By Mark Colley
After the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s rugby team lost the national championship to the Queen’s Gaels in November 2021, the team went on a leadership retreat.
It was an academic evaluation of everything the team does, from nutrition to staff to travel and even dress. After coming so close to winning gold but falling just eight points short, the team dissected the very fabric of the program to see what more they could do.
“We tried to pick apart over two days where we can find things that will help us,” said Jen Boyd, head coach and program manager. “We’re gonna do more frequent check-ins throughout the season. How are things going? What do we need to change? We’re prepared to pivot if we need to — just having conversations that we didn’t have last year that potentially cost us the championship.”
Now, as the fall university sports season kicks off for uOttawa and the Carleton Ravens with football, soccer and rugby on tap, Boyd is confident that the Gee-Gees can exceed the heights they reached last year and win a national championship.
Part of the reason is the extra time to prepare this summer. The Gee-Gees trained together for six weeks, with two exhibition games against the Team USA U20 and U23 squads — both of which uOttawa won — in addition to intrasquad games and joint training sessions with Carleton.
This weekend, the Gee-Gees are traveling to Guelph for a three-game preseason tournament against the Guelph Gryphons, McMaster Marauders and Brock Badgers.
The season will open on Sept. 4 with a game against the Concordia Stingers. For team captain Claire Gallagher, the biggest benefit of this offseason’s leadership evaluation will be increased connections with other players on the pitch.
“It’s mostly just about knowing all the players that are on the field with you and knowing how you can make them perform to their best,” Gallagher said. “Every player on our team is different … Our team is super diverse, which is awesome. Just sort of really connecting with everyone at a deeper level so that on the field I’m able to help them be at their best.”
The Gee-Gees have won U Sports medals in six consecutive seasons, a stretch of dominance highlighted by winning the national championship in 2017. For Talia Hennessy — who graduated last year but is taking a few extra classes this fall so she can play another season — the program means more than just the on-field product.
“The person it’s molded me into is pretty amazing,” Hennessy said. “Just to see how much I’ve changed in terms of a leader on and off the field, in terms of maturity and dealing with conflict, communication.”
Elsewhere on the fall university sports schedule, the Ravens men’s soccer team will be looking to follow up a silver medal finish at U Sports nationals in 2021 with another championship campaign this season.
The 2021 championship came down to the final penalty kick, but the journey back to the gold medal game — Carleton’s first trip there since 2002 — will be tough. The team is expected to lose many key players, including Ottawa’s Matteo de Brienne, the Ravens’ 2021 leader in goals scored who is now playing professionally with Valour FC of the Canadian Premier League.
On the uOttawa side, the Gee-Gees women’s team went undefeated in 10 games last season but lost in the Ontario University Athletics semifinals to Queen’s. They’ll be looking to get over the hump when their season kicks off on Sept. 3 against the University of Toronto.
This fall will be the start of a new era for two Carleton teams. After parting ways with longtime head coach Steve Sumarah this offseason, the Ravens football program will be led by Corey Grant, former assistant coach and offensive coordinator at McMaster.
The team has also seen an overhaul in assistant coaches and will be looking to improve from a run of 35 years without appearing in a regional final. Their season begins on Aug. 27 against McMaster.
The Ravens’ men’s rugby team, while not varsity, will be competing in the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) for the first time this season after six seasons in the Scholar’s League. Their first game is Sept. 10 against McGill University.
The Carleton women’s rugby team is coming off the best finish in program history, which saw them win bronze in RSEQ. When the season starts on Sept. 1 against Sherbrooke, the Ravens will be without team captain Roberta Drummond, who graduated this past year.
For the uOttawa women’s rugby team, all eyes are already on the national championship, which will be hosted in British Columbia.
“I’m very optimistic for Nov. 6 in Victoria,” Boyd said.
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