We Are The Vikes: A Fifteen’s Season in Review

Hello My UVic world, it’s been awhile. I’ve said that before, but this time I actually mean it. This post is long, but I’m sure you’ve been assigned longer readings before. Plus, no one is forcing you to read this 🙂

It’s been an interesting couple of months, facing some challenges and emotions that I haven’t felt in a long time. To say this semester wasn’t a struggle would be an understatement, but now that I’ve had some time to reflect, in retrospect I think I’ve come out of it for the better.

This semester began as most others coming into September. A pre-season camp up at Shawnigan Lake School, where we boarded in this Hogwarts-esque setting for just under a week playing Central Washington and training for a big season ahead. Classes began, the usual training grind, CARSA madness, and the constant game of catch up commenced. However, this semester wasn’t going to be like the others — UVic was slated to host the Women’s Rugby National Championships in November.

The road to Nationals was in some sense set well before November rolled around. As hosts, we were already guaranteed a place in the tournament. But as a team with high hopes and goals as well as being defending Canada West Champions, being automatically given a host spot, we were not content: we wanted to qualify on our own accord.

Our regular season was pretty successful going 3-1, suffering our only loss to a very talented Calgary Dinos squad 29-20. Going into the final Canada West tournament hosted by Lethbridge, we went in at second place and drew the University of Alberta Pandas. In regular season we beat them 42-17, but we knew they would not go without a fight, having drawn them in 2015 as the underdogs and just winning an intense game 26-20 to go on to claim our first Canada West Title.

In the semi-final, we managed to come back and beat the Pandas, but not after having to come back from a significant point differential near the end of the game winning 22-17. Some people may say we made it hard on ourselves, but I think that’s the beauty of rugby. It’s a fight, a game of inches. Anyone can show up on any day and win; you can never get complacent and Alberta showed up.

Winning that semi-final, we secured our spot at Nationals on our own terms, not because it was handed to us. We were proud as a team to have accomplished this and the gritty determination we displayed in that game would go on to be something we had to pull out of ourselves later on. The Canada West final was against Calgary. We were hoping to avenge our loss to them in regular season, but we were unable to and lost a heartbreaking game 29-14.

The days following that loss were depressing. The overall team morale was down, we hadn’t achieved one of our team goals of winning another Canada West Title, we were sad we couldn’t finish off what we had started. It hurt.

It’s those moments when you realize how important friends, teammates and family are in those times and how your support networks build you up when you’re feeling down. What’s also comforting to pull yourself out of those slumps is to look around at practice and realize you’re not in it alone, and realize as a group that there’s still more to be done.

Post-Canada West Final loss we had to turn our attention to Nationals and soon the excitement was building. I have to say, UVic puts on a pretty impressive show, and I have a massive thank you to send out to the staff at Vikes Rec and Athletics. As a staff member at the front desk (who separated themselves from the stress of hosting Nationals), I know the logistical headaches eight rugby teams can present, as well as all the inner workings of ticketing, field set-up, announcing, referee management, etc. can be. So, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you, your efforts did not go unnoticed and teams said it was the best Nationals yet.

Joe Thomas and Kevin Ram, two of Vikes Nation’s finest and hardest workers! And good friends 🙂

The media coverage and advertising were starting to pick up and the team was getting excited to play our first-ever game in Centennial Stadium. We are often envious of other Vikes teams that get to play in large settings with a boisterous crowd, and we were finally going to get our chance! Vikes Nation ran hype events in the quad for days leading up to the tournament, 200 posters were posted downtown, flyers were handed out at school, radio and bus ads were run; it was exciting.

A few days out from the first day of the tournament, we found out we drew the University of Guelph, who won the OUA Championships, beating defending National Champions McMaster in the process. They were ranked #1, but because we did not win our own conference and were hosting, we were relegated to 8th place. Despite this, if you’re going to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. We had confidence, the right amount of nerves, excitement and felt prepared with a solid game plan.

Game day rolled around and we got to stay as a team at the Harbour Towers hotel downtown, tourists in our own city, which was another special time in itself. We felt professional and privileged to have this time to spend as a team together before a huge tournament. Our game was a 7:00 pm kick off, unusual for us as we were used to playing in the morning, but we spent the day resting and watching other tournament games to keep ourselves preoccupied, calm and focused.

We arrived at CARSA, went to our change room, did our normal routine and then headed out to the warm-up field beside the stadium. It was once at that field that we realized just how exciting this night was shaping up to be. A stadium game under the lights, with a few hundred people out to watch the game, and countless others streaming the match at home. It was loud, nerve-wracking, but come kick-off we had ourselves a game.

Guelph dominated the ball in hand for the opening few minutes, but our defense stood tall, and using the push of the boisterous crowd we got the ball back off at turnover and worked our way down field earning the first 8 points of the game. The whole game was back and forth and very physical to say the least. However at the end of the game, we fell short 33-27. 

It was hard to face family and friends after the loss as their hearts broke for us as well, but we thanked them, and still continue to thank them for the support. It was their voices and cheers that helped propel us back from losing the lead; we just ran out of time.

Next up was Concordia in the consolation final, this time at our home field, Wallace. Of course, the rain poured that day, I think it was probably the most miserable and dreary weather conditions of the tournament for this one game. But living on the “wet coast” we embraced it. A very hard, wet, intense battle and a try for us on the last play of the game found our sides locked up at 15-15 with no time left.

I missed the game winning kick.

That moment has been hard to erase from my mind. It wasn’t the first time I’d found myself in that position, but that day wasn’t meant to be. You often hear on TV and from people, and see it yourself — a situation where you think something is guaranteed: a free-throw, a shot on a wide open net, a conversion, a test you thought you would ace.

As I type this out, my heart is racing, I’m nervous, I’m remembering that kick and it still makes me feel terrible. It wasn’t a straightforward situation, but it was a kick I’d made many times before. No one blames me; in fact, I’m probably hardest on myself, my own worst enemy. My team was there for me when I broke down, my family, friends watching, and for that I can’t thank them enough. We’re a team at the end of the day, we win and lose as a group, there were 90 minutes of play that day, not just one kick.

We lost in double overtime 29-20. That was it for the 2016 season.

“There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love” – Martin Luther King Jr.

I found this quote after our first loss at the National Championships as I tried to comprehend and express the emotions I was feeling. However, it wasn’t just me who felt this. It was the whole team, our coaches, our family and friends – all of our closest supporters.

I think it summarizes everything perfectly. Yet, if none of us were so saddened, upset or heartbroken, I would be worried. It’s because we care so much about this sport, this team and each other — that love for all of it that pushes us to want to achieve more.

In hindsight as I finally finish this post, I’ve come to the realization that this season was not nearly as dramatically bad as I thought, and my teammates believed. Sure it had its moments, but as a whole, it was incredible.

It’s these moments that shape you, a program, a team.

They make you see where you are, and where you want to be, to fix and move forward to achieve more.

Four years ago UVic Women’s Rugby was on no one’s radar. No recruits’ list. And now this program has built itself from the ground up into a team that people have come to respect, and one that I am proud to be a part of.

I can’t wait for the upcoming sevens season, club rugby season, and more games in the stadium.

We’re going to come back better than ever.

We are the Vikes.


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