By Martin Boyce
Less than 2 years ago, Brianna Martey had never worn a rugby uniform. Now, she’s got one with a maple leaf on it.
The Ottawa native was 1 of 24 players to dress for Team Canada in an under-18 Can-Am series that included her team’s Aug. 1 and 5 matches with USA at the University of Ottawa.
“I was screaming,” laughs Martey, recalling her reaction to learning she’d made the team. “At first I was like, ‘It can’t be me. It’s got to be somebody else.’”
While she didn’t play in the first game, Martey was on the pitch for the second, helping Canada to an 83-17 2-game series sweep.
The 16-year-old St. Peter Catholic High School student says she always considered basketball to be her sport, but after the rugby coach recruited her and she took part in her first practice, she was hooked.
“If you have a bad day, you can come out and just hit somebody,” Martey explains. “It’s a sport where your size doesn’t matter. There’s a place for everyone.”
The 16-year-old made the high school all-star team in her rookie season and earned a spot on the U18 national team long list last October despite having only played 10 games in her career at the time.
Martey says she’s learning from and loving her experience as part of Team Canada.
“There are so many welcoming people,” she highlights. “They bring you in and they allow you to learn and bring out your full potential.”
While playing in front of family and friends was “a great feeling,” Martey will look to continue her rapid success and has hopes of playing more matches with the national team in the future.
“I’d like to go to a World Cup. It would mean the world,” signals the Ottawa Irish athlete, who hosted a Boston Pizza fundraiser to help cover the costs of accomplishing her dreams. “If it’s anything like this, or better, I definitely want to.”
Canada’s U20 team, featuring Ottawa-Gatineau area athletes Taylor Donato, Alexandra Ondo and Sasha Guedes, also swept their Aug. 3 and Aug. 7 matches with USA by an aggregate score of 95-36, concluding a successful effort by both Canadian squads.
“I thought the games were fantastic,” says Jen Boyd, the head coach for the national women’s U20 team as well as the uOttawa Gee-Gees. “Everyone was talking about it. It shows the level of play that both Canadian teams were showing. I think it set a new standard for high school and age-grade rugby for the country.”
Local rugby players excel near & far
Following the trend of those on Team Canada, four local U16 girls – Allison Rupar, Jenna Lawrence, Maddy Kushner and Cassandra Lawrence – helped lift Team Ontario to gold at the Canadian Rugby Championships on Aug. 20 in Calgary.
Ottawa’s Meredith Sirrs, Felicity Tozer and Natasha Kerlovich played for the U18 Team Ontario ‘A’ that finished 4th at nationals.
On the boys’ side, Ottawa players Jake Ebbs, Cole Hutt, Duncan Phillips and Scott Sharma placed 6th for Ontario’s U15 team, while Brayden Gray, Pierre-Hardy Gouombas and Harry Saunders were 5th with the U17 squad. Both teams played a year up in the U16 and U18 divisions.
On the world stage, Ottawa native Julianne Zussman helped Canada to a 5th-place finish at the Aug. 9-26 Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland. The Canadians lost just once at the event – to champion New Zealand in their final pool game – while recording shutout victories over Hong Kong and Wales (twice) by a combined score of 165-0 alongside a 43-12 win over Australia.
Back home, teams from Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and Bahamas came to Twin Elm Rugby Park for the 8th World Vintage Rugby Carnival from Aug. 20-27, featuring roughly 300 veteran rugby players.
Boyd says Ottawa rugby has returned to its prominent place nationally and beyond, like it did in the early 2000s when she played.
“I think it makes it more realistic, more real for kids in the area,” she signals, underlining the effect national-level athletes have on younger ones. “Ottawa rugby has really grown in terms of our profile in Canada.”