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New women’s rugby team for Lancers in the upcoming season

Hunter Clement of the Landers 15s rugby team (centre) carries the ball, followed by Victoria Pedro for support, in the first game of the 2016-17 season, against St. Lawerence College. It was the final season for the 15s team, but next year there will be a smaller 7s squad. Photo courtesy of Brittney Whiting

By Vanessa Stark [1]

BELLEVILLE – Women’s rugby at Loyalist College will be rejoining the Ontario Colleges Athletics Association [2].

Last fall, the Loyalist Lancers’ women’s rugby program left the association due to low numbers on the team.

Jim Buck, the athletics director at Loyalist, explained that it was a 15s team, meaning there are 15 players on the field at a time. A total of 20 to 25 players are needed for a 15s team, because of rotations and subs. But Loyalist was unable to meet those numbers, which meant  it was no longer a safe and valid sport, Buck said.

“Safety was part of it,” he said about why the program was down, “because we did have substantial injuries. But also combined with those injuries we didn’t have enough players to keep the program valid. We just didn’t have the numbers or the experience. We weren’t a viable program because we weren’t competitive whatsoever – so it was all those things combined. It was a tough decision, but at the time it was certainly the right decision.”

But for the 2017-18 season, Loyalist will be introducing a women’s rugby 7s team.

The difference between rugby 15s and 7s has to do with the number of players on the field. Having a 7s team means reducing some of the positions found in traditional 15s rugby. This will allow the college to continue having a rugby team with a smaller number of players, reducing the chance of injury. As well, there are more college 7s teams than 15s, which means a larger number of competing teams around the area.

Many of the players were hit hard by the decision to leave the OCAA as a 15s team. One was Brittney Whiting.

“I was disappointed and hurt by it,” Whiting said. “Rugby is the sport that made me different from the rest of my family. That pushed me to excel and do well in school. You can’t help but to think what you could have done to prevent (the team’s departure from the OCAA). But there was nothing to prevent it. We knew it was coming. We just wished there were a way we could have continued on.”

Other colleges are also switching to 7s, which meant 15s teams were becoming scarce, Buck explained.

“A number of teams left the league of 15s and started women’s rugby 7s. So this was the first year that women’s 7s ever happened. As a result of a number of schools going into 7s this left us with only four women’s teams in 15s.”

OCAA rules say that programs need to have at least five schools for a viable league. However, there is a one-year grace period, which was in use last season, to develop new programs. So unless another school had made a 15s team, the league would have ended for 2017-18 regardless, Buck said. The Lancers leaving early was just advancing the end of it.

“The reality was that 15s was done this year anyways. We just sort of were the final nail on the coffin because when we dropped out, that left three teams. And there was no way there was going to be two new teams come in. So 15s really was really on its last leg.”

Player Hunter Clement said that shutting down the 15s program came as a disappointment, but it wasn’t a surprise.

“It wasn’t really a shock to me that they were starting up a 7s team. Our coach did mention it to us that it could potentially be happening because all of the western colleges already had the transition to 7s. I was really happy to hear that they were starting up a 7s rugby program and they didn’t just decided to cut the program entirely.”

The new 7s program will change the scene for Loyalist’s rugby program, Clement said.

“You only need seven players on the field, which would be good because we have been lacking in numbers the previous seasons,” she said. “In the competition scene it would be interesting to see, because it would be taking the best and the fastest players from each college and having them compete against one another. It is hard to say how Loyalist will do, because not everyone has had experience (in) 7s before.”

It will be interesting to see how well the Loyalist team improves in the next couple of seasons, she said, “because it is such a drastic change compared to 15s.”