strong start has been the excellent play from their first-year players. Whether they were under pressure in their first game against McMaster or playing their role versus Toronto, the newest additions to the Gaels play have been laudable. Head coach Barz expects them to shine under the bright lights of Friday’s match-up. 

“They have reacted well so far,” Barz said of her rookies. “Those athletes that have been on the field have played like veterans.”

For captain Lauren McEwen, the Gaels-Gryphon match-up will define the season. 

“They are a really good team, but we always match-up well with them,” McEwen said in an interview with The Journal earlier this week. “It is such a defensive game versus them, the game is very physical.”  

“At the end of the day, it is going to come down to those one-on-one physical battles that are going to add up to who wins or loses.” 

Third-year scrum-half Lauren Murray believes that defense will be at the heart of the Gaels.

“Defense is always one of our huge focuses ,” Murray said. “We know that both teams can put a lot of points on the board.”

“It’s not about how many points we score on them, it's that they are not going to score on us.”

While the team has top players like McEwen and Emma Chown — who’s third in the OUA for points — Murray knows that only a team effort will make the Gaels successful. 

 “There are always going to be girls that perform, but in order to win the games, we need to go out as Queen’s rugby does, and play as 15,” she said.

“Every game we come out of, we win or lose as a team.”


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