Women’s rugby upsets rivals to reach national championship

Gaels earn spot in OUA finals and U Sports Championships in weekend win over McMaster

The women’s rugby team plays Guelph on Saturday for OUA gold.
The women’s rugby team plays Guelph on Saturday for OUA gold.
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Journal File Photo

A lot was at stake for the women’s rugby team on Friday.

With both an OUA and National championship berth on the line against McMaster in the OUA semifinals, Queen’s looked to get the better of their rivals. In likely their strongest game of the season, the Gaels defeated the Marauders by a score of 20-15.

Even though they came into the game pegged as underdogs — Queen’s lost to McMaster 21-15 during the regular season — head coach Dan Valley said the team didn’t feel like one on Friday.

“It sort of may be an upset but we certainly feel that way. We owned that game,” head coach Dan Valley said.

Led by strong tackling, the Gaels were a force to be reckoned with for the entirety of the match. It was the complete performance that Valley had been waiting for all season from his team.

“It certainly wasn’t an easy match but we were in a great place from start to finish and we were very resilient every time [McMaster] started to apply some pressure. We weathered the storm,” Valley said.

With two tries for Queen’s, Nadia Popov was a major key to the Gaels' success. While it was an impressive outing from the veteran fullback — who scored the game-winning try for the away side — Valley said the game was a team effort.

“We had a lot of strong shifts from a lot of people…we’re not a one-trick pony, we’re not just riding our best players until they can’t possibly go on any more and crossing our fingers. We’re really deep,” Valley said.

When the final whistle sounded off, it signalled a turning point for this team. The last time they challenged for an OUA championship was in 2013 when they won gold.

“It was really exciting — it’s a big win for us, the program, the athletes because [McMaster]’s been a pretty big test for us in the past couple years so to go down there and take them was amazing,” Valley said, who spent the previous two years as an assistant coach for the Marauders.

With the victory, the Gaels move on to play Guelph in the OUA finals. Regardless of the outcome, they will also get the chance to compete for national glory at the U Sports championships in Lethbridge, Alberta.

With a 12-day break between their provincial championship and their opportunity to play on the national stage, Valley reiterated they’re taking it one game at a time.

“I don’t really want to talk about Lethbridge…we have a massive opportunity to win an OUA championship now and nationals are very, very secondary at this point,” Valley said. “That will be the challenge for the athletes when we reconnect…I think they’re very aware of what they need to do.”

Throughout the season, Valley’s positivity never wavered, as he knew his team was up to the task from the beginning of training camp.

“The fact that we’re in this current position is a direct reflection of the approach that the athletes have taken…I knew all along that this team could compete for an OUA title but I don’t know if they knew that. Now we’re starting to see that,” Valley said.

The Gaels will try to ride their wave of success over to Guelph, where they will try to take gold against the top seeded Gryphons on Saturday afternoon. The defending OUA Champions were the winner of their sole encounter this season, taking the contest 38-31 in a tightly contested match.

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