The St. F.X. X-Women rugby team will spend Thanksgiving on the road, once again, trying to carve up opponents in exhibition action.
Over the holiday weekend, the Blue and White will kick-off against the U Sports’ top-ranked and defending national champion Ottawa Gee Gees, along with the fifth-ranked Queen’s Gaels.
Doubleheaders against the Gees Gees and Gaels, respectively, will be played Oct. 5 and 6.
“It will be a step up and a tremendous test for our team,” X-Women head coach Mike Cavanagh said, in commenting on the level of competition they expect to face in Ontario.
Joanna Alphonso, three-time Atlantic University Sport (AUS) most valuable player, said the road trip “will definitely test our skill and ability.”
“Meeting those strong teams will be a great challenge for us – showing us where we are at, and where we have to work to get to where we want to go,” she added.
Chop down Axewomen
After lopsided victories over the Saint Mary’s Huskies (76-12) and UPEI Panthers (69-5) to launch the regular season, the X-Women faced their first test, when they hosted the rival Acadia Axewomen, Sept. 22, at Oland Stadium.
“I thought we came out pretty fired up in the first half,” Cavanagh said, after the 36-17 victory, noting the X-Women had the wind at their backs for the opening 40 minutes.
“Our forwards played very well and our backs, actually, ran the ball very well in the first half, so I was very happy with that, and we also defended well.
“In the second half they had the wind and they used it to their advantage. We left our foot off the gas, I think, a little bit,” he added.
Alphonso said the X-Women, who led 36-5 at the intermission, “let up on our intensity.”
The team leader added that cannot happen. She noted focussing on fitness, along with mental toughness and hard work, will help end that tendency.
“We tend to go hard in the first half and then [let up],” Alphonso said.
Cavanagh added the X-Women cannot let up, especially against a quality opponent, such as Acadia.
“If you give them an inch, they will take it. They have some good team speed,” he said.
Alphonso and fifth-year senior Olivia DeMerchant scored two tries apiece, while Hannah Ellis and Sophia Parker collected one apiece for the X-Women, while Danielle Franada kicked three converts.
“We will have to play them, probably, two more times this year and it shouldn’t get any easier,” he said of the Axewomen.
When asked about where his team stands, the veteran bench boss noted the win over Acadia was the first time this season St. F.X. “fielded our best players” at one time.
“It gives us a good benchmark,” Cavanagh said.
He added “we have some work to do, but we are, definitely, moving in the right direction.”
The home stretch
The first of those two anticipated meetings will take place in the AUS regular season finale Oct. 14 in Wolfville.
And, unless there is a major upset in the conference semi-final match-up, the sides will also clash in the conference championship game.
Kick-off will be on the home field of the first place finisher in the regular season.
“We still haven’t peaked yet,” Cavanagh said, noting the youth in the X-Women backfield.
“They are starting to get more and more confidence – they are starting to see the field better.
“Like I said, I really like the way our team is headed,” he added.
Noting the X-Women are “pretty young,” especially on the back line, Alphonso said they have “stepped up to the plate.”
“They have shown us that we can trust them and that they are doing their best,” Alphonso said, noting the X-Women are “working well together.”
“Our forwards are really experienced. We have always been a dominant forward team and that will help carry us into nationals and really benefit us there.”
Acadia will host the 2018 U Sports Women’s Rugby Championships, from Nov. 1 to 4, in Wolfville.