Rachel Hickson climbing to all-star status

Second-year player stringing together career season

Rachel Hickson currently leads the women’s rugby team in tries through their first three games.
Rachel Hickson currently leads the women’s rugby team in tries through their first three games.

Only three years into her rugby career, women’s rugby’s Rachel Hickson is just warming up. 

While the Gaels are a quick three games into their regular season, the second-year winger has already offered up a number of impressive performances. 

In her most recent match against McMaster, Hickson scored a pair of tries—bringing her season total to eight overall, good for most on the Gaels. 

Most of this, though, is new for Hickson. Her ascent has been extraordinarily quick.

Hailing from Ottawa, Hickson got her introduction to rugby in grade 12, playing in a club tournament after her attempts to organize a school team fell through. 

From then on, she was hooked.

For her first tournament, Hickson played on a team comprised of students who had no school  program. After impressing early and often, she got the call to play with the Eastern Ontario Rugby sevens program in 2017. 

It couldn’t have worked out better.

She was familiar with rugby because of her older sister, Emily, an ex-member of the Concordia rugby program. She was the reason Hickson had always been inspired to play the sport. The two have never shared a field, but her younger sister, Abigail, took up the sport earlier this year.

“It’s become a family thing,” Hickson told The Journal earlier this week. “Hopefully she sticks with it.”

Being a late bloomer, Hickson had no idea what she was getting herself into with the Queen’s rugby program in her first year. Other than having Sean Dunleavy—her first rugby coach and current Gaels assistant—as a familiar face on the sidelines, she had no idea who the coaching staff would be.

Luckily, her arrival coincided with the program’s first-year of head coach, Dan Valley. Hickson described her decision to come to Queen’s as perfect timing.

“I didn’t know who our head coach was going to be, I’d never met the previous one, and there was a changeover,” Hickson said. “I’d never worked with [Valley] before, and I had no idea that change was happening when I decided to come here, so it’s been a really positive outcome.”

A positive outcome it’s been: Valley’s first year in charge saw the Gaels win an OUA silver medal and finish ranked fifth in the country. In her rookie season, Hickson played all three of Queen’s playoff matches.

Valley’s development of the Queen’s program has also translated into national success for some of his players. Hickson was one of three first-year Gaels last season to play for the under-20 national women’s rugby team this summer.  

For Hickson, sporting the Maple Leaf in a competitive match wasn’t just humbling but a valuable learning experience. 

“The girls [on the under-20 team] were phenomenal to work with … It was a super, super positive environment, but it was also a lot,” Hickson said. “A lot to adapt to, but a really positive experience.”

“It gave me more perspective than I’ve ever had about what playing for our country can mean.”

Hickson added a future of playing with the senior Canadian is “on the map,” and it’s something her coaches have encouraged her to consider. 

“You get a little further and a little further and it starts to seem more possible,” Hickson said of a career at the national level. “I don’t know what that would look like—or in what capacity or how that fits into the now—but, for now at least, it’s [about] working hard at all levels.”

Currently, the winger remains focused on finishing out the rest of Queen’s season strong. With only one regular season game left and a 2-1 record, the Gaels are getting hungry, she said. 

“[We’re] excited to play and improve and show what we can do—and not be a team that’s been written off,” Hickson said. “Our team is building. Last year was a new page, but this [year] is so much more than that.” 

Indeed, this season has been much more. Last season, Hickson only touched the field for two regular season game. This year, though, she’s featured in every one.

Reflecting on her short time in Kingston, Hickson said Queen’s took her by surprise. 

“It’s amazing, but I didn’t think this was going to be what I found,” she said. “Now that it’s becoming what it is, [it’s] a blessing for it to have worked out this way.”

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