If Jen Ross has her way, Wednesday’s announcement should be another big step for women’s rugby in Abbotsford.
Beginning in January 2017, the Canada West Women’s Rugby Sevens Series, which will include the University of the Fraser Valley, will provide Canadian female student-athletes the opportunity to pursue the game of rugby sevens, while studying in Canada.
The project, which will include joint funding from B2Ten and Rugby Canada, will see the creation of a three-tournament rugby sevens series involving six Canada West institutions – UFV, University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge, and University of Victoria.
Ross, an Abbotsford resident, is a former Canadian national team player, and has coached at the high school, club and provincial levels. She will serve as the head coach for the Cascades team, and said the new series is a great opportunity to grow the sport for females locally.
“It’s a way for girls to play university ball that choose to go to school here,” she said. “It’s opening up opportunities and provides another pathway for them to be seen.”
She said the idea has been batted around for a few years, and feels it will be a good thing for local female rugby.
“It’s more of an opportunity to bring players here rather than take away from the local club,” she said.
For student-athlete Meghan Wellis, who will suit up for the team, the announcement is a building block.
“It means a lot,” she said. “A lot of the girls that I play with in Abbotsford could use this as pathway. It gives them an outlet to grow and gain experience.”
Wellis has played on the Abbotsford Rugby Football Club‘s elite women’s team for the past two years. The White Rock native also played rugby at the post-secondary level at the University of Lethbridge.
“We want to create a good atmosphere and get as many people involved as we can,” she said. “When I graduated I didn’t want to move away, so having somewhere closer to home for so many female players is amazing.”
Ross has already begun putting together the Cascades’ roster, and athletes interested in participating should contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She said UFV will be considered a bit of an underdog, as they don’t have a rugby XV program like the other schools participating, but they should be up for the challenge.
“We have a strong core group and I think we will be competitive,” she said, of the 18 girls already identified to join the team.
“We’re going to be stronger than people think,” Wellis said. “A lot of the core players all play together at the club level and we work well. I think we could surprise some people.”
The next event on the team’s schedule is a friendly tournament in Squamish at Quest University on Dec. 4. Ross said there could be exhibition games scheduled in the coming months in Abbotsford, but nothing is planned yet.
The Canada West Women’s Rugby Seven Series runs on Jan. 21 and 22 in Edmonton as the University of Alberta hosts the inaugural event, followed by tournaments at the University of Victoria (Feb. 4 and 5) and University of British Columbia (Feb. 18 and 19). The winner of the series will be crowned following the final tournament of the series, as determined by cumulative series points.