The development pathway for national level rugby sevens athletes in Canada just took a step forward with the announcement of a new women’s rugby season in the Canada West university conference.
It will be called the Canada West Women’s Rugby Seven Series, a three-tournament schedule that starts in Edmonton on Jan. 21 and 22. The Vikes are one of six teams in the series, with the Alberta Pandas, UBC Thunderbirds, Calgary Dinos, Fraser Valley Cascades and Lethbridge Pronghorns. Victoria will host Feb. 4 and 5, and UBC the final tournament, Feb. 18 and 19.
“We’re pleased about the strategic partnership between Canada West, Rugby Canada and B2Ten to offer a competitive format for women’s rugby sevens,” said Clint Hamilton, UVic Vikes director of athletics and recreation.
The new sevens program is a three-year pilot and offers the only properly structured women’s sevens format in U Sports (formerly CIS), the national overseer of university athletics in Canada.
The major announcement came just three days after a successful national rugby 15s championship played at UVic (and won by the St. FX X-Women), and about three months after Canada’s successful bronze medal showing at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. The series supplies a key stepping stone to the Olympic pathway for student-athletes who would otherwise focus on 15s at the university until Rugby Canada recruited them.
Ghislaine Landry was part of Canada’s bronze medal-winning team and was Canada’s leading scorer when it won gold the 2015 Pan Am Games. But Landry didn’t play sevens at a high level until she was recruited by Rugby Canada after a successful run as a 15s player at St. FX, where she graduated in 2010.
“For that time as a university athlete I didn’t play sevens, so this will provide a much deeper field of skilled athletes for Canada to draw from.”
Vikes coach Brittany Waters, a current player with the national 15s program and a former national sevens player, said she will consider recruiting new Vikes specifically for sevens but will prefer the players play both for now.
“For this moment, it’s possible for our players to play both 15s and sevens, the hope is to develop players [for both formats].”
Since Waters took the head coaching role two years ago she’s upped the program from 25 to 35 players, and said she could take on more, but it would mean an additional need for coaching.
The upcoming sevens season will add opportunity for a few players that redshirted during the fall 15s season.
The Vikes sevens team will be built around Jess Neilson, Pam Buisa, Chanelle Edwards-Challenger and Kara Galbraith.
The partnership of B2Ten and Rugby Canada will also lead to additional scholarships for teams, though how many is not yet clear.