Women’s rugby looking to finish atop OUA in coming campaign

Gaels roster with healthy mix of youth and experience as they aim for strong season

Journal File Photo

Headed into the 2018 season, women’s rugby head coach Dan Valley isn’t ready to have his team rest on their laurels after a banner 2017-18 campaign.

“Okay, we had a little bit of success last year. So what?” Valley said in an interview with The Journal earlier this week, amidst preparations to begin his team’s season.

Last season was one full of highs for women’s rugby.

The Gaels welcomed Valley to the team for his first season at the helm as well as eventual U Sports Rookie of the Year, Sophie De Goede, all while reaching the OUA finals.

Though they’d lose the title game to the University of Guelph, they’d leave the U Sports Championships with a 1-1 record.

“We took great strides in establishing an identity with our on-field perception of the program and we don’t expect to be catching anyone by surprise [this year],” Valley said.

Among departing athletes due to graduation, the Gaels will be without two-time U Sports All-Canadian Janna Slevinsky and Lauren Murray—the latter of which started in all five of her seasons with Queen’s. In addition, 2017-18 Queen’s Outstanding Performer of the Year, McKinley Hunt, will be absent after sustaining a season-ending ACL injury this past summer.

“Although we lost some key players, we’ve recruited so that we’ll be able to fill those voids,” Valley said. “Maybe not seamlessly … but we’re not plugging holes. We’re well positioned to continue along our trajectory.”

With that in hand, the Gaels will be welcoming a class of nine rookies this season—some of whom Valley said will be on the main squad throughout the season.

“[It’s been] just getting their technical skills to a slightly different spot and they’ve been really keen. I’m really happy with the recruiting class,” Valley said.

Despite the turnover taking place, Valley is nowhere short on confidence with his squad, who started their season off with a 68-10 win over Western last weekend.

“We’ve got the weapons in the middle of the park and on the outside to do some damage. I already saw [it this season]—our counterattack is lethal,” Valley said.  “We’ve got the best back three in the country.”

Valley’s highly touted back three consists of two wings—Rachel Hickson and Hannah Daniels—alongside a single fullback in veteran Nadia Popov. All three athletes have represented Canada in varying capacities on the international stage.

With this group, Valley is hoping his team can control the ball, and be facilitators of the game’s tempo. This, above all things, is what he believes will bring the Gaels back to the U Sports Championships, which will be hosted by Acadia University in November.

“We want to be very disruptive to allow us to play quickly on attack and in opposition; we have to play slowly when we’re defending,” Valley said of his hopes for what style of play his team will adopt in the coming year.

“If we do that, you never know, we might be headed to Acadia, we might not, but that’s still a long ways away and we’re still focused on one week at a time.”

The Gaels will host the Guelph Gryphons at Nixon Field on Saturday in a rematch of last year’s OUA Finals.

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