Elite Amateur Sport Rugby Universities

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Carleton U’s Vanessa Chiappetta named RBC Future Olympian for women’s rugby

By Martin Cleary

A former professional hockey coach once said: “A straight road usually leads nowhere.”

If that’s true, then the road with twists and turns, ups and downs, and red lights and green lights is the one that takes you to the treasure chest filled with gold.

Carleton University women’s rugby player Vanessa Chiappetta can certainly attest to that as she has travelled roads filled with challenges, and they’ve eventually led her to some big achievements – not once, but twice.

Chiappetta confronted some sizeable hurdles early in her university days, but her constant determination allowed her to help the Ravens win back-to-back bronze medals in the RSEQ women’s rugby 15s league playoffs and develop forever friendships.

Once she learned this year about the RBC Training Ground athlete-talent-search program, she survived two rounds of testing, then tested her patience waiting for the results and even worried she may have a scheduling conflict that could prevent her from entering the national final in Ottawa. But in the end, that jagged road brought her the ultimate award – RBC Future Olympian status and funding to lift her onto an accelerated path to the Olympics with the Rugby Canada program.

“Now, I’m super stoked. The funding will help me get better as an athlete,” Chiappetta said about being named a Future Olympian and one of the top 30 athletes selected from the 100 national finalists.

The seven-year-old RBC Training Ground program tested more than 1,500 athletes throughout Canada this year on their core speed, strength, power and endurance. The top 100 athletes reached the national final for a second round of testing, The top 30 athletes will receive $7,500 each in funding and have become part of the national sport program that scouted them.

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The money can be used for coaching, transportation, travel, equipment and nutrition. The talent search is conducted in partnership with the Canadian Olympic Committee. Nine national sports associations scouted the athletes, looking for future high-performance candidates – Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, Canoe Kayak Canada, Cycling Canada, Freestyle Canada, Luge Canada, Rowing Canada, Rugby Canada, Speed Skating Canada and Volleyball Canada.

Chiappetta, 23, expects to hear soon from Rugby Canada about how she will be brought into its program and whether she’s better suited for the 7s or 15s game or maybe even both.

“It means the world to me,” she added. “I’ve never been a school person. I’ve concentrated on sports and want to go far. I want to go farther, farther and farther.

“I do want to make the 7s team. I love playing 7s and 15s as well. Playing in the Olympics would mean the world to me. I’m super excited and I’ll do the best I can do.”

Jennifer Joyce, the Rugby Canada strength and conditioning coach, believes Chiappetta has shown the potential to be on the national-level roster.

“She has been working hard to get her metrics up, which showed in the national final, and it is something we can ensure we continue to do to prepare her for the next level,” Joyce said in a press release.

“Vanessa has great agility and is one of our best open field tacklers. She can move the ball well on attack to both sides and is a threat with kicking the ball in hand.”

Carleton Ravens rugby player Vanessa Chiappetta was recently selected as an RBC Future Olympian. Photo: James Park / RBC Training Ground

Unaware of the RBC Training Ground talent-search program, Chiappetta’s mother sent her a social media message about it earlier this year. But Chiappetta doesn’t remember seeing it.

“My mom said: ‘I told you about this before.’ But I don’t always look at things she sends me on Facebook,” Chiappetta admitted. “But my friend (strength and conditioning coach) at Carleton University asked me if I had ever heard of it.”

At the time, she hadn’t, but last May she went with a few of her friends for testing at the University of Ottawa’s Montpetit Hall. Immediately after her test session, which she said went well, the athlete from Rigaud, Que. walked down to the Matt Anthony Field to play for a Quebec side in an interprovincial rugby match against Ontario.

“In the game, I got calf cramps in both legs. I was exhausted. But I didn’t want to miss the game,” said Chiappetta, reflecting her love of rugby.

The hardest part for Chiappetta was waiting to hear or read if she would advance to the top 100 for the national final at the EY Centre in Ottawa. Once she learned she was a finalist, there was another concern.

The Training Ground national final was scheduled for Oct. 22, which was the same date as the RSEQ women’s rugby championship game. Carleton had been a third-place team behind the Université Laval Rouge et Or and the uOttawa Gee-Gees and a berth in the championship was a possibility.

“I wasn’t sure if I could go to the (Training Ground) final because our varsity final game was on the same day. If we made it, I had a decision to make – RBC final or rugby final,” Chiappetta explained. “To go to the U Sports final (by winning the RSEQ final) is a big deal.

“I wanted to go to nationals with the team because it would be the first time to finals for Carleton. That was on my mind.”

Carleton Ravens rugby player Vanessa Chiappetta. File photo

But when Carleton lost its semifinal to Ottawa, Chiappetta didn’t have to worry any longer about the scheduling conflict. She was able to attend the RBC Training Ground final on Oct. 22 and play in the RSEQ bronze-medal game on Oct. 29.

The Ravens defeated Concordia University Stingers 34-24 in the third-place game to earn the university its second women’s rugby bronze medal. Chiappetta accounted for 19 points on one try, four converts and two penalties.

She shared the most points title in the RSEQ regular season with Laval’s Marie-Pier Fauteux at 76. Chiappetta scored seven tries and added 16 converts and three penalties. Fauteux was named the RSEQ and U Sports women’s rugby most valuable player for 2022, while Chiappetta didn’t earn any individual honours.

In 2021, Chiappetta finished third in RSEQ scoring with 44 points, was named to the RSEQ second all-star team and was the league athlete of the month for October. She also helped the Ravens to a dramatic 26-24 overtime win against the Université de Montréal for the RSEQ playoff bronze medal. Her accomplishments also earned her Carleton’s female athlete of the year award for the 2021-22 season.

When Chiappetta graduated from John Abbott College in 2017, she applied to attend the University of Ottawa. But by the time she was accepted, it was too late to apply for student residency and she didn’t want to live off campus. The stressful situation led her to step back and take a one-year pause before entering university.

A year later, Chiappetta applied and was accepted at Carleton University. The criminology student suffered through the Ravens’ first-ever no-win regular season in the RSEQ league in 2019 and there was no season in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Chiappetta stayed with the program and was an integral part of the Ravens winning back-to-back bronze medals in the 2021 and 2022 playoffs.

The RBC Training Ground program has tested more than 12,000 athletes since it started in 2016 and more than 1,600 have been identified as having Olympic potential by the various sports bodies. Thirteen athletes have represented Canada at two Olympics each and they’ve earned seven Games medals.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.

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