Gaels trio go international

Nadia Popov, McKinley Hunt and Janna Slevinsky named to Canadian Senior women’s rugby team for series against England

Popov featured for Canada at the 2015 Pan Am Games.
Journal File Photo

Just when they thought their seasons were over, Nadia Popov, McKinley Hunt and Janna Slevinsky got phone calls from Rugby Canada. 

After helping Queen’s earn a silver medal in the OUA championships and finish fifth in the country, the three women were asked to play for Canada’s senior team in a test match series against England’s national squad.

Hosted in London, England, the event has seen the Red Roses from England take the first two contests by a significant margin. In their 49-12 loss on Nov. 21, Hunt and Slevinsky scored Canada’s lone tries. The series’ last match is set for Saturday, Nov. 23.

“The biggest benefit from these events is the ability to challenge ourselves in such high caliber and high pressure games,” Popov told The Journal via email.

The benefits of these opportunities don’t go unnoticed by the athletes, who gain experience against some of the world’s best.

“The biggest difference at the international level is the speed of play. Everything happens so much quicker and attention to detail is critical because the opposition will capitalize on any mistakes you make,” Popov said. “Every pass, every tackle and decision needs to be that much more precise.”

Despite experiencing a heightened sense of competition, this isn’t the Gaels athletes’ first time playing at the international level. While Hunt spent her 2016 and 2017 summers with Canada’s u20 team, Popov helped Canada earn gold at the 2015 Pan Am Games for Canada’s rugby sevens team. 

With selections such as these happening in a very short time frame relative to their OUA and U Sports’ postseason schedules, Hunt said players are forced to remain in the best shape possible.

“You can’t really take a day off because you never know when you’re going to get a phone call saying that you’ve just been selected to a roster,” Hunt, who was a U Sports All-Canadian this past season, said. “In the physical sense, it pushes you to perform and be at your very best every single day.”

Despite the experience putting athletes in stressful situations — these games often surround the exam period during the school year — Hunt sees this time as a valuable learning experience.

“In the long term it teaches you how to prioritize and figure out what your goals are because obviously everything you have to manage as an athlete in terms of school and national team commitments needs a balance,” Hunt said. “In the long term, it definitely is helpful to know how you’re going to balance your life.”

With honours like this coming near the beginning of these athletes’ careers, Popov and Hunt have strong aspirations for the future. In 2021, the world’s best female rugby players will congregate for the women’s rugby world cup. Both Popov and Hunt have intentions of playing at this level.

“There’s no greater honour as athletes than to represent our country, and I hope to continue to grow alongside my teammates for years to come,” Popov added.

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