Women’s rugby National Championship preview

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October 29, 2013, OTTAWA (ISN) – The top-seeded St. Francis Xavier X-Women hope to successfully defend the CIS women’s rugby title for the first time in school history this week in Quebec City. Accomplishing the feat will be no easy task however as the 2013 national tournament promises to be one of the more closely contested in recent years.

The six-team competition, hosted for the first time by Laval University, kicks off Thursday and concludes on Sunday with the gold-medal final scheduled for 2 p.m. All nine games from the tourney will be webcast live on CIS-SIC.tv.

Joining AUS champion StFX in the quest for the Monilex trophy are the second-ranked Queen’s Gaels (OUA champs), No. 3 Alberta Pandas (Canada West champs), No. 4 McGill Martlets (RSEQ champs), No. 5 Guelph Gryphons (OUA finalists) and No. 6 Laval Rouge et Or (hosts).

The three-time national champion X-Women (2012, 2010, 2006) and two-time titlist Gryphons (2011, 1998) have met in each of the past two CIS finals, with StFX prevailing 37-0 a year ago and Guelph winning 28-0 in 2011.

The scenario won’t repeat itself on Sunday however as the two perennial contenders have been grouped with McGill in Pool A for the preliminary round of this week’s championship. StFX and Guelph face off in the tourney opener Thursday at 10:30 a.m.

In the other opening day match-up, at 1:30 p.m., Queen’s battles Laval in a Pool B duel between teams looking for their first national title.

Alberta is the most decorated program in CIS rugby history with five Monilex trophies, claimed consecutively from 1999 to 2003. McGill lost 28-5 to the Pandas in its lone trip to the CIS final in 2000.

While they are making their 16th straight appearance at the tournament, the X-Women were tested this fall like they hadn’t been in a number of seasons.

The powerhouse from Antigonish, N.S., had entered the last two CIS championships having outscored its AUS opponents 412 to 29 in 2011 and a mind-boggling 821-6 in 2012. This season, while they ended up capturing their 16th consecutive AUS banner, the X-Women dropped their league opener 44-13 to Acadia in early September and had to erase a 12-0 halftime deficit in the conference final to edge the Axewomen 19-12 in overtime.

StFX also split a pair of non-conference matches with McGill this fall, winning 29-0 at home back on Sept. 1 and dropping a 27-17 road decision on Oct. 13.

The competition was also much stiffer in the OUA this season.

While they had escape with a close 10-6 win over Queen’s in the 2011 OUA championship match, the Gryphons, who will compete on the national stage for the ninth straight year, had dominated their Ontario rivals 579-14 and 595-20 overall heading into the past two CIS tourneys. Last weekend, however, they saw their streak of five consecutive conference titles come to an end when they were upset 19-15 by the Gaels in the league final.

In pre-season action, back on August 30, Queen’s had also defeated Guelph soundly in Kingston, by 43-7.

“We’re very happy to be at nationals. Our young team is looking forward to see what we can do against the top teams in the country,” said StFX head coach Mike Cavanagh, whose team hopes to become the first in history to reach the CIS title match six years in a row. “We hope to improve with every game and come home with the gold.”

“When we set team goals at the beginning of the season, the big ones are always the same – OUA and CIS gold medals,” said Guelph coach Colette McAuley. “To strive for anything less with these exceptional athletes is not doing justice to their abilities and their commitment.

“Losing in the OUA final is a great motivator to regain our focus on the little things that make us a great team. Every team attending the CIS championship this year has the roster and talent to take home a gold medal. It will depend on which team rises to the challenge and plays three games of great rugby. We are confident that it can be Guelph.”

Of all the teams set to compete on the Laval campus this week, reigning two-time Canada West champ Alberta probably had the smoothest road to Quebec City. The Pandas’ closest call so far this season was a 27-10 win over Calgary in the conference final.

“We are obviously really excited to get a chance to come back to CIS nationals as Canada West champions,” said head coach Matt Parrish, whose program returned to the national podium for the first time since 2005 last year thanks to a third-place finish. “With the majority of our squad returning this year, including half a dozen fifth-year players, we hope last year’s experience will give them the drive to make it to the gold-medal game this time around. I believe having the same coaching and management team will also be a big advantage for us.”

Following a pair of fifth-place finishes in its first two appearances at the CIS competition in 2010 and 2012, Queen’s looks poised to make its first real run at the Monilex trophy. The last two OUA finals against Guelph and the team’s first-ever conference title this season are definitely confidence boosters.

“We’ve now had the experience of being at two CIS championships and the group of upper-year players are really focussed on playing to our potential. We are hungry,” said coach Beth Barz. “This season has had its ups and downs and we feel like we did a very good job preparing for the playoffs. The team’s focus matches its level of expectation for 2013. The dedication to off-season training and skill development is paying off and we think our athletes are ready for their next challenge.”

After competing in each of the first eight CIS tournaments from 1998 to 2005, a run that included a silver medal and a pair of bronze, McGill went through a seven-year drought before finally getting back to the dance this season. The Martlets qualified thanks to a spectacular 41-34 road victory over defending conference champion Concordia in the RSEQ final.

“We are a bit banged up after beating a strong Concordia team in the Quebec final but we are very confident in our depth,” said Matt Stephens, a former national team assistant now in his first year as head coach at McGill. “The CIS tournament features shorter games, which plays to our strength as we prefer a fast, up-tempo style of rugby. If we can dictate the tempo, we will be a strong contender for the title.”

The second qualifier from the Quebec conference, tournament host Laval, enjoyed a solid campaign but struggled against the top RSEQ teams, losing 48-19 to McGill in the regular season and going 0-2 against Concordia, including a lopsided 38-3 decision in the league semifinals.

“It would be a mistake to underestimate a team that made it to the national championship. We won’t be spectators this week,” said head coach Bill McNeil, who led his troops to the program’s first-ever CIS medal – bronze – in their last appearance at the tourney two years ago. “I’m going to tell my team to have fun. And the only way to do that is to show courage and compete as hard as you can. You never know what can happen. Games are won on the field.

“Hosting the championship at Laval is important for our local women’s rugby community, which has to take advantage of the opportunity. They have a chance to watch the top teams in the country, including many athletes who are knocking on the door of national teams.”

Official championship website: http://english.cis-sic.ca/championships/wrugby/index 

TEAM PROFILES

POOL A

No. 1 St. Francis Xavier X-Women (AUS champions)

  • Head Coach: Mike Cavanagh (15th season)
  • Regular season record: 7-1
  • Regular season standing: 2nd AUS
  • Playoff record: 2-0
  • Playoff finish: AUS champions
  • Top 10 final ranking (Oct. 22): No. 5
  • Top 10 best ranking: No. 1 (first poll)
  • Top 10 number of weeks ranked (8 polls): 8
  • Conference award winners: Vanessa Duffley (student-athlete community service award)
  • Conference all-stars: Tasha McKenzie, Catharine MacKeigan, Emma Taylor, Miranda Sample, Vanessa Duffley, Lauren Agnew
  • CIS championship appearances (including 2013): 16
  • CIS championship all-time record: 23-26-3 (.471)
  • CIS championship all-time medals: 6 (3-3-0)
  • CIS championship best result: 3-time champions (2012, 2010, 2006)
  • CIS championship last appearance: 2012 (champions)
  • CIS championship sequence: 16th straight appearance

No. 4 McGill Martlets (RSEQ champions)

  • Head Coach: Matt Stephens (1st season)
  • Regular season record: 6-1
  • Regular season standing: 2nd RSEQ
  • Playoff record: 2-0
  • Playoff finish: RSEQ champions
  • Top 10 final ranking (Oct. 22): No. 6
  • Top 10 best ranking: No. 6 (final poll)
  • Top 10 number of weeks ranked (8 polls): 7
  • Conference award winners: Brianna Miller (MVP)
  • Conference all-stars: Brianna Miller, Deanna Foster
  • CIS championship appearances (including 2013): 9
  • CIS championship all-time record: 13-15 (.464)
  • CIS championship all-time medals: 3 (0-1-2)
  • CIS championship best result: Finalists (2000)
  • CIS championship last appearance: 2005 (4th place)
  • CIS championship sequence: First appearance since 2005

No. 5 Guelph Gryphons (OUA finalists)

  • Head Coach: Colette McAuley (7th season)
  • Regular season record: 5-0
  • Regular season standing: 1st OUA Shiels Division
  • Playoff record: 2-1
  • Playoff finish: OUA finalists
  • Top 10 final ranking (Oct. 22): No. 2
  • Top 10 best ranking: No. 1 (polls 2-3-4)
  • Top 10 number of weeks ranked (8 polls): 8
  • Conference award winners (Shiels Division): Caitlin McNally (MVP), Colette McAuley (coach)
  • Conference all-stars (Shiels Division): Brittany Kassil, Caitlin McNally, Shannon Spurrell, Brittany Priddle, Devon Keys
  • CIS championship appearances (including 2013): 14
  • CIS championship all-time record: 26-21-2 (.551)
  • CIS championship all-time medals: 10 (2-3-5)
  • CIS championship best result: 2-time champions (2011, 1998)
  • CIS championship last appearance: 2012 (finalists)
  • CIS championship sequence: 9th straight appearance

POOL B

No. 2 Queen’s Gaels (OUA champions)

  • Head Coach: Beth Barz (9th season)
  • Regular season record: 5-0
  • Regular season standing: 1st OUA Russell Division
  • Playoff record: 3-0
  • Playoff finish: OUA champions
  • Top 10 final ranking (Oct. 22): No. 3
  • Top 10 best ranking: No. 3 (polls 2-3-4-7-8)
  • Top 10 number of weeks ranked (8 polls): 8
  • Conference award winners (Russell Division): Lauren McEwen (MVP)
  • Conference all-stars (Russell Division): Claragh Pegg, Loren Baldwin, Devon Stride, Lauren McEwen, Karley Heyman
  • CIS championship appearances (including 2013): 3
  • CIS championship all-time record: 2-4 (.333)
  • CIS championship all-time medals: 0
  • CIS championship best result: 5th place (2012, 2010)
  • CIS championship last appearance: 2012 (5th place)
  • CIS championship sequence: 2nd straight appearance (3rd in 4 years)

No. 3 Alberta Pandas (Canada West champions)

  • Head Coach: Matt Parrish (9th season)
  • Regular season record: 4-0
  • Regular season standing: 1st Canada West
  • Playoff record: 2-0
  • Playoff finish: Canada West champions
  • Top 10 final ranking (Oct. 22): No. 1
  • Top 10 best ranking: No. 1 (last 4 polls)
  • Top 10 number of weeks ranked (8 polls): 8
  • Conference award winners: Miranda Monty (MVP)
  • Conference all-stars: Louise Chavarie, Miranda Monty, Chelsea Guthrie, Allison Fairbairn, Julia Goss, Alanna Fittes
  • CIS championship appearances (including 2013): 10
  • CIS championship all-time record: 26-6-2 (.794)
  • CIS championship all-time medals: 8 (5-1-2)
  • CIS championship best result: 5-time champions (2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999)
  • CIS championship last appearance: 2012 (bronze medal)
  • CIS championship sequence: 2nd straight appearance

No. 6 Laval Rouge et Or (hosts)

  • Head Coach: Bill McNeil (9th season)
  • Regular season record: 4-3
  • Regular season standing: 4th RSEQ
  • Playoff record: 0-1
  • Playoff finish: RSEQ semi-finalists
  • Top 10 final ranking (Oct. 22): Unranked
  • Top 10 best ranking: No. 6 (first poll)
  • Top 10 number of weeks ranked (8 polls): 2
  • Conference award winners: None
  • Conference all-stars: Claudia Kedney-Bolduc, Kathleen Keller
  • CIS championship appearances (including 2013): 4
  • CIS championship all-time record: 3-7 (.300)
  • CIS championship all-time medals: 1 (0-0-1)
  • CIS championship best result: Bronze medal (2011)
  • CIS championship last appearance: 2011 (bronze medal)
  • CIS championship sequence: Return after 1-year absence

MONILEX TROPHY CHAMPIONS (Inaugural championship held in 1998)

  • 2012 StFX
  • 2011 Guelph
  • 2010 StFX
  • 2009 Lethbridge
  • 2008 Lethbridge
  • 2007 Lethbridge
  • 2006 StFX
  • 2005 Western
  • 2004 Western
  • 2003 Alberta
  • 2002 Alberta
  • 2001 Alberta
  • 2000 Alberta
  • 1999 Alberta
  • 1998 Guelph

CHAMPIONSHIP POOLS, SEEDING & SCHEDULE

Pool A

  • No. 1 StFX X-Women (AUS champions: 7-1 regular season / 2-0 playoffs)
  • No. 4 McGill Martlets (RSEQ champions: 6-1 regular season / 2-0 playoffs)
  • No. 5 Guelph Gryphons (OUA finalists: 5-0 regular season / 2-1 playoffs)

Pool B

  • No. 2 Queen’s Gaels (OUA champions: 5-0 regular season / 3-0 playoffs)
  • No. 3 Alberta Pandas (Canada West champions: 4-0 regular season / 2-0 playoffs)
  • No. 6 Laval Rouge et Or (Hosts: 4-3 regular season / 0-1 playoffs)

Wednesday, Oct. 30

  • 18:00 All-Canadian Awards Gala (Universel Hotel)

Thursday, Oct. 31

  • 10:30 Pool A: StFX vs. Guelph
  • 13:30 Pool B: Queen’s vs. Laval

Friday, Nov. 1

  • 10:30 Pool A: Loser (StFX-Guelph) vs. McGill
  • 13:30 Pool B: Loser (Queen’s-Laval) vs. Alberta

Saturday, Nov. 2

  • 10:30 Pool A: Winner (StFX-Guelph) vs. McGill
  • 13:30 Pool B: Winner (Queen’s-Laval) vs. Alberta

Sunday, Nov. 3

  • 10:00 Fifth place: 3rd Pool A vs. 3rd Pool B
  • 12:00 Bronze medal: 2nd Pool A vs. 2nd Pool B
  • 14:00 Championship final: 1st Pool A vs. 1st Pool B

Note: All games will be played at TELUS-UL Stadium except those on Saturday, Nov. 2, which will be played on Field #11 behind Louis-Jacques-Casault Hall (on campus).

About Canadian Interuniversity Sport

Canadian Interuniversity Sport is the national governing body of university sport in Canada. Every year, 11,000 student-athletes and 700 coaches from 54 universities and four regional associations vie for 21 national championships in 12 different sports. CIS also provides high performance international opportunities for Canadian student-athletes at Winter and Summer Universiades, as well as numerous world university championships. For further information, visit www.cis-sic.ca or follow us on:

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