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DeMerchant’s return adds more excellence to X-Women rugby

St. F.X. X-Women rugby team pictured defending against UPEI in last season action at Oland Stadium. The X-Women open their 2018 regular season at home versus the St. Mary's Huskies, Sept. 7, starting at 7 p.m. File
St. F.X. X-Women rugby team pictured defending against UPEI in last season action at Oland Stadium. The X-Women open their 2018 regular season at home versus the St. Mary's Huskies, Sept. 7, starting at 7 p.m. File photo

ANTIGONISH, N.S. - The St. F.X. X-Women rugby team will begin defence of their Atlantic University Sports (AUS) crown with a pair of exhibition games in Truro Sept. 1.

The team officially opened camp Aug. 24 and head coach Mike Cavanagh said it was a great recruiting year for the team with 16 players coming onboard looking for roster spots and playing time. One new face is actually a former face and playing time, at the prop position, shouldn’t be an issue.

“We had a strong year recruiting and we have three or four girls who decided to come back for their fifth year, and another young lady, Olivia DeMerchant, who graduated in 2012, is coming back to upgrade and she is, probably, the best prop in the world,” Cavanagh said of the former X-Women player and international competitor who has played 32 matches for Canada.

 “She will really help us,” Cavanagh said.

He talked about DeMerchant contacting him last winter, coyly noting she might know of a prop looking for a place to play in the upcoming season.

“‘Are you looking for any props?’” Cavanagh, quoting DeMerchant, said, recalling the conversation.

“I thought she had some kids she was recruiting and I said ‘I’m always looking for props, what can you tell me about her?’”

The veteran coach chuckled as he noted DeMerchant texted back her own very impressive resume which included items such as playing in two World Cups.

“She wants to upgrade for occupational therapy,” he said. “She is going to help us on and off the field, she’ll be amazing,” he said.

And she’ll join a stellar lineup which includes the defending three-time AUS most valuable player Joanna Alphonso.

Cavanagh said the team will be good on both sides of the ball.

“We’ll be very strong with the forwards and I think we’re going to have a young, quick and exciting backfield; they were young last year, this year they’ll be that much better,” he said.

“I think it’s going to be an exciting year for us.”

The Acadia Axewomen have risen to become the main AUS rival for the X-Women and Cavanagh said he expects the squad from Wolfville to be very good, especially since they’re hosting the nationals – the U Sports championship – Nov. 1 to 4.

“They’ve loaded up,” he said. “They have a lot of players coming back who had graduated in years gone by, and they’re definitely going to be a very quality team.”

As part of their schedule, the X-Women will make what has become a traditional trip for them on the Thanksgiving weekend, to play a couple of national powerhouses.

“I think we’ll be three of the top teams in the country; Ottawa University, who are the defending champions, and Queens University,” he said, noting their competition on the trip.

“It’s almost mimics what we have to do at nationals, you have to play three games in four days,” he said, noting they have a mid-week game versus St. Mary’s just prior to their trip.

“That’s exactly what we’ll be doing there and it’s our first chance to get away together. It’s always a great experience for us; it has really done us well in the past. It’s always tough competition to play, so we know exactly where we stand.”

Cavanagh said it would be great to win another national championship on Nova Scotia soil.

“That would be great for us,” he said, acknowledging the tremendous support the team would receive from St. F.X. and Antigonish fans who would make the drive to the Valley town. 

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