The University of Victoria Vikes women’s rugby team were announced as the No. 1 pick by Canada West coaches as they head into their opening weekend of play. The Vikes will head to the Point Grey campus of the UBC Thunderbirds on Sept. 8 for a 1:00 p.m. kick off in what will also be the second Legends Cup game of the rivalry series. Just one week ago, the UBC women’s soccer team edged the Vikes 1-0 to take the first two points of the series.
Former Canadian 7s stand out Brittany Waters is back for her fourth season leading the Vikes women’s rugby program and boasts a 10-4 record in her past three seasons that included a Canada West gold medal in 2015 and two conference silvers in 2016 and 2017. Waters has relied on a group of experienced players through that time and this year the team will be turning a new leaf.
“We are aware that we have graduated some key players on our team who had a lot of experience playing high level rugby but we are bringing through a very solid core from our last few years who I know will be able to set up and take on those leadership roles,” said Waters on the departure of 2017 Canada West All-Stars Jess Neilson, Tiffany Picketts, Julia Folk and Kara Galbraith, as well as seniors Sya Trafford and Madeleine Graham. “We are fortunate to have a high quantity of first year students who will be able to jump right in.”
Among those first years are Winnipeg native Ada Okonkwo, Ottawa’s Linnea Dalvi and Surrey’s Nicola Smith. Fourth year Paige Farries and first year McKenziePusch will join the Vikes in 15s for the first time this fall after helping the Vikes win a conference banner in 7s last Spring.
“Ada will bring the much needed size and physicality to our front row, while Linnea played for the U18 Ontario 7s team that won Nationals in 2018 and will add a lot of speed to our team,” described Waters of her new recruits. “Nicola is a very versatile player that has played provincially for B.C. for 7s and 15s and most recently was touring in England with the B.C. team that won all their games. Nicola and three of our other first years Karen Garcia, Tayler Bailey and Jordan Myers were all on that team. All of our first years have played for their U18 provincial sides and have been leaders on their teams.”
The Vikes enter the season ranked No. 1 in the Canada West coaches polls earning all four possible first-place votes. The Vikes are set to contest for that prized berth to the national championship after a try by Calgary in the dying seconds of the Canada West final last season gave them an earlier than expected exit from their post season.
“I expect our team to be fast-paced, fit, up tempo and expansive,” stated Waters. “It will be important that our forwards are sound in their set piece in order to allow our backs to play an expansive game of rugby. Although our forwards are smaller they are fit and dynamic and they can use that to attack rather than pure size.”
The last time the Vikes met the Thunderbirds it was a lopsided score as Victoria earned their second-straight 82-0 victory following a win over Alberta the week before. With Legends Cup points on the line and a turn of new players on both sides, anything is possible.
“In recent history we have dominated UBC but we have been building and it’s a different team this year for us,” said Waters about this weekend’s match up. “UBC has also been building a lot this past year. They stayed together as a team playing 15s during our 7s season last Spring so they will likely be very cohesive. They have always had a strong forward pack so we will have to manage that, too.”
The Vikes have a chance to tie the Legends Cup series, currently 2-0 in favour of the T-Birds, and that pressure is felt.
“We are taking this as an added challenge and more than just regular season,” noted Waters about the inaugural rugby game of the Legends Cup. “This is a rivalry that has taken place for a long time across all sports and it’s an exciting opportunity. It’s an extra motivation to know that we are not just fighting as women’s rugby but as the Vikes as a whole. We hope we can equalize after our women’s soccer team lost and put the Vikes back in the race for the Legends Cup.”
The Vikes and Thunderbirds will clash at 1:00 p.m. in Vancouver at UBC. Following this away game the Vikes will play four home games including their home opener on Sept. 16 against Lethbridge, the Annual Jenny Vincent Memorial Game against Calgary on Sept. 21, and then UBC on Sept. 30 and Alberta on Oct. 14.