By Eden Suh
An early season rugby matchup between the University of Ottawa and Carleton University presented unfamiliar territory for the perennial powerhouse Gee-Gees, who without a regular season win to that point risked falling behind their cross-town rivals with a loss at Ravens Field.
Nevertheless, steadying the sideline for the Gee-Gees is head coach Jen Boyd, who is at the helm of one of her alma maters for the seventh season.
“Don’t stop it, don’t stop it!” Boyd shouts as her team pushes the ball across the Ravens’ try line for their first score of the second half, at least momentarily flashing the dominance they’ve constantly displayed under the tenure of their head coach.
The Gee-Gees would go on to beat the Ravens by a score of 46-12 to secure their first victory of the season in their third game.
“We have a ways to go but I feel like this week at practice we really turned a corner,” Boyd told the Sportspage after the Sept. 13 matchup. “We have some young players who are really starting to see the field and our game fitness is getting up. Again, we just turned a corner, we’re not around the corner yet.”
Boyd took over the helm of the Gee-Gees in 2013. Since then she’s led the team to five consecutive appearances at the U Sports championships, in which they’ve won medals in their last four appearances, including winning their first national championship in 2017.
This season, however, the Gee-Gees record indicates a slight retreat from their self-set league-leading standard.
With a record of 3-2-1 through six games, uOttawa is just one game ahead of Sherbrooke for 2nd place in their division’s standings.
Despite retaining local veterans like Taylor Donato, Daniella Ellis, Michaela Haley, Rachel McCallan and Alexandra Ondo, the team may have experienced more player turnover this year than Boyd may have expected (she told the Sportspage last year that about 90 per cent of their team could return this year).
“We have a really young team, but I think we attract a lot of good kids here because of the culture and diversity of this university,” Boyd said about her team this year.
While new faces mean new opportunities for the team’s younger players, inexperience also presents some challenges for the five-time defending RSEQ champions.
“We started off the season pretty slow, and because we have a lot of young players, a lot of people don’t think that we are coming in strong,” said Aurora Bowie, one of the team’s first-year players, about entering one of the country’s top university rugby programs.
“Not a lot of people necessarily believe in us because we are such a young team, but we believe in ourselves.”
Boyd expressed more confidence in their team after their second victory of the season against Sherbrooke on Sept. 21.
“We are getting much better, we’re gelling as a team. Trying new combinations, it has been really good,” Boyd said.
The Gee-Gees nearly replicated their September score against the Ravens in another Oct. 4 matchup against their cross-town rival, winning that matchup by a score of 47-10. That win brought their tally on the season to 3-2-1. At the time of publication, Carleton’s women’s rugby team was 0-6-0.
The University of Ottawa will host the 2019 U Sports Women’s Rugby Championship from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3. Part of the deal of hosting is that the Gee-Gees automatically secure a bid at the championships.
“(The) national championship is always at the upmost importance for us and we are gearing up towards that for sure,” Boyd said in September.
The day after uOttawa’s women’s rugby team took down Carleton’s team for the second time this season, the Ravens were no match for the Gee-Gees football team in the annual matchup of the teams known as the Panda Game.
The Gee-Gees defence – led by leading tackler, Gatineau’s Kyle Rodger – forced six Ravens turnovers and held Carleton to only 10 points, while Ottawa’s own offence scored 32 points of their own. Ottawa-native Quintin Soares scored Carleton’s lone touchdown on the day. Dylan St. Pierre, the Gee-Gees own locally bred receiver, helped his team with four catches in the game.
The victory earned the Gee-Gees a spot in the U Sports Top 10 rankings this week, while the loss all-but eliminates Carleton from playoff contention. At the time of publication, both the Ravens and Gee-Gees had two regular season games remaining. The OUA football playoffs begin in late October and the 2019 Yates Cup will be held on Nov. 9.
On the pitch
Carleton’s undefeated men’s soccer team is at the top of the OUA standings through 10 games. Gatineau’s Stefan Karajovanovic leads the team with six goals on the year and is followed by Ottawa’s own Ricky Comba and Gabriel Bitar, who have scored four and three times, respectively. The Ravens men are trying to improve upon their 3rd place finish at nationals last year, which was the first time the team won a medal in men’s soccer at the national championships since 2002.
The Gee-Gees women’s soccer team have built a strong case that they’ll be competitive in defending their national championship from last year by asserting themselves as the top team in the OUA through 11 games. They were tied with Queen’s University with a 9-0-2 record at the time of publication. Fifth-year keeper Margot Shore, who also coaches with Ottawa City and Ottawa Internationals, is third in the OUA in save percentage for the Gee-Gees team that has only allowed four goals all season.
Carleton’s women’s soccer team is in 2nd last place in the OUA East with a 1-6-3 record.