The Calgary Dinos rode a two-try first half to a U Sports bronze medal on Sunday, powering past the Guelph Gryphons by a score of 24-12 at Centennial Stadium in Victoria.
“For us it’s our first trip to nationals, so it was all about digging deep and asking whether we were willing to settle or if we still had something to play for,” said Dinos head coach Simon Chi, the 2016 U Sports Coach of the Year. “We have some graduating players and it’s about sending them off in the right way. I was very happy with our effort.”
The Guelph Gryphons finished off the podium after dominating the OUA this season. After a gritty 33-27 victory in their opener, the Gryphons seemed to lose momentum and were challenged by slow starts in their last two matches.
“I feel like our highest point was the OUA final and it was difficult to get back up to that point,” said Guelph head coach Colette McAuley. “That’s something as the coaching staff we will have to look at and make sure we do things a little bit differently and prepare them differently. We need to be able to perform at nationals.”
Dynos fullback Elysa Sandron opened the scoring with a try and a conversion in the 16th minute, followed by a try from teammate Kaselle Menin in the 20th minute. By the time half came around, the Gryphons were down 12-0 and looking to regroup.
“It was obviously disappointing,” said McAuley. “Our handling mistakes put us on the back foot the whole game and just like against StFX if we don’t have possession of the ball it’s tough to win games.”
It was a spectacular finish to the first-ever appearance by the Dinos at the national tournament, capping off a year that saw them win the first Canada West banner in program history.
For the Dinos, the great start confirmed that their game plan was on the right track. The team that went undefeated in the Canada West regular season was able to find their confidence again after losing to Ottawa in the semifinals on Friday night.
“It was about executing our game plan,” said Chi. “We were a bit nervous on Friday and made some basic errors, today we played with a lot more confidence and did what we needed to do so I’m very happy with that.”
Calgary added a pair of tries in the second half from Natasha Loucks and Taejah Thompson. While the Gryphons were able to respond thanks to Madison Brattan and Devon Stober, they weren’t able to muster a comeback when it mattered most.
“We need to regroup for the next season and make sure that we come back a little bit more prepared,” said McAuley. “Whether it was nerves or a slick ball. There’s just a lot of disappointed faces around the change room.”
“We had a great season, the credit goes to a larger group,” said Chi. “We have a great support staff with our athletic therapists and strength and condition coaches.
“They all support a great group of athletes that believe in what we are doing and everybody works their hardest.”