Working for glory on home soil

Potential for four games in eight days at OUA and CIS levels

The Gaels have the potential to win the OUA  bronze medal and CIS National Championship, all at home.
The Gaels have the potential to win the OUA bronze medal and CIS National Championship, all at home.
Starting this weekend, the women’s rugby team are looking to write their names in the history books of Queen’s Athletics.
 
This Saturday, the Gaels will battle the Western Mustangs in the OUA bronze medal game. Following that game, the team will spend the week prepping to host the CIS Women’s Rugby Championship — a first in Queen’s history.
 
While they’re in different divisions of the OUA, the Mustangs are a familiar foe for the Gaels. During a preseason exhibition tournament earlier this year, Queen’s dominated their rivals 73-14.
 
While most would peg the Gaels as heavy favourites for this match-up, the team remembers last year’s two games against Western.
 
In their last game of the regular season, the Gaels defeated the Mustangs 50-19. After losing to Guelph in the semi-final, Queen’s was set to play against Western once more for the bronze. But Western’s physical presence was too much for the Gaels to handle, as they lost 22-19. After they won the OUA Championship and finished third at the CIS level in 2013, the Gaels remained without a medal.
 
For third-year winger Lauren Murray, last year’s defeat won’t influence this week’s performance. 
 
“We are going to keep [last year’s game] in the back of our mind, but it isn’t our focus,” Murray said. “Our focus is on what we do and executing our game plan. We are aware that Western is going to come out and battle too, but we are going to play Queen’s rugby.”
 
Over the course of eight days, the Gaels will potentially play in four games. During the OUA season, teams only play once a week, but this upcoming schedule will be a heavy strain on athletes’ bodies.
 
“It is obviously going to hurt,” Murray said concerning the finals. “We are all experienced rugby players. We have been through this before, so when it comes down to it. we are going to be ready for those four games.”
 
The CIS situation, where three games are played over four days, isn’t ideal for any athlete.
 
The only teams that have more than a week’s rest prior to the tournament are Lethbridge and Victoria from the Canada West Division. The teams settled their final last week, giving them two weeks off coming into 
this championship.
 
In other leagues, the qualifiers from the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) and Réseau du Sport Étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) will be decided on Friday and Saturday respectfully, putting them in a similar breakless situation as the OUA teams, such as McMaster, Guelph and Queen’s.
 
For head coach Beth Barz, this system isn’t ideal, and needs a few changes.
 
“My preference would be to take out the quarterfinal and potentially give a first round bye for the athletes.”
 
Barz also suggested that the National Championship should be pushed back another week, giving teams from the OUA, AUS and RSEQ another week off. But unfortunately, the CIS is focusing their efforts on hosting men’s and women’s soccer nationals the following weekend.
 
“We have a contact sport — why are we not taking the extra week?” Barz said.
 
In an attempt to push for reform, Barz sits on the CIS’s Sport Technical Sub-Committee. The committee’s goal is to discuss how to best seed the teams for the tournament, as well as how to run the championship in the best interest of athletes health.
 
While Barz knows the system isn’t ideal, she knows her athletes’ previous experience will help them prepare for the upcoming week.
 
“They have played four or five games in six days. Again, not ideal, but they have done it, which is half the battle.”
 
While prioritizing the OUA bronze medal game and hosting the National Championship is a tall order, Barz has found a way to balance both.
 
“We didn’t practice [on Monday], we just talked about CIS,” Barz said. “‘Now we’re done, and closing the book on that. The focus right now is all bronze medal.”
 
Barz’ year of leave from her teaching job at Sydenham High School has allowed her to focus on the event. As this is the first time the school has hosted the women’s rugby national championship, Barz has been in weekly meetings gearing up for the event.
 
Because teams usually play within their own league, the Gaels haven’t seen these opponents in a while. To prepare, Barz has watched a lot of game footage, and spoken to coaches across the league, trying to compile scouting reports for the other seven teams.
 
“We will do a little bit of planning that is specific to opponents, but realistically we have to look over what we are doing; we can’t control their game.”
 
For Barz, who’s been involved with the program for 18 years, this next week is a special one for women’s rugby at Queen’s.
 
“It is probably the first and only time that we are going to host it while I’m around.”
 
“This opportunity is once in a lifetime.”
 

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