By Jamie Umbach, Vikes Communications
A new season for the University of Victoria Vikes women’s rugby team was met with new faces in both the coaching staff and lineup from their Canada West bronze medal-winning side last season. Former Vike and Canadian women’s 15s and 7s member Brittany Waters took over the coaching duties from Mark Hall for a lineup that would feature half of its players as first years, including the likes of Pam Buisa, Nakisa Levale and Gabrielle Senft.
The Vikes began their 2015 Canada West campaign against the Lethbridge Pronghorns on Sep. 25 at Wallace Field. Fifth-year Vikes Jaiden Parhar and Caitlin Harvey embraced their leadership role by leading the Vikes in the try department, each touching down a try in the 40-22 victory. Third-year scrumhalf and team captain Jess Neilson got her kicking off on the right foot by putting five conversions through the uprights. Two days later on Sep. 27, the Vikes met their match, losing 27-10 to the Calgary Dinos. Parhar notched another try in the loss with second-year back Madeleine Graham also touching down a try of her own against last season’s Canada West silver medalists.
The Vikes had the chance to rebound from their last loss a week later on Oct. 4 against rivals the UBC Thunderbirds. First-year eight-man Senft had a pair of tries in a dominating 28-10 win for the Vikes, who improved to 2-1 and surpassed last season’s single win total.
The Vikes ended the regular season against the three-time reigning Canada West champions the Alberta Pandas. Late tries from Buisa and second-year fullback Gurpreet Dhaliwal were not enough to erase a hefty Alberta advantage, eventually losing 34-28. The loss meant the Vikes would face the very same Pandas side in the first game of the Canada West Final Four in Edmonton.
On Oct. 23, the Vikes put an end to a three-year reign for the Pandas as Canada West champions with a 26-20 win at Ellerslie Rugby Park in the Canada West Final Four Quarter-Finals. A trio of tries from first-year Vike Chanelle Edwards-Challenger led the way to help send the Vikes to the final against the Pronghorns and secure a place at the CIS Championships in Kingston, Ont. from Nov. 5-8. The Vikes made no mistake in the final, winning decisively 50-17 to help bring home the program’s first Canada West championship banner in their history.
The first visit to the CIS Championships for the Vikes was met with a quarter-final matchup with the Concordia Stingers. The Vikes had their hopes of a CIS championship dashed early, losing 34-12 to drop to the consolation semifinals. The Vikes embraced the extra opportunity by dominating the top seed and AUS champion Acadia Axewomen 55-12 to set up a Canada West final rematch against the Pronghorns for fifth place. A most valuable player performance from Levale and 12 points off the foot of Neilson led the Vikes past Lethbridge 27-24 to cap off the most successful season in Vikes women’s rugby history.
Canada West Record: 2-2 (3rd)
Canada West Final Four: 2-0 (Gold)
CIS Championship Record: 2-1 (5th)
CIS Championship Place: 5th
2015-16 AWARD WINNERS
Canada West Most Valuable Player: Jess Neilson
Canada West Rookie of the Year: Gabrielle Senft
Canada West Coach of the Year: Brittany Waters
Canada West All-Stars: Jess Neilson, Caitlin Harvey, Nakisa Levale
Canada West Community Service Award: Shannon Fitzpatrick
CIS Rookie of the Year: Gabrielle Senft
CIS First Team All-Canadian: Jess Neilson
CIS Championship All-Stars: Caitlin Harvey, Jess Neilson, Pam Buisa