Joanna Alphonso is a champion – purely and simply.
The three-time Atlantic University Sport (AUS) most valuable player wrapped up her stellar varsity career with the St. F.X. X-Women rugby program with a third national crown.
The second-team All-Canadian prop was a key contributor to the title, which included a 41-24 victory over the Guelph Gryphons in the U Sports championship game.
“Coming to X, I knew that it was a special school and very good at rugby,” the Ajax, Ontario native said, when asked if she envisioned the level of success she would achieve after arriving on the Antigonish campus five years ago.
“But, I certainly didn’t think that was in the picture for me and I am just so grateful that I can say that I won three national championships, and I was on the field for all three of them.
“Not many athletes can say that they made it to the gold medal and came out with gold, so that is something I am, definitely, grateful for about my time at X,” she added.
As for keys to her development as a player, since that freshman season, Alphonso said she has “matured,” noting her development as a team leader.
“My first year was more me leading myself and finding out where I belong on the team. Now, being in my fifth year, being able to lead the whole team to a national championship – the girls respect the things I say, they are coachable players,” she added.
“They are the reason that I have developed so much, as a person and a player. There is no way that I could be here without them. My team is, definitely, the driving force as to how much I have developed.”
X-Women head coach Mike Cavanagh said of Alphonso, “on and off the field, she has been a leader for us.”
He added “the bigger the game, the better she plays.”
“Joanna has the ability to pull out that little bit extra. She really stood out during the entire [national] tournament. She was amazing,” Cavanagh said.
He said the first-year education student has “gotten better every year.”
“She has worked really hard,” Cavanagh added.
He noted Alphonso is much more than a “big body that can run.”
“She is very skilled and leads by example, including working her butt off at every practice,” Cavanagh said.
“A young player coming in – looking at Jo – is only going to get better, just by working as hard as she does.”
When asked about her fondest memories over the past five seasons, Alphonso noted there are a “bunch of moments.”
“The emotion in the room, before we stepped on to the pitch to win that championship, was unbelievable. It was a great thing to be part of,” she said of the 2016 national title game – a 27-19 win over the Ottawa Gee Gees.
And, this season, she added, “the girls just really wanted it.”
“Every practice this year was memorable for me because everyone wanted to work hard, everyone wanted to be better than they were the last game,” Alphonso said.
“They just worked almost perfectly. We peaked at the right time and went into the national championship game playing the best rugby that we could.
“This year, I think, was definitely a memorable one,” she added.
As for her future on the pitch, Alphonso said she is “definitely sticking to club rugby for the summer.”
“My body needs to heal,” she added, with a laugh.
“I have a few injuries that need to be taken care of and then, I guess, we will see where rugby takes me.”
She added the sport is “always going to be part of my heart.”
“It is something I won’t give up and it will be part of my future,” Alphonso said.