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Future looks bright for Lancers’ women’s Rugby team

Lola Akindolire on her first Rugby season with the Lancers. Video by Sophie Dudley.

By Sophie Dudley [1]

BELLEVILLE – Last season their team folded. This year they’re bronze medal champions.

The Loyalist Lancers women’s Rugby [2] team ended this season with an award around their necks. This victory comes only one season after the team withdrew from the league. The Lancers had to forfeit due to numerous injuries that forced players to back out and end the season. Ultimately, there were not enough members left to carry on the season.

“It was heartbreaking and disappointing,” said Maryann White, a player on the team both this season and last. 

Jim Buck, Loyalist’s athletic director, said if a team doesn’t have a sufficient amount of players, it poses safety risks. “As the athletic director I had to take a serious look at that and we didn’t have any choice because of the number of injuries that had happened and players left… it was a tough decision but at the end it was the right one.”

However, this past season was quite the opposite for the team. With a change in the game, the women came out victorious.

Last year, the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association [3] mandated the colleges in the west – Seneca, Humber, Georgian and Conestoga – to trial Rugby 7s, a shorter game requiring fewer players on the field and altered skill sets. The teams in the east – Loyalist, Algonquin, Fleming and St. Lawrence – stayed with the original set up, the Rugby 15s, a longer game with more players that focuses on strength. This was the first year that all teams across the province permanently changed to Rugby 7s.

Ken Fitzgerald, the women’s Rugby coach, said that having to pull out of the league last season opened eyes that Rugby 7s would be the way to go from here.

Fitzgerald said although he wasn’t sure what to expect from the change, it soon won him over. “We kept our system simple and plain and the girls were quick to adapt,” he said. “They put everything together. It was a really good feeling, especially to come back and get a medal.”

Kierstyn Bennett, another player on the team, agreed with her coach. “Our roster was full of talent, but the majority of us had never played 7s before. The first tournament was the first real test for us and I think we all liked what we saw.”

“We focused on the basics and learned to play as team. For us to make it to the OCAA championships was an accomplishment all on its own.”

[4]

Lancers women’s rugby team showing off their bronze. Photo courtesy Loyalist Athletics.

After having a successful season, the team persevered in the Nov. 4 provincial championships at Fleming College and came out in the top three teams, and for the first time in the Lancer women’s Rugby team history, they took home an OCAA medal.

“Our team never gave up. Even when we were down a try or if we lost a game we continued to play as a team and stay classy to the end,” said White. 

White also credited her coaches Ken Fitzgerald and assistant coach Jo-Anne Robinson.

“Our coaches are absolutely amazing,” White said. “They put in a lot of effort and work to our practices and our team in general. I was very thankful to have had the chance to play with this team and have Ken and Jo as my coaches again.”

Fitzgerald also said he was grateful to Robinson. “I wouldn’t even classify her as an assistant coach,” he said. “She’s a co-coach. And to have staff the players trust, it makes the program excel.”

Fitzgerald is looking forward to the next season with the girls. As of right now, all but one of the players plan to return to the team for the following season.

Bennett is one of those players, “I’m so proud of this team and I can’t wait to see what next year has in store for us.”

Athletic Director Jim Buck on Rugby 7s and a successful future for Lancer women’s Rugby. Video by Sophie Dudley.

To watch the medal-winning game, click here. [5]

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