VANCOUVER, BC. – The conference championships across Canada have all led to this stage. Eight teams have made their way to the Université Laval in Québec City to compete for the title of Canada’s best U SPORTS women’s rugby team. Each team brings with them a storyline, with things to prove on the U SPORTS national stage.
Without further ado, here are the competitors facing off this week. To watch the U SPORTS Women’s Rugby Championshiops, tune into CBC Sports.
The Ottawa Gee-Gees stunned the number-one-seeded Laval in the RSEQ final just last week, toppling the previous U SPORTS champion 27-12. They head into nationals as the number one seed after coming out of a very tough conference, going 5-1 on the season with their only loss at the hands of the Rouge-et-Or.
It’s a star-studded squad that will be featuring in Quebec City, with a total of 8 players making the RSEQ All-Star teams. Ngozi Mosindi, Ketsia Kamba, Tylo Borsboom, and Emma Wade all made their way onto the first team, while teammates Deborah Oyetoran, Sarah White, Leigha Stiles, and Rachel Steel were selected to the second team.
Eyes will be on the Gee-Gees to see if they are truly the number one team in the country. Making it out of the RSEQ is no easy feat, and any team that beats Laval is good. But can they prove that it wasn’t just a one-off victory?
Queen’s undefeated season began with a dominant 105-0 win over the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, and the momentum only continued from there. The Gaels head into the U SPORTS championship as the second-seeded team, triumphing over the Guelph Gryphons 33-19 to beat the same team for the second year in a row in the OUA Finals.
The undefeated Gaels saw six players earn a shout in the OUA all-star teams, with Lizzie Gibson, Carmen Izyk, Mya Brubacher, and Grace Anderson named to the first team, while Taylor Perry and Rachel Cullum were named to the second team. Queen’s boasts plenty more talents to surround them, with plenty of weapons and speed to exploit their opposition.
This national championship will be one of vengeance. Queen’s fell short in the finals, losing a bitter 22-5 match against Laval. They’ll be looking to get back to the championship game this year – and this time, they’ll want to be the ones taking home the gold medal.
The third-seeded UBC Thunderbirds head into the national champions having gone undefeated en route to their fourth-consecutive Canada West title. The T-Birds amassed an absurd 288 points through their 5 regular season contests while only conceding 19 points.
Savannah Bauder was once again the star of the show, earning Canada West Player of the Year honours thanks to her featuring role in the UBC side. Adia Pye won Canada West Rookie of the Year for the 2023 season, with teammates Rori Wood, Jordan McLeod, Rachel Smith, Alayna Scramstad, Sara Kaljuvee, and Olivia Sarabura all joining her and Bauder on the Canada West all-star team.
While Canada West excellence is part and parcel with the Thunderbirds, they have faced challenges on the national stage. Last year saw UBC stumble at their first hurdle, losing against Guelph, and this year isn’t any easier. They’ll be playing against the Laval Rouge-et-Or in their very first matchup, a massive test for this side. Can UBC convert on their momentum from their conference championship and make a deep run at nationals?
Rounding out the top four seeds are the AUS champions St Francis Xavier X-Women. Downing the UPEI Panthers by a score of 26-22, the X-Women return to the national championships to prove that they belong among the country’s elite.
Akwaima Akpan broke out this year for StFX, earning herself rookie of the year honours as well as AUS playoff MVP for her efforts with the X-Women. Akpan, Emma MacDougall, Sophie Beck, Skye Koyote, and Katie Murphy all featured on the AUS all-star team, with a group that looks ready and hungry to prove themselves at the country’s highest levels.
StFX has a storied history – but in their last appearance at a national championship, they crashed out of the 2021 edition with two big losses. Can this group buck the trend and challenge with the best teams in the nation?
The OUA runners-up are licking their wounds after a second-consecutive defeat to the Queen’s Gaels in the OUA Finals. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but a tough Guelph side still enters the national championships as the 5th-seeded team in the entire country.
Guelph boasts four players on the OUA first all-star team, with Kennedy Feasby, Natalie Armatage, Taylor McKnight, and Lara Jorgensen all earning major honours, while Emily Clark and Stephanie Svaikauskas feature into the second team. The Gryphons aren’t short on talent, and in a competitive OUA they were the only team that nearly toppled an undefeated Gaels squad.
After an upset victory against UBC last time round, the Gryphons find themselves seeded in the bottom half of the teams at nationals – but that isn’t a bad thing at all. Guelph definitely is a much better team than their seeding suggests, so don’t be surprised if this team is a dark horse candidate to make a national final appearance.
Laval Rouge et Or
Laval qualified both as hosts and runners-up in the RSEQ, a stunning loss against the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the conference finals being their first defeat since 2019. Don’t let the big number 6 next to their names fool you though – the Rouge-et-Or are still the mighty defending national champions from last season, and now they have a chip on their shoulders.
Laura Guay was once again brilliant, earning herself RSEQ Player of the Year, while a star-studded Laval group consisting of Cloé Maranda, Cécile Leclerc, Audrey Champagne, Rosalie Charbonneau, Anne-Frédérique Simard, Léa Ouellet, Corinne Fréchette, and Marie-Laura Choquette were named first-team all-stars. It doesn’t stop there, as Adèle Samson, Émily Fortin, and Laurence Chabot were named to the second-team all-stars. It’s a seriously deep and talented squad that boasts excellence in every regard.
Laval is still a favourite to win it all, to defend their national crown. It’s an incredible team that will be coming through the bottom of the draw – but if there’s any group to overcome higher seeds, it’s this Rouge-et-Or team.
The Panthers jostled with the X-Women all season for top spot in the AUS, and unfortunately for UPEI they came up short in the finals. That doesn’t mean that this group is any less of a threat – they’ve got the talent and skill to run with StFX and more than deserve to be at the national championships.
Last year’s AUS champions feature another squad with plenty of all-star talent, the likes of Emily Duffy, Tessa Hood, Emma MacLean, Ria Johnston, and Charlotte Branchflower all earning honours as part of the all-conference team through the regular season. They were neck and neck with their Atlantic counterparts, and both will have a chance to feature in Quebec City.
UPEI got blown out in a shutout loss to the Ottawa Gee-Gees last year at the national championships. This year, they’re in tough again, playing against the Queen’s Gaels in the first round. It should prove to be an interesting matchup, but the Panthers definitely drew the short end of the stick in their draw.
The eighth and final seed of the national championships belongs to the Victoria Vikes, who had an up-and-down Canada West campaign that saw some heavier losses against UBC while handily dismantling the Alberta schools. Still, they found their footing, losing a tight-fought 10-0 game against the UBC Thunderbirds in the Canada West finals.
Four Vikes found themselves as Canada West all-stars, with Zoe Williams, Madison Jumeau, Maggie MacKinnon, and Lucie Romeo earning conference honours for their play. It’s a squad that has a decent amount of tools in their toolbox, and has the potential to execute beyond what their record indicates.
Unfortunately for the Vikes, they find themselves matched up against the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the first round. It’ll be a tough match, and while Victoria has an outside chance of making it a game, expect to find the Vikes battling it out in the consolation bracket after day one.
The 2023 U SPORTS Women’s Rugby Championship kicks off November 1, with Victoria vs Ottawa featuring at 1:00 PM EST. Guelph vs StFX kick off at 3:00 PM, while UPEI vs Queen’s and UBC vs Laval get underway at 5:00 PM and 7:00 PM respectively. All 11 games will be streamed on CBC Gem in English, with French webcasts available on radio-canada.ca/Sports and USPORTS.ca.