Cascades women’s rugby sevens squad set to open Canada West series

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This weekend marks a major milestone for the University of the Fraser Valley’s fledgling women’s rugby sevens program, as the team travels to Edmonton to participate in the first tournament of the Canada West Women’s Rugby Sevens Series.

The Cascades join the UBC Thunderbirds, Victoria Vikes, Calgary Dinos, Lethbridge Pronghorns and the host Alberta Pandas at the first of three tourneys, running Saturday and Sunday at the University of Alberta’s Foote Field. The series also includes events hosted by UBC (Feb. 4-5) and UVic (Feb. 18-19), and a champion will be crowned on Feb. 19 as determined by cumulative series points.

The Canada West Women’s Rugby Sevens Series has been made possible thanks to the conference’s partnership with B2ten and Rugby Canada. Through their joint support, which will include scholarship opportunities for players at all six competing institutions, B2ten and Rugby Canada are committed to helping Canadian female athletes pursue their athletic careers, including an opportunity to progress to the national team.

Cascades head coach Jen Ross has been hard at work over the last several months building a program from scratch – unlike the other five participating universities, UFV does not have an existing 15s women’s rugby team to draw players from.

The Fraser Valley, though, is the hotbed of women’s rugby in B.C., and Ross has been able to build a roster anchored by four players who were part of the highly successful B.C. U23 women’s sevens team last year: Meghan Wellis (White Rock, B.C.), Elyssa Phillipson (Aldergrove, B.C.) and siblings Chelsea and Mackenzie Fowler of Mission, B.C. The provincial U23 squad earned tournament wins at major events in Las Vegas and Vancouver, and the quartet represents a solid foundation for the UFV side. While the rest of the roster is less experienced in the sevens game, they’re “all very athletic and very keen” according to Ross.

“It’s a really nice meshing of talent and enthusiasm,” Ross said, analyzing the Cascades roster. “It is daunting, going and facing five teams that are rugby schools and have recruited for rugby and can make cuts (to fashion their sevens rosters). But I have confidence in the girls, that they’ll perform well.

“The weather has put a big wrench in our preparation – we obviously haven’t been able to get on the field (due to snow), and gym time is limited. But the girls have been working really hard.”

Ross senses that her players are “proud to be representing the university.”

“They’re very excited,” she said. “They appreciate being around campus and running into other athletes from other teams and getting that support. They feel they’re being embraced by the university as a whole, which is fantastic and part of building our culture.”

– with files from Evan Daum, Canada West

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