Coach Jocelyn Barrieau to be replaced during the 2024 Olympic run.
The 2023-2024 season is looking bright for the Stingers’ women’s rugby squad. Although there’s been some restlessness in the coaching staff, the team not only seems to be in great hands under new interim coach Craig Beemer, but according to long-time teammates, this is the best women’s rugby team to wear the Concordia colorway in years.
It was announced in early April that head coach Jocelyn Barrieau had been selected to train the women’s Canadian senior rugby seven-a-side team for the NextGen Rugby Americas North Sevens. Pulling through with a final 53-0 win over Mexico in Langford, B.C. on August 20, the team qualified to move on to play in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
When coach Barrieau started her career with the Stingers in 2018 in the RSEQ women’s rugby league, four of the eight teams’ training staff were led by women. Today, she is the only female head coach.
Since coach Barrieau will be absent for a majority of the season, Beemer was introduced as a replacement. A friend and associate of Barrieau, Beemer has an extensive rugby coaching resume. He became the head coach of McGill’s rugby team in 2007 after assisting for two years. In 2014, the Ontario native was offered an opportunity to coach for the men’s rugby team at Concordia, and led the Stingers to a championship. Beemer remained with the Stingers ever since.
“Big sigh of relief for me to have someone here who I know cares about the Stingers, that I know cares about the student athletes and also cares about the game of Rugby,” Barrieau said. “I’m super happy that Craig decided to be involved.”
Captain Mahalia Robinson is satisfied with the interim’s efforts to not stray too far away from the old plan. To her, coach Beemer is keeping Barrieau’s core values from over the past four-five years. “He’s doing a good job of keeping that and also adding his own. So it’s a mix of the two,” says the leader. “Even after she’s gone, I hope that we can still draw on her energy, because she drives this team and is the core of this team even if she’s gone.”
Beemer strongly believes that the team’s progress won’t stagger long thanks to their symbiosis and the reigning HC staying close to her team. “I can walk in, punch in and bring my strengths into the program, ” coach Beemer remarked. “When I punch back out and [Barrieau] slots back in I don’t think the program will miss a beat.”
Last year, the team finished the season with a 3-3 record. Since the start of training camp on August 17, it seems new training methods were brought to the table. “I think Beemer is bringing a lot of experience in terms of winning, which we haven’t had, so it’s nice to have different perspectives of what it takes as a team to win,” Robinson added.
Robinson scored 55 points last season, which is more than half of what 6th place Université de Sherbrooke managed to break as a team at 90 points. She is a product of the strong leadership values that Barrieau has cultivated over her tenure with the Stingers.
Coach Beemer appreciates that his predecessor set high standards within the oraganization. “It’s really important to [Barrieau] that players take ownership of certain aspects in our program, which builds leaders, whether it’s on or off the field,” he adds. To him, its about putting in work on the field every week, and less about winning or losing. So far, the new coach is impressed with the team’s attitude and effort over the past two weeks.
Maxine O’Leary, a third-year number eight majoring in Communications, adds that the senior players, including herself, look forward to passing on some of their own insight to the rookie players. “We want to grow the game and leave it better than we found it,” she said. “It’s about building for next year, when we leave, whenever that is. We want the program to stay the same and for the newcomers to take on those leadership roles.”
To the team, the most important game of the season is the Kelly-Anne Drummond Cup, held in honor of the titular Stingers alumnus, who sadly passed away in 2004 in a domestic confrontation. Her mother, Doreen Haddad, is beloved in the Quebec rugby community for charitably starting the Kelly-Anne Drummond scholarship in 2019, whichis given to outstanding full-time Concordia student players.
“It’s our biggest game of the year,” emphasizes Robinson. “It’s the only one that we really have to win, it’s unacceptable to lose and this is the game where we show the most love on the field because we know what it means to be more than a team and be friends and be family. That’s how we play at the Kelly-Anne.
This year’s legendary cup game will be played on Wednesday, September 6 at 8 p.m. The Stingers aim to surpass last year’s achievement of out-scoring McGill 55-3. As for the rest of the season, expectations are high, and there’s a visible hunger around the squad to go 6-0.
“This is the best training camp that I’ve been at for the past three years so overall the energy’s super high from day one,” Maxine O’Leary said. “Everyone’s fighting for a jersey. And I think that’s a big difference, everyone’s fighting for a spot for the team.”
ALL PHOTOS TAKEN BY JEREMY COX/THE CONCORDIAN