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From Concordia to Canada’s national team

by Alexander Cole October 11, 2016
From Concordia to Canada’s national team

Women’s rugby player Frédérique Rajotte talks about her start in rugby and her career with the Stingers

Frédérique Rajotte is a beast out on the rugby field. The fourth-year Concordia Stingers women’s rugby player has become a leader for the established squad, and has picked up a Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) MVP award last year. Her rugby career is impressive—but it’s not the sport that started her athletic career.

“It all started in high school. I played soccer competitively, and then one of my coaches introduced me to rugby,” Rajotte said. “I tried out in grade nine, not knowing what it was all about, and ended up loving it. From that day on, I made the team and decided to quit soccer and take rugby on full-time.”

Rajotte said that she had no idea there were rugby clubs in her hometown of Markham, Ont. when she first got into the sport. After doing some digging, Rajotte, who was 16 at the time, found a club in her area and played during the summer. She played with the Markham Irish junior team, and was invited to try out for their senior team when she turned 17.

The running aspect of rugby came naturally to her, she said, due to her experience with soccer. However, Rajotte admitted that learning the rules of the sport, as well as the physical aspect of rugby, was a difficult transition.

“You really need to study the game to be good at it, and I acquired knowledge as I went along,” Rajotte said. “In terms of physical play, at first it was messy. I was tackling high and dangerous, and when you’re young, you don’t have body awareness. But as you go on, you learn a lot.”

Part of Rajotte’s rugby journey has taken place at Concordia. Rajotte said that, contrary to what many people think, she wasn’t recruited by the school. Her sole reason for coming to Concordia was for its communication studies program.

Rajotte, who is interested in a career in sports broadcasting, applied to journalism schools across the country—when she was accepted at Concordia, she didn’t look back.

Rajotte is hoping to play in the rugby World Cup in the summer of 2017. Photo by Alexander Cole.

“When I got into the communications program, I knew it had taken a lot of work with interviews, the letter of intent and essays,” Rajotte said. “I was super excited and they only took 60 students, so my decision was set.”

Rajotte added that, although she was not recruited directly, she did go on a recruitment trip that convinced her to join the Stingers rugby program. Rajotte now has one year of eligibility left after this season, and said she has every intention of playing out her final year with the squad.

For Rajotte, playing for the Stingers comes with a sense of belonging that, in many ways, feels like a tight-knit family. In her last couple of seasons with the team, Rajotte wants to make the most of the opportunity and make her coaches proud.

“You walk into the complex, and it’s like your second home,” Rajotte said. “I think wearing the jersey and knowing that it’s my last couple of years, I just want to win some games, be a part of the wonderful team we have.”

The Stingers changed their game plan this season, which, according to Rajotte, put pressure on the team. As a result, the team struggled in the first game of the season against the Université de Laval Rouge et Or, losing by a score of 45-26. Despite that, Rajotte said the team has been able to bounce back, which is something she is extremely proud of.

Not only is Rajotte seen as a talented player, she and her teammate, Alex Tessier, are also considered leaders on the team. Rajotte said that her and Tessier, who are also roommates, have discussed their roles with each other, and agree that there can be pressure at times to perform well.

“Yes, there is some pressure because some people on our team look up to us and they want that leadership,” Rajotte said. “There’s definitely been some pressure on our shoulders. We want to perform at games and practices—and we try our best to lead by example.”

Aside from the Stingers, Rajotte plays for Canada’s national women’s 15s rugby team, and this summer, she played in the World Rugby Super Series.

Rajotte played alongside her Stingers teammate Tessier, and the team won the whole tournament after beating England 52-17, the United States 33-5 and France 29-10.

“This summer was huge. A lot of training went into it,” Rajotte said. “Winning it and going undefeated with all of those girls was really the highlight of my career so far.”

During the World Rugby Super Series, Rajotte said that the team gained a lot more media exposure than she expected. In the past, women’s rugby, and rugby in general, has been brushed aside by Canadian media outlets because sports like hockey, football and baseball are a bigger part of Canada’s sports culture. Rajotte said that, to change this mentality, rugby needs to be introduced more frequently at the youth level, which will allow the sport to grow and become part of the public consciousness.

Rajotte added that, while there was good coverage which gave the team better representation, there was still a lack of promotion for the event, which left people unaware that the event was even taking place.

“In my opinion, there still needs to be work done when it comes to talking about the event prior to it happening,” Rajotte said. “It would be cool if [the media] would do profile pieces on the national team athletes, and do them on the bigger platforms like TSN and Sportsnet.”

“People knew we won the Super Series, but some people didn’t even know what it was or what it means,” Rajotte said.

Rajotte hopes to be a part of the 2017 Rugby Women’s World Cup next summer in Ireland. Rajotte said selections for the team will be made on Oct. 17, and if she makes the team, she will be going to Ireland in November for a three-week tour in preparation for the tournament.

She added that balancing rugby and school can be difficult. However, when teachers are on board, it makes it easier.

“I’ve had teachers who think it’s awesome and wish me luck and are super supportive,” Rajotte said. “ Some of my teachers in my other classes don’t understand and are close-minded to sports, which is so hard because that’s who I am.”

While making the World Cup team is a top priority for Rajotte, she hasn’t forgotten about her Stingers. Last year the team made it to nationals, but was defeated in the bronze medal game against their fiercest rivals, the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.

Rajotte wants to improve on that performance, and said that doing well at nationals this season would be better than winning the Super Series.

“I’m hoping that the highlight of this year will be making it to nationals and performing well. That’s next on my list,” said Rajotte.

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