Last year, following the end of our regular season, and with the generous support of the Concordia Athletics Department we began training immediately for the New York sevens tournament. In New York we defeated the Ottawa squad that had crushed us back home mere weeks earlier on our way to playing in our division final and winning the silver plate. When we returned it was off to indoor training and back to the gym with a new training program in hand. Our athletic therapists saw to our rehabilitation, our fitness coach Lise-Marie Breton designed a new weight program and our head coach had us tackling each other senseless, running suicides and learning angles of support on the brutal field turf at the Soccerplex in Lachine. Team manager Clive Gibson was there, helping with drills and lugging equipment. Every six weeks we marched ourselves through beep tests and bench press tests (right after Christmas break, that was the one that really hurt) and any other measure of our fitness and will they could think up.
A year later, here we were, facing McGill again in a sudden death semi-final. When you spend 16 or so hours with a group of people they’re not just your teammates, they’re family. This time we were confidant we could beat the now beatable McGill (they dropped a contest to the Laval Rouge et Or this season).
The first half was cold and messy, the ball turned over a lot in contact and possession moved back and forth. McGill was stronger in line-outs but we rocked them in the scrums, not only getting quick, clean ball out on our put-ins, but even driving them right over their own ball for the steal. Our Fly-Half Jenny Rosenbaum (Filling in for our regular #10 Sydney Theriault who was unable to play) was a big part of getting us deep into McGill territory with her great kicking game. McGill put a try over our line about halfway through the first half with their forwards after a few phases of rolling mauls and fast rucks.
Our forwards continued to pressure McGill in contact and we kept the ball in their end long enough for Jenny Rosenbaum to have a mad, weaving dash around their backs and over the try line to even the score 10-10. Long into the second half we benefited from a number of McGill penalties which allowed us to kick for more territory and keep them defending hard runs from our more-than-willing forward pack led by graduating prop Jen Robinson, hooker (yes I said hooker, it involves ‘hooking’ the ball don’t worry) Kristin Dixon and rookie 2nd row Hayley Smirnow.
Suddenly things took a wonky turn when we found ourselves close to our try line after McGill had a run that put them within twenty meters. We took an offside penalty and as I backed up I watched their scrum-half as she ran sideways to what I assumed would be the mark the ref had indicated; when to my horror, I saw her offload the ball to a backrow player who punched it over the line for what would prove to be the game-winning try. I’d missed the tap and we didn’t move up on defense. It was one of those moments where it’s crucial to eat up their space and try to put pressure on them to force a mistake or a turnover.
They didn’t convert the try and we knew we were within one of tying it up again. We fought hard, capitalizing on a few more McGill penalties, swinging the ball wide and making our defensive tackles. By the final minutes we had pushed all the way down to their 15 meter line with a line-out in their favor, hoping to steal the ball with our brilliant Jumper Ali Olashefsky when their jumper dropped the ball right in front of me. I grabbed it and launched through their line and into their fullback hoping to set a maul and drive it in over the line. When I felt the maul stall I fought against the McGill hands that had wrapped the ball I was clutching and went to ground, my teammates won the ruck. From there, I watched our scrum-half Melanie Tranchemontagne give this stunning pass to the backs, I heard the crowd roar and saw Jenny take off on another run and she set up a maul. We drove it over the try line but couldn’t touch it down, the ref called it held-up and we were ready for a scrum when he blew the final whistle.
I remember what it felt like at this time last year-we’d lost the semi-final and there we were standing cold and bruised on the field watching our opposition celebrate. McGill had beaten us 45-7. That’s something to feel bad about, coming as close as we did this year is proof that hard work pays off. As a captain I couldn’t be more proud of this team; we proved we can compete with the best. As much as I’m upset to see the season end we won’t dwell on it, we’ve got New York to prepare for and we plan on winning first place this year.