The Stingers’ women’s rugby team exceeded all expectations in the 2009 season and earned their spot at the national level. Although the season had its rough patches, Concordia proved that they could compete with the best in Canada.
The question heading into the season’s first two games, against Bishop’s and Sherbrooke, wasn’t whether or not the Stingers would win, but by how much? Concordia’s forwards flaunted their power to such a level that they were penalized for pushing the other teams back in rucks and scrums. The Stingers’ backs used the opportunity to run through some of their more complex plays and racked up the points. The season started on a high note with 61-0 and 76-0 wins.
After building their confidence against the Gaiters and the Vert et Or, Concordia was slated to face league-leading Laval. The Rouge et Or beat the Stingers in the finals last year and both teams knew how pivotal the match-up would be.
“We knew Laval would be the biggest game of the year,” said head coach Graeme McGravie. “We were hoping that if we played our season right, it would be a preview of the final.”
The Rouge et Or forced the Stingers to step up their game, and they matched Laval play for play. Although they fell behind by a try, the game was never out of reach. The outcome was decided in the last two minutes of the game when six Stinger attempts to breach the defence were repelled by the Rouge et Or. After a very controversial call that denied the Stingers the tying points, Laval ran out the clock and handed Concordia their first defeat of the season, 19-12.
Concordia managed to shake off their loss and look ahead to the rest of the season. They didn’t have to face Laval again until the post-season and their focus was to finish in second place. Their next match, against the Ottawa Gee-Gees, was marked by penalties and unforced errors. These rookie mistakes allowed Ottawa to maintain pressure even though they were not of the same calibre as Concordia. The Stingers came out with an 18-0 victory.
The McGill-Concordia rivalry was set to see who would be granted sole possession of second place. Traditionally, these two teams have been on equal footing and the games have an added intensity because of the history. Concordia’s extremely physical forwards set the tone of the game with punishing hits and overpowering scrums. The game seesawed across the field with both teams extremely close to scoring. Concordia pulled out to a 15-point lead around halftime and never looked back. McGill was unable to put any points on the board, even when the Stingers were a player down because of a sin-bin.
With the win against McGill and the semi-final set, the last game of the season didn’t really matter, and it showed. Concordia displayed a lack of drive and enthusiasm and beat Ottawa by eight when it should have been eighteen.
As every athlete knows, everything changes in the playoffs. The standings and the previous games don’t matter in the winner-takes-all atmosphere. In the semi-final against Ottawa, Concordia played more to their potential. It was a forwards game, as freezing rain battered the players. McGravie summed up the strategy by saying, “We knew we had to win, and it didn’t have to be pretty.” The wet ball was extremely hard to catch, as the backs were rendered nearly useless by the conditions. Luckily, the Stinger pack is diverse enough to ensure that they could win the game on their own. The Gee-Gees fell 18-7 and Concordia was headed to the finals.
In almost an exact repeat of last year, Concordia and Laval went into double overtime in the Quebec final to determine who would advance to the nationals. This year though, the scores were reversed as Stinger and 2009 all-star Jackie Tittley nailed the winning penalty kick to seal a 13-10 win. The Stingers had finally managed to pull together a full 100 minutes of solid play and not just patches of brilliance. “It was amazing to see how the girls stood up to Laval and pushed themselves to the limit.” said McGravie.
At the nationals in Vancouver, Concordia fell short of the podium by placing fourth, their best showing since 1998. For McGravie, this is still a victory in its own right, “We didn’t expect to come first at Nationals, we wanted to prove that we belonged there and that Concordia can play just as well as the rest of Canada.”
Special honours this year went to Tittley, Vanessa Grillo, Hughanna Gaw and captain Claire Hortop. Gaw, an Elgin, QC native, was honoured with the rookie of the year title at a gala at Nationals. It was the first time in Canadian inter-university sport history that a player from the Quebec division and from Concordia won the award.