By Ali Lee, Vikes Communications
VICTORIA, B.C. – The University of Victoria Vikes women’s rugby team are poised to have home field advantage to open their 2015 Canada West season this weekend, Sept. 25-27. The Vikes host Lethbridge on Friday and Calgary on Sunday, the latter of which will pay tribute to the late Jenny Vincent.
The new-look Vikes not only boast a quality and deep roster for this season but their coaching staff also have a strong line up. Vikes head coach Brittany Waters returns to the fold for her first official season as head coach. Waters, a current member of the Canadian national 15s team is joined by fellow Canadian national team members Julianne Zussman, Barbara Mervin and Laura Russell – all as assistant coaches. The four coaches also bring previous national team experience with Canada’s 7s program.
The Vikes team itself shares similar properties with its coaching staff as several have worn the maple leaf including second-year scrum Jess Neilson, third-year prop Tiffany Picketts and third-year flankerJulia Folk. All three suited up with their coaches this past summer on the Canadian 15s team.
Second-year Vike Madeleine Graham and first-year Gabrielle Senft are fresh off a summer with the Canadian Under 20 team, while the team boasts several players from last season’s squad that were the Canada West bronze medalists and the runners up at the Canadian University 7s Championship.
“This is the strongest team we’ve seen in a long time,” said Waters, who was a former Vike and All-Canadian in women’s rugby herself. “The veterans have built a strong team culture over the past few years and last season we had a really successful year so, it can really only go up from here. We have a lot of new recruits who will also be bringing a lot of rep team experience (age grade Canada or provincial representation.”
The Vikes women had a busy off-season as several players were suiting up for club teams or with national programs, while the team re-convened earlier this year to host a pre-season camp and tour. Waters and her squad travelled for three exhibition games against UBC, Lethbridge and Alberta and thea team boasted a 2-1 record on that trip.
“The tour really gave me a chance to see different combinations,” added Waters. “We have so much depth and talent this year that it will be difficult to find our strongest line up. We have girls that can play in different positions and we are trying to find the combination that allows us to have the best players on the field.”
The Vikes open up their season playing the Lethbridge Pronghorns, who last season finished with a regular season record of 1-3. The 2015 team boasts 11 new players, while seven have departed. Though Lethbridge will be in a transition year the team will look to outside half Sarah Gordon and fullback Kara Loewen to be leaders on the team.
The Vikes, with a day of rest in between, will turnaround to host Calgary on Sept. 27 in their 6thAnnual Jenny Vincent Memorial Game. Vincent was involved with the women’s rugby programs at both Victoria and Calgary. After coaching at UVic, Vincent relocated to Calgary where she was an integral part in the Dinos transition from a club team to becoming a CIS competitive team. Vincent was a pioneer in the sport of women’s rugby and her efforts in advancing the sport will be demonstrated Sunday as the team’s Dinos and Vikes go head-to-head.
Last season Calgary were 3-1-0 and boasted a 1-1 record in the playoffs. The team also gains a large number of players, 13, while losing eight. Top performers for the Dinos will likely include DaLeaka Menin and Emily Tuttosi.
The young Vikes were 1-3 in their regular season in 2014 but fought hard at the Canada West Final Four to win bronze, boast 17 new players, while only two fifth years graduated, leaving room for several key seniors to step up to the plate. On top of their national team talents the Vikes also boast fifth years Caitlin Harvey and Jaiden Parhar, as well as fourth-year centre Shannon Fitzpatrick.
“We are a fast team and we want to be a physical and aggressive team,” stated Waters. “We are also very creative. Even our rookies bring their own experience and we want them to use that and express themselves. We have a very mobile, fit and fast forward pack and we aren’t too focused on the results right now. We want to improve every day and every game and let the results take care of themselves.”
The Vikes women will play Lethbridge on Sept. 25 at 5:00 p.m., and will play Calgary on Sept. 27 at 11:30 a.m. Both games will take place at Wallace Field on the University of Victoria campus.