The McMaster Marauders, the No.1 ranked team in the nation all season, head into the CIS women’s rugby championship looking to defend their title from 2015, with a challenging draw after being upset in the OUA championship on Friday. The tournament, hosted for the second time by the University of Victoria, kicks off on Thursday at Wallace Field and concludes Sunday with the gold-medal final at 3 p.m. PT.
The teams set to compete for the Monilex Trophy are the top-seeded Guelph Gryphons (OUA champions), No. 2 Ottawa Gee-Gees (RSEQ champs), No. 3 Calgary Dinos (Canada West champs), No. 4 StFX X-Women (AUS champs), No. 5 Concordia Stingers (RSEQ finalists), No. 6 Acadia Axewomen (AUS finalists), No. 7 McMaster Marauders (OUA finalists) and No. 8 Victoria Vikes (hosts/Canada West finalists). Thursday’s quarter-final matchups include Calgary vs. Acadia in the opener at 12 p.m., followed by Ottawa vs. McMaster at 2 p.m., StFX vs. Concordia at 5 p.m., as well as host Victoria vs. Guelph at 7 p.m.
Guelph captured its first OUA title since 2012 on Friday night, dethroning defending national champion and No.1-ranked McMaster 24-7 on the road. In other conference finals over the past two weekends, Ottawa defeated Concordia 29-19 in the RSEQ championship, while StFX reclaimed the AUS banner over Acadia with a 62-0 shutout, in a rematch of the 2015 final. Calgary took the Canada West championship via a 29-14 victory over Victoria.
Guelph’s upset of previously undefeated McMaster served as redemption for the Gryphons, who’d lost the OUA championship to the Marauders the last two seasons. Both teams went 5-0 in the regular season and hadn’t met since last season’s title match. “The biggest thing we need to do is just recover. It was a really tough match both physically and mentally,” Marauders head coach Shaun Allen of the OUA gold medal game. “We need to make sure we go into our first game on Thursday in Victoria healthy and ready to play our game. If we continue to do what we have been doing on the pitch all season, we can compete with any team in the tournament.”
“We are very excited to be heading to nationals this year,” said Gryhons head coach Colette McAuley. “After missing out on it last year with the restructuring of the tournament, the players are very eager to have this opportunity. We've been able to achieve many of the goals that we've set out for ourselves and we're hoping to check one more box. I'm very proud of my athletes and coaching staff, as they continuously work hard to make each other better.”
In the RSEQ, Ottawa and Concordia battled in the conference championship for the third straight year, with the Gee-Gees winning all three titles. The Gee-Gees had the Stingers’ number also in the regular season taking the teams’ lone regular season matchup 20-17 on Sept. 25. “We’ve been there and I think that in itself says a lot,” said Ottawa head coach Jenn Boyd of her team’s national championship experience. “We have a large group of players that are returning from last year and they’ll help the younger players – just the experience of how to recover and stay focused. It’s hard when you’re away from home but we’re really looking forward to the challenge.”
“We need to get through that first game against St. Francis Xavier,” said Stingers head coach Graeme McGravie. “They are a big, physical team. The team that wins nationals will be the one that is most physical, most consistent and adapts to the week. The biggest adjustment for most teams will be playing on grass.”
Out east, StFX swept both regular season matchups with Acadia – a 38-19 victory on Sept. 17 followed by a 32-7 victory on Oct. 2 – en route to a perfect 6-0 record and reclaiming the AUS title it lost last to the Axwomen last season after 17 straight conference championships. Acadia, meanwhile, finished the regular season at 4-2, a year after winning its first AUS gold. “We are very excited to be heading to Victoria for nationals,” said StFX head coach Mike Cavanagh. “We are looking forward to competing against the best programs in the country and hopefully being able to reach our goal as national champs.”
In Canada West, Calgary enters the national championship on the heels of its first conference title in program history. In its season opener on Sept. 23, the Dinos defeated Victoria 29-20 in the teams’ only matchup, a win that served notice to the Vikes, who would go on to lose the Canada West championship. Calgary went 4-0 on the season while host Victoria posted a 3-1 mark. “We approached coming into October to win four games and earn our first conference championship,” said Dinos head coach Simon Chi. “We’re going to do the same thing at the CIS Championship. We’re going to watch some of the videos if we can get any film, but really the focus is going to be on us executing our game plan as it has been all season. This will be our first trip to nationals as a team, but I’m confident that our athletes will perform up to expectations and play their game.”
“It is an incredible opportunity to be hosting the CIS national championship here at UVic,” said Vikes head coach Brittany Waters. “We have had a successful season this year but we have not reached our potential yet and are hoping to peak in time for nationals. We look forward to our upcoming games and the opportunity to test ourselves against the best in the country. I know the team will put in their best effort and having the home crowd behind us will be a huge benefit.”