Vikes rugby look to make impressive appearance at national tournament

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By Michel Belanger, CIS Communications

OTTAWA (CIS) – The University of Victoria Vikes women’s rugby team are set to make their first qualified appearance at the CIS women’s rugby champions this weekend as the national tournament moves from a six-team pool-play format to an eight-team single-elimination competition. This is the first time the Vikes have appeared at the national championship since 2005, when they qualified as hosts. The Vikes enter with a strong pedigree from the Canada West as they swept all conference awards including Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year and student-athlete contributor award. 

The championship, hosted for the first time by Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., kicks off on Thursday at Nixon Field and concludes Sunday with the gold-medal final at 3 p.m. eastern time. All 11 games from the competition will be webcast live on CIS-SIC.tv.

The teams set to compete for the Monilex Trophy are the top-seeded Acadia Axewomen (AUS champions), No. 2 McMaster Marauders (OUA champs), No. 3 Ottawa Gee-Gees (RSEQ champs), No. 4 Victoria Vikes (Canada West champs), No. 5 Concordia Stingers (RSEQ finalists), No. 6 StFX(AUS finalists), No. 7 Lethbridge Pronghorns (Canada West finalists) and No. 8 Queen’s Gaels(hosts).

Thursday’s quarter-final matchups include StFX vs. Ottawa in the opener at 1 p.m., followed by Lethbridge vs. McMaster at 3 p.m., Concordia vs. Victoria at 5 p.m., as well as Queen’s vs. Acadia at 7 p.m.

In addition to the four-time champion X-Women (2014, 2012, 2010, 2006), the Pronghorns are the only other team in the field to have hoisted the Monilex Trophy in the past, claiming three straight banners from 2007 to 2009.

This season’s conference finals, played over the past two weekends, were rich in surprises and upsets: Acadia captured its first-ever AUS title thanks to a 34-17 win over StFX, which had previously claimed all 17 banners since women’s rugby made its AUS debut back in 1998; McMaster repeated as OUA champ thanks to 21-13 victory against nationally top-ranked Guelph; Victoria, like Acadia, became a first-time league champion after dominating Lethbridge 50-17 in the Canada West gold-medal match; only in the RSEQ was logic respected, with Ottawa capturing a second straight title with a hard-fought 25-17 win over perennial contender Concordia.

Queen’s, which had an automatic entry into the CIS tourney as the host, dropped a 20-10 decision to Western in the OUA bronze-medal game.

While StFX was considered the favourite on home turf going into last Friday’s AUS final, Acadia’s triumph didn’t exactly come as a shocker. After all, the rivals had split the head-to-head regular season series, with the Axewomen taking the first duel 32-29 and the X-women winning the rematch 24-10. As well, both the 2013 and 2014 conference championship games between the two clubs had been decided in overtime.

“We are excited to enter the tournament as the number one ranked team. We’ve known all season what we are capable of and it will be fun to see how the tournament unfolds,” said sixth-year Acadia head coach Matthew Durant, who hopes to lead his program to its first ever CIS tournament win on Thursday after the team went 0-3 in its first-ever appearance in 2012. “We have a great team. The girls are a really tight group and I expect our intensity to be very high.

“The coaching staff and I are very relieved to finally win the AUS title. We’ve felt we had the best team in the conference for the last three years, but we’ve managed to get upset in overtime the last couple of years in the final. So, this win was long overdue.”

“We are excited to be at nationals this year and we know that once you get there anything can happen,” said 17-year StFX sideline boss Mike Cavanagh, who guided his X-Women to the CIS title as the fourth seed a year ago. “It’s a new, exciting format this year which doesn’t allow you a second chance. I think that any of the eight teams there can win it. It will come down to whoever plays to their potential.”

McMaster and Queen’s both went 4-1 in the OUA Russell Division this fall, with the Gaels winning the lone head-to-head battle 15-14 in the league opener back on Sept. 13, but it was the Marauders who got the last laugh come playoff time. Led by division MVP Cindy Nelles, McMaster racked up three post-season wins on its way to its second straight OUA banner, while Queen’s enters the national championship on a two-game losing streak following a 38-3 loss to Guelph in the semifinal round and its 20-10 defeat at the hands of Western in the third-place match.

“This is going to be a very exciting week for our team. The team’s development throughout the season has been focused on preparing to defend our OUA championship and earn the right to play at the CIS championship,” said McMaster coach Shaun Allen, who a year ago, in his first season at the helm, led his troops to the national final, where they dropped a 43-34 decision against StFX. “Now we are here, so I think that we need to trust our skills and physicality and the process that got us here and go out and play our brand of rugby.”

“After months of hard work from our A&R staff, our coaching team and our athletes, it’s exciting to see that the CIS championship is almost here. From a program perspective, we’re thrilled to be able to show off Kingston and the Queen’s University campus, particularly Nixon Field where there will be some epic battles this week,” said Queen’s 11-year mentor Beth Barz, who led the Gaels to their first CIS medal – bronze – in 2013. “From our team, we’re prepared for an extremely tough match with Acadia, whom we last saw at the 2012 championship in Antigonish, N.S. Can’t wait for Thursday to arrive!”

In the RSEQ conference, Ottawa and Concordia were meeting in the final for the second straight year, with the Gee-Gees prevailing on both occasions. The Garnet and Grey also handed the Stingers their only loss of the regular season in late September, winning another close affair 25-19.

“We have a lot of really special athletes and they are working extremely well as a unit,” said third-year Gee-Gees head coach Jen Boyd, whose team spent two weeks atop the national Top 10 last month and beat first-round opponent StFX 24-19 in exhibition action in Ottawa on Oct. 9. “Everyone has their job and they know it. We’ve got depth and the team has faith in themselves late in games. The team learned valuable lessons from our fourth place last year on what it will take to finish number one and they’ve put that knowledge to work all season long.”  

“Our goal is to win. We had a mantra all season, ‘One week at a time.’ This is just another week,” said 11-year Concordia boss Graeme McGravie, whose team, led by RSEQ MVP Frédérique Rajotte and 2014 MVP Alex Tessier, defeated OUA powerhouse Guelph 38-26 in preseason action in early September. “There’s something about this team. There’s a confidence, a self-belief. We feel really good about our chances.”

In Canada West, Victoria and Lethbridge didn’t exactly look like championship-caliber teams going into the playoffs as the Vikes were sporting a .500 record (2-2) while the Pronghorns went winless in four league matches (0-3-1). It all changed on Oct. 23 in the conference semifinals, when the ‘Horns booked their ticket to Kingston with a shocking 35-25 win over first-place Calgary and the Vikes did the same with a 26-20 upset of Alberta.   

“The team is ready for nationals and looking forward to testing themselves against some of the other strong rugby programs in the country,” said UVic rookie head coach Brittany Waters, who merited coach-of-the-year honours in her Canada West debut. “We are an exciting and dynamic team with skilled athletes. We have improved every game this season and with strong performances I believe this team can do very well at nationals.”

“We have had an interesting year with the changeover and I am thankful for the support from Neil, Toby, Shannon and Rob,” said Lethbridge head coach Ric Suggitt, also in his first season at the helm. “Also to the players, who have believed in the change and started to see some of the changes we want to make. We are going into to CIS championship the way we would go into any game, and that is to win. We realize that we are not favourites but that will just provide more incentive to perform at our ultimate best.”

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

TEAM PROFILES

NO. 1 ACADIA AXEWOMEN (AUS champions)
Head Coach: Matthew Durant (6th season)
Regular season record: 5-1
Regular season standing: 2nd AUS
Playoff record: 2-0
Playoff finish: AUS champions
Top 10 final ranking (Oct. 20): No. 7
Top 10 best ranking: No. 4 (1 poll)
Top 10 number of weeks ranked (6 polls): 6
Conference award winners: None
Conference all-stars: Emma Delory, Veronique Russell, Danielle Wisen, Maddie MacKenzie, Rachel Chapman
CIS championship appearances (including 2015): 2nd
CIS championship all-time record: 0-3 (.000)
CIS championship all-time medals: 0
CIS championship best result: 6th place (2012)
CIS championship last appearance: 2012 (6th place)
CIS championship sequence: Return after 2-year absence

NO. 2 McMASTER MARAUDERS (OUA champions)
Head Coach: Shaun Allen (2nd season)
Regular season record: 4-1
Regular season standing: 1st OUA Russell Division
Playoff record: 3-0
Playoff finish: OUA champions
Top 10 final ranking (Oct. 20): No. 3
Top 10 best ranking: No. 3 (2 polls)
Top 10 number of weeks ranked (6 polls): 6
Conference award winners (Russell Division): Cindy Nelles (MVP), Rina Charalampis (community service)
Conference all-stars (Russell Division): Cindy Nelles, Emily Ricketts, Colleen Irowa, Katie Svoboda, Abi Moody
CIS championship appearances (including 2015): 4th
CIS championship all-time record: 6-4 (.600)
CIS championship all-time medals: 2 (0-2-0)
CIS championship best result: 2-time finalists (2014, 1998)
CIS championship last appearance: 2014 (finalists)
CIS championship sequence: 2nd consecutive appearance

NO. 3 OTTAWA GEE-GEES (RSEQ champions)
Head Coach: Jennifer Boyd (3rd season)
Regular season record: 7-0
Regular season standing: 1st RSEQ
Playoff record: 2-0
Playoff finish: RSEQ champions
Top 10 final ranking (Oct. 20): No. 2
Top 10 best ranking: No. 1 (2 polls)
Top 10 number of weeks ranked (6 polls): 6
Conference award winners: Jennifer Boyd (coach)
Conference all-stars: Simone Savary, Emily Babcock, Erin van Gulik, Brianna Miller, Irene Patrinos
CIS championship appearances (including 2015): 3rd
CIS championship all-time record: 1-5 (.167)
CIS championship all-time medals: 0
CIS championship best result: 4th place (2014)
CIS championship last appearance: 2014 (4th place)
CIS championship sequence: 2nd straight appearance

NO. 4 VICTORIA VIKES (Canada West champions)
Head Coach: Brittany Waters (1st season)
Regular season record: 2-2
Regular season standing: 3rd Canada West
Playoff record: 2-0
Playoff finish: Canada West champions
Top 10 final ranking (Oct. 20): Unranked
Top 10 best ranking: Unranked all season
Top 10 number of weeks ranked (6 polls): 0
Conference award winners: Jess Neilson (MVP), Gabby Senft (rookie), Brittany Waters (coach),Shannon Fitzpatrick (student-athlete community service)
Conference all-stars: Jess NeilsonCaitlin HarveyNakisa Levale
CIS championship appearances (including 2015): 2nd
CIS championship all-time record: 0-3 (.000)
CIS championship all-time medals: 0
CIS championship best result: 6th place (2005)
CIS championship last appearance: 2005 (6th place)
CIS championship sequence: Return after 9-year absence

NO. 5 CONCORDIA STINGERS (RSEQ finalists)
Head Coach: Graeme McGravie (11th season)
Regular season record: 6-1
Regular season standing: 2nd RSEQ
Playoff record: 1-1
Playoff finish: RSEQ finalists
Top 10 final ranking (Oct. 20): No. 8
Top 10 best ranking: No. 7 (1 poll)
Top 10 number of weeks ranked (6 polls): 6
Conference award winners: Frédérique Rajotte (MVP)
Conference all-stars: Frédérique Rajotte, Emily Hickson, Alex Tessier
CIS championship appearances (including 2015): 7th
CIS championship all-time record: 6-14 (.300)
CIS championship all-time medals: 1 (0-1-0)
CIS championship best result: Finalists (2010)
CIS championship last appearance: 2012 (4th place)
CIS championship sequence: Return after 2-year absence

NO. 6 ST. FRANCIS XAVIER X-WOMEN (AUS finalists)
Head Coach: Mike Cavanagh (17th season) 2014 (1st)
Regular season record: 5-1
Regular season standing: 1st AUS
Playoff record: 1-1
Playoff finish: AUS finalists
Top 10 final ranking (Oct. 20): No. 5
Top 10 best ranking: No. 1 (2 polls)
Top 10 number of weeks ranked (6 polls): 6
Conference award winners: Joanna Alphonso (MVP), Mike Cavanagh (coach)
Conference all-stars: Joanna Alphonso, Catharine MacKeigan, Brooke Newsome, Sabrina McDaid, Natalie Lesco
CIS championship appearances (including 2015): 18th
CIS championship all-time record: 27-28-3 (.491)
CIS championship all-time medals: 7 (4-3-0)
CIS championship best result: 4-time champions (2014, 2012, 2010, 2006)
CIS championship last appearance: 2014 (champions)
CIS championship sequence: 18th straight appearance

NO. 7 LETHBRIDGE PRONGHORNS (Canada West finalists)
Head Coach: Ric Suggitt (1st season)
Regular season record: 0-3-1
Regular season standing: 4th Canada West
Playoff record: 1-1
Playoff finish: Canada West finalists
Top 10 final ranking (Oct. 20): Unranked
Top 10 best ranking: Unranked all season
Top 10 number of weeks ranked (6 polls): 0
Conference award winners: None
Conference all-stars: Frederique Tremblay, Nicole Ronsky
CIS championship appearances (including 2015): 8th
CIS championship all-time record: 17-9 (.654)
CIS championship all-time medals: 5 (3-1-1)
CIS championship best result: 3-time champions (2009, 2008, 2007)
CIS championship last appearance: 2011 (4th place)
CIS championship sequence: Return after 3-year absence
 
NO. 8 QUEEN’S GAELS (OUA fourth-place finishers)

Head Coach: Beth Barz (11th season)
Regular season record: 4-1
Regular season standing: 2nd OUA Russell Division
Playoff record: 1-2
Playoff finish: Fourth in OUA
Top 10 final ranking (Oct. 20): No. 4
Top 10 best ranking: No. 2 (1 poll)
Top 10 number of weeks ranked (6 polls): 6
Conference award winners (Russell Division): None
Conference all-stars (Russell Division): Lauren McEwen, Emma Chown, Gillian Pegg, Pippi McKay
CIS championship appearances (including 2015): 4th
CIS championship all-time record: 4-5 (.444)
CIS championship all-time medals: 1 (0-0-1)
CIS championship best result: Bronze medal;ists (2013)
CIS championship last appearance: 2013 (bronze)
CIS championship sequence: Return after 1-year absence (3rd appearance in 4 years)

MONILEX TROPHY CHAMPIONS
2014 StFX
2013 Alberta
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 SCHEDULE

Wednesday, Nov. 4
18:30 All-Canadian Awards Gala (Days Inn and Conference Centre Kingston)

Thursday, Nov. 5
13:00 Quarter-final 1: No. 6 StFX vs. No. 3 Ottawa (CIS-SIC.tv)
15:00 Quarter-final 2: No. 7 Lethbridge vs. No. 2 McMaster (CIS-SIC.tv)  
17:00 Quarter-final 3: No. 5 Concordia vs. No. 4 Victoria (CIS-SIC.tv
19:00 Quarter-final 4: No. 8 Queen’s vs. No. 1 Acadia (CIS-SIC.tv

Friday, Nov. 6
Rest day

Saturday, Nov. 7
11:00 Consolation 1: Loser QF 1 vs. Loser QF 2 (CIS-SIC.tv
13:00 Consolation 2: Loser QF 3 vs. Loser QF 4 (CIS-SIC.tv)  
15:00 Semifinal 3: Winner QF 1 vs. Winner QF 2 (CIS-SIC.tv
17:00 Semifinal 4: Winner QF 3 vs. Winner QF 4 (CIS-SIC.tv

Sunday, Nov. 8
11:00 Fifth place (CIS-SIC.tv)
13:00 Bronze medal (CIS-SIC.tv)
15:00 Championship final (CIS-SIC.tv)

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