Posted on: January 17, 2019
Quiet confidence might be the best way to describe the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack as they enter their second season in the Canada West women’s rugby sevens league. The WolfPack will be heading to Edmonton, Alberta this weekend to compete in an eight team tournament—the first of three they will play.
Derek Pue is back for as head coach. He is assisted by his wife, Jesse Olynyk.
“The big thing was to move forward from last year and set some realistic goals about where we stand, “he says. “With the strength of Interior women’s rugby we believe we can build a solid program here. The girls have been working very hard since September-which was a luxury we didn’t have last year. We are much fitter and hopefully we can knock some of the points from our results from last year.”
Thompson Rivers has a solid core of returning veterans.
Anna Morrish of Kamloops is the team captain.
“I think we definitely have a better chance this year. We are more prepared, we have more of an understanding about what the league is like. We have seen it before. Nothing will be a surprise this year. I think the pace of the game was the biggest surprise from last year. The seriousness that the other teams put into this sport; the preparation, game speed and the depth of the other teams was the biggest shock to us.”
Morrish feels that teams fitness level is at a higher level. “Our game speed, our strength is at a new level. We are going to be able to run with the ball much more quickly and effectively this year”.
She admits there is a great ‘vibe’ among the players and that cohesion and cooperation will go hand in hand in coming up with some victories this season.
Says Pue of Morrish: “She is going to lead us again like she did last year. Everyone follows behind her lead and play high tempo, high-energy rugby. We need to play a team game. We need that to be at 100 per cent o have success.”
One player who is looking forward to playing this weekend is Madison Petonjic-Rogers. She is the team’s only Albertan. “ I’m really excited about this season. The preparation we have had is definitely going to give us a better start. I think we have really come together as a team. I think our chemistry is one of our strengths. We trust each other and that will help with passing, contact and communication on the field.”
“It’s going to be exciting to go back to Alberta and play against girls I have played with and against my entire life,” she adds. “ As a team we are going to out and try and win. Playing indoor, there isn’t that much traction and it will hurt more to get hit. Being in the dome is something that you have to get used to.”
The WolfPack will meet Calgary, Lethbridge, and Fraser Valley in their first three matches on Saturday (Jan 19)
“Inside will be different, “says Morrish of playing the weekend matches under a dome. “ We haven’t experienced that before. I hear the Foote field is scratchy and tough. We will deal with that issue when it comes up. We have been practicing inside so that aspect won’t be different. What will be in a game situation is not being able to see the sky. We know all three teams we are playing this weekend. Fraser Valley is a relatively new team as well and we think we can keep up with all three of those schools.”
Thompson Rivers enters the season with 10 players. Only one of them is new in Kamloops native Emma Koopmans. Pue says the roster is small for a reason. “The point for us was that we recruit on culture. We recruit on personality. You have to have the right work ethic and buy into our culture to be successful. It may not transfer into results in our first year. But the culture and how the girls went about their business, they attacked it like it was a varsity program. From my standpoint, if you aren’t willing to do that we are OK on our own. I really looked at as we invited a group of girls to join us. But they weren’t the right fit so we said no thanks.”
A number of the teams involved in women’s rugby sevens also play full 15 aside. Pue admits those programs have an advantage. “ When you are able to broaden the pool you can choose from is always beneficial. For us, we are able to keep our core small. We can train hard together. It is good for our staffing because our players get one on one coaching, physio etc. I think for us the sevens program is running well for us.”
The WolfPack have two more tournaments in this ‘short-season’. The others will be In Abbotsford, BC (Feb 2-3) and Vancouver BC (Mar 2-3). The coach is looking forward to the extra matches.
“Playing three tournaments is much more of a grind. Those two tournaments last year-we got the feel of the first one and the second one had terrible weather conditions.. We really didn’t get a chance to stretch our legs out. Having the third tournament this year, we will get a feel of what a series will be like. It will be tough . We have illusions of what that is going to be like. We know it is going to be hard but it is going to give us a real feel and a real experience.”
The women’s rugby seven’s program is entering its final year of an experimentation period in Canada West. All concerned with the TRU program hopes that it gains ‘full time varsity status’.
The coach says, “Really excited that the organizers of Canada West have been very fluid with allowing other programs n and doing what they can to give everyone a taste of at the lower levels a taste of what the top rugby in the country looks like. We know UVIC, UBC and Calgary are the top programs in the country when it comes to women’s rugby.”
Adds Morrish, “ It is really exciting that two other schools (Regina and UBCO) are joining the league this year. It gives me hope that this program at TRU will be able to stick around. I would love to see it stay. People deserve to play sports that they love even if they aren’t as popular as soccer or basketball. Women’s rugby is starting to take off as a female sport. It deserves its chance to be a varsity sport too.”
Says Petonjic-Rogers “Sevens has become such a popular sport. The way Canada performed at the Olympics. It is so exciting for female sport as a whole. I came to university not expecting to play rugby and I got this awesome opportunity to do that. Hopefully girls following me will get a chance too. I am hopeful the sport will be picked up by Canada West and we can continue to play. It’s not a developmental tool anymore. It used to be that sevens was a way to prepare for the 15’s. Seven’s is its own thing. We should try and keep it going.”