For the first time since 2007, the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns women’s rugby team enters the Canada West season as the hunter and not the hunted after seeing their reign of six consecutive conference championships snapped in 2012.
The ‘Horns will not have a home game until the Canada West Championships and will play all four of their conference games on the road, starting this weekend with a trip to the west coast to face the Victoria Vikes and UBC Thunderbirds.
In addition to losing their conference crown, the ‘Horns also had their 22-game conference winning streak snapped in the process, losing to the Calgary Dinos 31-18 during the regular season. It was the Dinos who also put an end to the ‘Horns' reign as conference champions, beating the U of L 33-32 in a thrilling Canada West semifinal.
Heading into the 2013 season, the ‘Horns will need to fill some key holes left by the departure of five-time Canada West all-star Brandi Van Eeuwen, fly half Laura Murphy-Burke, scrum half Alex Hendricks and heart and soul leader Kendra Reeves. Despite these departures, the cupboard is far from bare with the return of 2013 Canada U20 members Sarah Gordon and Ashley Delaney. Add in team captain Jillian Ankutowicz, Kim Leavitt, Tiffany Wideen and Lindsey Duxbury, and the leadership group will be solid.
Newcomers Allison Toews and Lisa Hildebrand have also impressed early for the ‘Horns.
The ‘Horns' first opponent, the Victoria Vikes, will look to rebound from last season’s winless campaign and welcome a fresh, elite group of recruits to the fold. The Vikes boast 15 new members, 11 of whom competed provincially this past summer.
The UBC Thunderbirds enter the 2013 Canada West women’s rugby season with a new coach in Maria Gallo, who is working to replicate the success she enjoyed as a player at both Guelph University and University of Alberta. The former national team member won three CIS championships and was named the CIS Most Valuable Player in 2002.
Gallo takes over a relatively young squad that returns most of its players from last season, which ended with a loss in the Canada West bronze medal game. There are no fifth-year seniors on the roster, but there is a large group of third- and fourth-year players who will provide leadership.
The Canada West Championships will be hosted by the University of Lethbridge, Oct. 18-20 at the
U of L Community Sports Stadium.