The University of Calgary women’s rugby team has progressed at an astonishing rate over the past three seasons. During the first year of the women’s rugby program in 2009, the Dinos were unable to score a single point. They remained winless in their second season. Last season was a big year for the Dinos as they managed their first win against Canada West opposition, beating the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in their first game of the season. Ultimately, the Dinos qualified for the CW playoffs and finished third.
This year, the team has once again showed enormous improvement. The Dinos started the season strong on Sept. 21 by easily beating the Thunderbirds 76–10 and the University of Victoria Vikes 47–3 on their first B.C. road-trip. The following week, the squad defeated the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns, a perennial powerhouse of Canadian rugby, 31–18.
The Dinos are the first team to beat the six-time defending CW champions since 2008. Ending the Pronghorns’s 22 game winning streak was the biggest achievement in the program’s history and solidified the U of C as a contender for the CW title.
The win was extra special for third-year player Anna Ahart.
“My big sister plays [with the Pronghorns] and to beat her was tremendous. They’re known for rugby — that’s what their school is about — and beating them was the best thing our program has done so far,” said Ahart.
The huge win has given the Dinos confidence to challenge for the championship. However, for head coach Simon Chi, being competitive and continuing to improve may be as important as the results.
“For a lot of people it was sort of a big game, but in my mind it’s just a build up. We prepared no differently — at the end of the day it’s about beating them at the right time of the year. I wasn’t going to be too worried about the result, as long as we are being competitive and are improving,” said Chi. “We’ve identified a core group of athletes that we’ve been developing. They’re starting to come into their own in terms of knowledge of the game” said Chi.
Ahart acknowledged a different culture surrounding the team this season.
“A lot of us are taking it a lot more seriously. When we first started, there were a lot of us who really wanted to win, but it was sort of unfathomable. Now we work really hard, we’re training more than ever, we started earlier than we ever have and it shows. We’ve been extremely successful this year,” said Ahart.
Third-year Dino and national team player Sammy Crandell said she is very excited and nervous about the playoffs.
“I think everybody knows that we have a lot to work on, so switches are clicked on at practice and everyone is eager to learn more and improve,” said Crandell.
There is a lot of optimism on the U of C women’s rugby team but, at the same time, the Dinos know the most crucial stage of the season is playoffs.
“It’s a very grounded group. They have come out and worked hard this week,” said Chi.
Ahart described the attitude of the team this season as positive and grounded.
“We have all been working so hard, no one expects anything to be a cakewalk because we have never had a cakewalk. Nothing has ever been easy for us so we know we have to fight,” said Ahart.
The Dinos are ranked fifth nationally and second in the CW, positioning the team nicely for a best ever finish for the burgeoning program.
For the first time since the program’s inception, the Dinos women’s rugby team has a serious chance at challenging for the CW championship and a trip to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championships. The Dinos rugby team played its last regular season game on Friday, October 12 against the University of Alberta Pandas. Heading into the game, both teams were 3–0 in the CW conference. The Pandas defeated the Dinos 46–24, giving the Dinos second seed heading into playoffs.
The CW playoffs feature the top-four teams facing off for a spot in the CIS championships. Only the champion of the final-four CW tournament moves on to the nationals, which the Dinos now have in their sight. However, the Dinos first need to end the U of L’s six-title streak.
The earlier victory over the Pronghorns was an amazing accomplishment for the women’s rugby program, but in order to take the team to the national level, they will have to replicate this achievement in the playoffs.