The Gee-Gees women's rugby team claimed its fifth straight RSEQ conference banner on Friday night with a 40-19 win over the Laval Rouge et Or at Matt Anthony Field.
The win was the fifth straight under head coach Jen Boyd, who shared the celebration with a trio of fifth-year players who now hold five RSEQ gold medals: scrum-half Erin McCallan, and back row players Emily Babcock, and Paulina Karwowski.
"It's a tremendous accomplishment, and for the fifth-years it says a lot about their commitment – to themselves and to the team," said Boyd. "We had a lot of first-years that dressed this game so we're actually very young. And I told them – watch the older girls, watch the leaders and how they will perform. You've never seen them play until you see those girls perform in a championship game. Your leaders need to be leaders and they were just tremendous tonight."
"A lot of people had to step up and be leaders because it's probably the youngest team we've had," says Babcock, a four-time RSEQ all-star. "We talked a lot, had a lot of confidence in one another. We didn't really have one player that was a superstar, we all just lean on each-other – it's everybody together."
The win all but assures uOttawa the number one seed at next week's U SPORTS National Championships as the team has held the no. 1 ranking in the U SPORTS Top Ten all season and will head to Acadia University as the defending national champions. The official seeding and tournament schedule will be released Saturday.
On Friday night though, the conference win was certainly meaningful as players rushed the field to hug and congratulate each-other. The hard-fought conference final win marked the fifth straight RSEQ banner won on home field and was a battle throughout despite the final score line.
Rookies accounted for 11 points in the Ottawa win, while two penalty tries were also part of the Gee-Gees victory. RSEQ All-Star and fourth-year second row Tori Wyman scored two tries including Ottawa's second of the match on a dramatic blocked kick recovery which put Ottawa in front for good at 14-7 following a strong conversion kick by RSEQ Rookie of the Year Claire Gallagher.
That opened the floodgates for the Garnet and Grey, as they led 26-12 at halftime.
"We were feeling really good at halftime," said Erin McCallan, who returned from a mid-season knee injury last week and started at scrum-half in the final. "Having the last ten minutes where we were able to score two quick tries on them gave us a really good build going into the second half. We were excited to get back on the field and put some more points up. The last ten minutes of the first half were crucial for us and we knew we had to continue that into the second half."
"The start of the second half and the end of the first half I thought we put together a lot of really good phases," explained Boyd. "We struggled at the breakdown, we had a lot of turnovers and penalties because they [Laval] are good defensively and we needed to make that adjustment. But there were a few glimpses where I thought we looked really, really polished and those moments won us the game."
"Being in the forwards, I think when we started doing really well in our scrums and driving them back, we came together and said 'ok we are the dominant pack here,'" notes Karwowski. "That's when the backs were also connecting with us and I think that's where we saw our success."
Laval was actively putting the ball in the air, giving Ottawa's back three a chance to make an impact.
"We're normally a second half team, we know that about ourselves. We build off each-other and start playing our kind of rugby," said Babcock, describing how Ottawa built a 33-19 lead. The second penalty try was the final play of the match.
"It still feels just as great," says Karwowski. "Now having more of a leadership role it's great to be able to fill that, but running onto the field at the final whistle it's still the same feeling."
"The pressure is a lot higher and people are expecting great things from us. I feel like we really come together in these big stakes games. We really have to support each-other, lift each-other up – even if it's literally picking ourselves up off the field."
"Seeing throughout the years how much we've improved is an incredible feeling," Karwowski continues. "Knowing how much work we've put in and seeing that reflect in the results over the last five years – it comes from our belief in ourselves and our systems."
"It's so amazing to know that every time I've stepped on this field we've continued to build the legacy that we have and keep getting better every single year," said Erin McCallan. "We just keep getting better, and being the five-time champions proves that."