–By Jake Romphf
A 3rd place finish nationally was a disappointing finish for the University of Ottawa’s women’s rugby team after winning the national championship a year ago. However, the bronze medal and another undefeated regular season has reinforced the Gee-Gees’ position as a perennial powerhouse in the sport of women’s rugby.
Now in their offseason, the Gee-Gees’ women’s rugby program looks to continue developing their team that’s been undefeated in Réseau du sport du Québec (RSEQ) regular season play over the last five years. With most of their players eligible to return, they’re planning on building on top of this season’s success with a run at the national crown again next year.
The Gee-Gees’ started the Nov. 1-4 U Sports Women’s Rugby Championship in Wolfville, Nova Scotia with a 26-24 victory over the hosting Acadia University Axewomen. The win advanced Ottawa’s team to the semifinals where they met their match in the Guelph Gryphons.
Jennifer Boyd, the Gee-Gees’ head coach, said rainy conditions made it difficult for either team to attack. “It was really physical. There was a lot of goal line defence and a lot of back and forth,” she explained.
The Gee-Gees fell behind Guelph by a try just before halftime and couldn’t make a comeback in the second half. Guelph won the semifinal match 15-12, sending the Gee-Gees to face Université Laval for 3rd place.
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Boyd chose to play some of her team’s younger players early in that game before eventually inserting her veterans, who helped secure a come-from-behind 20-19 victory in extra time.
But the bronze was merely bittersweet.
“Everything is about nationals with me,” Boyd said. “We don’t go to nationals not to win.”
But there were some positive takeaways from the tournament: The Gee-Gees are the only team to medal in each of the last four years. Boyd also said this was the most competitive and physical year yet.
“Hopefully that’ll fuel us for next year,” Boyd added.
Out of their 41 women roster, 37 Gee-Gee players are eligible to return. Boyd said the offseason is when the players really get a chance to improve.
The team does weight training three times a week in the winter along with speed, skill, and conditioning sessions each running twice a week.
“The real gains are made from January to April,” Boyd said.
Conditioning is central for a Gee-Gees team that’s known for coming alive in the second half of games. Being the fittest team, not giving teams time and space on defence, and maintaining the ball on offense is key to their success, Boyd says.
Wintertime is also recruiting season for university rugby coaches. Boyd, who scouts players herself, said Ottawa has a large pool of players to work with. The school’s dominance in recent years has aided their recruiting ability as well. Another contributing factor is Boyd’s position as an assistant coach on Canada’s national team.
“I tend to have a good idea of who’s where and what they’re doing and hopefully attract them to (the University of Ottawa),” she said.
For Boyd, the offseason is also for making new offensive and defensive game plans to stay ahead of the competition, prepare players for specific roles, and learn new strategies to implement in the fall.
“You can’t stay the same or everyone’s going to beat you,” Boyd said.