ANTIGONISH, N.S. — Describing a fifth place national finish as a disappointment comes with the territory for a varsity program that has won six Canadian university crowns.
That’s the case for the St. F.X. X-Women rugby team, which topped the consolation bracket at the recent U Sports championships in Ottawa.
The quest for back-to-back titles ended with a 36-12 quarterfinal loss to the Guelph Gryphons, in a rematch of last season’s national final.
“We were tired,” veteran head coach Mike Cavanagh said.
He noted the X-Women were coming off a “hard-fought” Atlantic University Sport (AUS) championship win over the rival Acadia Axewomen. Only four days later, they travelled to Ottawa and were on the pitch versus the Gryphons, who benefitted from a 12-day break.
“We didn’t show up and full credit to Guelph for jumping on us and taking advantage,” Cavanagh said.
He noted turning the ball over near the goal line early in the match, after marching down the field, was a turning point.
“We never got back into it after that,” Cavanagh said.
Although relegated to the consolation bracket, the White and Blue bounced back with a pair of victories, including a razor-thin 26-24 win over the UBC Thunderbirds.
“We responded against a very good team,” Cavanagh said of his team’s performance on the heels of the heart-breaking defeat.
St. F.X. secured the consolation crown with a 52-27 victory over the Axewomen.
“We came in going for the gold – a lot of teams would have packed up their tents,” Cavanagh said.
He added he was “happy that the team never quit.”
“We had some good team play,” Cavanagh said.
Reflecting on the season, one in which the X-Women posted a 6-0 mark in conference play, the 2019 AUS coach of the year said several players performed well.
“She really stepped up,” Cavanagh said of Katie Pentz, a junior second row from Trenton, Pictou County.
He also applauded the season from Antigonish native Sara McCarron, who garnered an AUS all-star spot and second-team All-Canadian status.
Cavanagh said fourth-year back row/flanker Alexandra Hamilton, another conference all-star, was maybe the X-Women’s “most consistent player.”
There were also centres Meghan Buchanan and AUS all-star Sarah Hoerig, who he said were “very good throughout season.”
"She should have been an All-Canadian, no doubt,” Cavanagh said of Hoerig.
Freshman scrum half Madison Ross also collected a conference all-star position.
“We had many strong performances this season, so we have a lot to build on,” Cavanagh said.
The only fifth-year senior on this year’s roster was AUS all-star and second-team All-Canadian Sam Lake, a key contributor at the prop position.
Cavanagh noted several fourth-year players have decisions to make, when it comes to returning for another season.
“They are not happy with how (this season) ended,” he said of the three or four seniors he expects to return for a fifth campaign.
When it comes to next season, Cavanagh said “we need some forwards and back row players.”
Adding wingers, especially with the chance of losing their starters, to help with team speed is also a priority.
“We won’t turn away anyone that can play, no matter what their position is,” Cavanagh noted.
Seven recruits have already made visits to the X campus.
“They would be able to help us right away,” Cavanagh said of that contingent.
There are also four or five other players expected to make recruiting visits.
No matter what happens, in terms of recruiting, Cavanagh said the X-Women should be in the hunt for a national championship next season, considering the depth and talent of the returning roster.
“I think we can do it — we have a very good nucleus,” he concluded.