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SEASON PREVIEW: Women’s rugby builds on nationals win

Womens Rugby players group pose

The Gee-Gees women's rugby team captured the U SPORTS National Championship in 2017, marking a program milestone and cementing themselves as one of uOttawa's greatest teams.

The build to the top - with consecutive fourth, third, and second place finishes at nationals before the championship was won – along with four straight RSEQ conference championships, shows the consistent success which has been built into the Gee-Gees program. As the 2018 regular season begins this weekend, the Garnet and Grey will now look to ensuring that 2017 will breed a legacy.

The regular season opens with a home match against the same Laval Rouge et Or which Ottawa defeated in the 2017 national championship game and RSEQ final, and will also feature a banner unveiling at Matt Anthony Field. A huge matchup with plenty to play for both sides will also be the first opportunity for several new Gee-Gees to contribute to the lineup.

The Gee-Gees added fourth-year second row Michaela Haley from Acadia (Ottawa, Ont. – Glebe Collegiate) and fifth-year front row Ellen Murphy from St. FX (Augustine Cove, PEI) in addition to 18 first-year players on the roster of 41. Haley was an AUS All-Star in 2014 while Murphy was honoured in 2016 as part of the national-championship winning X team.

Returning players for Ottawa include both of the team's All-Canadian honourees from 2017: Sam Alli (Caledon, Ont. – Health Sciences) is back for her fourth season in Garnet and Grey while Alex Ondo (Matane, Que. – International Development and Globalization) enters her third year. The pair make Ottawa tremendously dangerous in the Back 3.

At scrum-half, the Gee-Gees feature third-year Taylor Donato back for her second season of starting, and three first-year players at backup. Fifth-year Erin McCallan, who shared duties at scrum-half last season, moves to centre for 2018. Fourth-year Emily Gray will be a key player to watch at fly-half.

Several players in the front row will have bigger roles to play this season due to the graduation of RSEQ All-Stars Breanna Phillipps, Alex Ellis, and Bianca Paiement. RSEQ Rookie of the Year Lauren Minns (Montreal - Civil Law) will be a pivotal player again for Ottawa, while Maya Montiel (Dieppe, N.B.), Daniella Ellis (Ottawa, Ont.), and Tanika Bonneville (Kamploops, BC) will step up into the spotlight. Georgia Stewart and Emily Babcock provide key experience and physicality in the back row, with Tori Wyman supporting the second row.

Paiement has stayed with the team, moving into a coaches role. The five-year Gee-Gee is working as the contact coach this season. "I have grown as a player and a person from being an athlete on this team and want to help our future athletes have the same experiences," says Paiement.

"I love coaching and believe I can use my skills, along with the knowledge I built over the years, to help this team continue to succeed," Paiement continues. "What I am looking forward to most in my first season as a coach is instilling our core values in our rookie class and getting them started on their path to success at the U SPORTS level." 

Another new face for uOttawa on the sidelines is Asya Bartley who takes on duties as the scrum coach. Bartley won two national championships during her playing career at St-FX and has also played for Canada U20 and senior women.

"Seeing how successful this program has become, I am excited to be a part of this process and add my knowledge and expertise to help take these young ladies' talents to the next level. I'm looking forward to this new challenge, and growing with the team," says Bartley. 

The Gee-Gees will also host the Montreal Carabins, Carleton Ravens, and Bishop's Gaiters for regular season home game. All Gee-Gees regular season and playoff homes games will be webcast on OUA.tv, featuring program alumna Megan Copeland-Dinan on play-by-play.

The annual home exhibition game with St-FX is set for October 5. This year's U SPORTS National Championship tournament is set for Nov. 1-4 at Acadia University.