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When the final whistle blew in last year’s ACAA Women’s rugby championship game, STU was on the right side of over a 30 point win.
Within the next week coach Sherry Doiron revealed to the team they were to jump up a level the next season and compete in the CIS league against teams from all over the Atlantic, in the Atlantic University Sport conference.
Though the step up to the higher level has had moments of frustration against much better opposition, STU still holds faith from a team that dominated competition the past 3 years, and now has raised to a level of very challenging opposition.
The Tommies are currently the only New Brunswick representative in the CIS for the sport of rugby. This means they often have to travel over 4 hours to play other teams in Nova Scotia. After a very spirited affair in their home opener that saw them lose 27-15 to St. Mary’s, there has been hope in the squad despite a few heavy losses in the early half of the season.
Part of the step up involves the Tommies being the only rugby team occupying the Scotiabank South artificial turf, national anthems before games, scoreboards, player introductions, and even Friday night games under the lights.
However it’s the results on paper that show STU losing a 73-3 game to St. FX and a 74-0 loss days later at home to Acadia.
“We didn’t expect to come into the league and dominate the way we did last year,” says Marissa Walcott, a third year outside center who brings experience from the Fredericton Loyalists. “The score doesn’t reflect the game. We focus on what we did right, take the small moral victories, and from here it can only get better.”
The Tommies have had some success this season.
Their opening home game had inspiring defense that lead to an 8-7 lead for part of the game.
Their next two games come against the current top two teams in Acadia and St.FX but their final two games of the year are against teams they found themselves in reach of causing upsets in UPEI and St. Mary’s.
The Tommies have circled their home game against UPEI on their calendar as winnable. With the amount of youth on the team they aren’t seeing a few lob-sided losses as a negative. The idea from the start was to build from the ground up and load rookies with experience. A long-term goal always has its rough patches, but in the end, this is a team expected to be just as competitive two years down the road.
When asked what the biggest thing to take from the 74-0 loss was, Walcott was direct in saying, “attitude.” A lot of practice is spent doing team stuff and building foundation off team chemistry, instead of fancy plays or surprising tactics. “We have to look at how we’re playing, and nothing else,” she said. “We don’t look at the opposition as being better, we just see the game as faster paced now.”
The mid-point of their first season in the CIS is showing no regrets. Tough losses are out of the way and a two-year program can only improve with experience as STU proudly take the lessons of what they’ve accomplished and what challenges lie between them, and a shot at nationals.