The St. Francis Xavier University X-Women took home their sixth U SPORTS national championship title at Acadia University on Nov. 4 — and they had some strong Windsor players who helped get them there.
Prop Sam Lake and flanker Sophie Parker both got their start at Avon View High School in Windsor before heading to StFX and now both have a pair of national titles under their belts.
Lake, 21, in her fourth year in the human kinetics program, said she played one of her best games ever during the final game when they defeated the Guelph Gryphons 41-24.
“It’s pretty special being so close to home and having my family and friends all being there,” Lake said. “It’s just surreal to see everything come together after putting so much work in this season. Seeing it all pay off in the end is just an amazing feeling.”
Lake said that seeing family, friends and fans come out to the games was a huge boost to her and her teammates.
Lake isn’t sure if this will be her final year with the team, as she may return for her education degree, but this is the last year she’s playing with many of the athletes she’s come up the ranks with.
“I wanted to make sure we ended on the right note.”
One of her strategies for keeping motivated until the end of a game is keeping a pretend score of 0-0 in her head. She does so to keep her pushing forward, no matter what the reality of the situation is.
“I do that because, in rugby, you never know what can happen,” she said. “Every minute counts.”
Lake has been playing rugby since Grade 10, when she went to Avon View. It’s been a major part of her life ever since.
“I grew up playing just about everything, kind of what you do in a small town, but the friendships and culture around rugby is so different, so welcoming,” she said.
Lake said playing with Sophie Parker at the high school level, and now in university, has also been a great experience.
“It’s so cool to see her grow here. I played with her during her Grade 10 and 11 years at Avon View and then I worked quite a bit to get her to come here,” she said. “It’s great to see her improve, building a starting spot on the team.”
Parker, 20, is in the third year of her human kinetics degree.
“To be a flanker, you have to be a bit on the crazier side, putting your body into a lot of situations that you wouldn’t have to in other positions,” she said.
Parker went to nationals in her first year on the team, but didn’t play during any games. She played some in her second year, but this was her first year as a starting member, playing full games during the championship.
“When it’s something you’ve worked towards for so many years, it’s kind of surreal to be in the environment with some of the futures of rugby and some of the best players in the country,” Parker said.
Parker was injured in her second game and wasn’t able to finish the full tournament. But she said when she was out there, it was a fantastic experience.
“You get in the groove and everything just clicks,” she said. “It’s just that cohesive feeling where all of the work you’ve been putting in the last couple of months finally peaks.”
Parker was injured at the end of the first half of the semifinal game, dislocating her kneecap, and didn’t want to leave the field, despite the pain shooting up her leg.
“You work hard for your spot, so that was pretty heartbreaking,” she said. “Luckily, we had a couple of days in between the games and I got to rest and tried it out again on Sunday, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”
She’s planning to come back for her fourth year, and she wouldn’t mind another national title.
She started playing rugby at Avon View in Grade 10, where she went on to take home some provincial championships.
Parker said it was also great to have Lake by her side during the championship.
“Not only have we played together for so long, but we’ve also seen each other grow,” she said. “It’s really cool to think that us, as two former Avon View players, might encourage other Avon View players to keep going in the sport and stay involved.”
Both Lake and Parker have siblings who are active in the sport and have found quite a bit of success as well, both playing at Saint Mary’s University.
Windsor players highly sought after
Head coach of the St. Francis Xavier women’s rugby program Mike Cavanagh said the championship was a tough weekend for the team, but they managed to pull off an exciting victory.
“We’re a big, strong pack of forwards, so we can get the ball and keep it,” Cavanagh said. “At the end of the day the girls got better every time they played and it’s wonderful to see them win a national championship.”
Cavanagh credited Lake and Parker for their strong performance during the championship.
“This weekend she [Lake] played some of the best rugby she’s ever played for StFX. I thought she played a tremendous game, scoring three tries,” he said. “I think she easily could have been player of the game.”
As for Parker, he described her as “a very versatile player” who could probably play different positions on the team.
“She’s very quick and has a great rugby IQ and she’s one of those quiet, unassuming players that just shows up and plays tough every day,” he said.
“We missed her in the final game for sure,” he noted, referring to Parker’s injury. “She was determined to try, so she’s a tough kid.”
Cavanagh said Windsor rugby players are highly sought after and can be quickly scooped up by other universities, including Acadia.
“The Windsor area keeps producing great rugby players, and it has a lot to do with the schools down there. They’re well-coached,” he said. “Any time we can get a good player out of the Valley it’s very nice; it’s not easy to do.”
Cavanagh added that women’s rugby, in particular, is seeing a major increase in popularity, saying it’s likely the fastest growing sport in the country.
“There are well over 20 high schools playing it right now in Nova Scotia and that continues to grow,” he said.