By Mark Colley
The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s rugby team is one of the most consistently dominant teams in U Sports rugby history. They won bronze at the national championship in Victoria, B.C. on Nov. 6, now the seventh consecutive season in which they have ended on the podium.
But on the team itself, few are celebrating. It is a disappointing finish for a team that expected so much more, but fell short in 12 catastrophic minutes against the Queen’s Gaels in the semifinals.
“We just did not show up … and it’s just crushing,” said head coach and program manager Jen Boyd, who guided the team to silver in 2021. “You finish second and then you have a year to think about it and then you get another opportunity against the same team and you just fail miserably.”
After losing by eight points in the gold medal game to Queen’s last year, the program underwent an internal review of all team operations. Everything was evaluated, from nutrition to staff to travel. Ultimately, the changes failed to pan out and the team is now left searching for answers.
“I just don’t know what else we could’ve done,” Boyd said. “Last year, I knew right away some of the things we could’ve done. I just knew. This year, that’s what makes it so hard. There’s nothing.”
The season ultimately came down to 12 minutes in the first half against Queen’s, when uOttawa allowed two tries, two conversions and a converted penalty — 17 points in total — to go down 22-0. The team made errors they haven’t made all year, Boyd said.
While the Gee-Gees scored 17 points in the second half, enough for the game to come down to one try, the team didn’t capitalize enough on their opportunities at the end of the game, added the Gee-Gees’ leader of a decade.
“That’s what happens in big games. People who aren’t prepared mentally are exposed,” Boyd said. “[It] wasn’t the ref, wasn’t the weather, wasn’t our preparation, wasn’t our tactical knowledge. It was just our execution. The players just did not perform. I’m not blaming the players — they just did not perform that night and now I’ve got to figure out why.”
Neither Boyd nor third-year Ketsia Kamba, who was a tournament all-star, could explain the collapse.
“Tactically, I don’t know what happened. Mentally, I don’t know what happened,” Kamba said. “When the final whistle blew, it took me a while to realize that we literally just lost … It was a numbing feeling.”
The most confounding part for Boyd — the reason why she says she may never get over the loss — is that this year’s team was the best she’s ever coached at uOttawa. Though the team was without 2021 all-Canadian Maddy Grant (who was busy representing Canada at the Women’s Rugby World Cup), they had no injuries ahead of nationals either.
Four days after winning bronze, Kamba was more even-keeled. She said she is excited for the future of the program and the potential of the team next year.
“These are gonna happen. The season is not gonna go as planned,” Kamba said. “The bounceback that we had shows how our team will continue to fight back, regardless of anything that happens to us.”
For now, Boyd will conduct exit interviews with the players and watch tape of the semifinal. Players will get a few months off from rugby-related activities before training starts again in mid-January.
What makes uOttawa’s program unique is the change it undergoes from year to year. That gives current players — including team captain Claire Gallagher, who graduates in December and is unsure if she will return for next season — confidence the team will improve.
“We always find ways to make adjustments and improve,” Gallagher said in an email. “The big thing that sets us apart is all the off-field stuff we do in the off-season, so [we have] lots to look ahead to.”
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