By Christie Melhorn, September 19, 2017 —
The University of Calgary’s women’s rugby team’s 2016–17 season was characterized by incredible dedication and success. For the first time, they conquered the Canada West Women’s Rugby Sevens Series. Team co-captain DaLeaka Menin was named the 2017 Canada West athlete of the year and went on the play for Canada in the Rugby World Cup this August before returning to the Dinos for her final year.
The team’s achievements are especially notable as they are a non-funded varsity sport. This means that the U of C’s athletics department does not support many of the team’s financial needs, including paying coaches. Volunteer contributions and community programs such as the Alberta Rugby Alumni association sponsor the Dinos and the athletes pay out of pocket to play. The University does, however, support the team through media coverage and access to resources, such as athletic therapy.
Head coach Simon Chi remains humble by acknowledging the time and effort it takes to make such monumental strides.
“When we first started, no one wanted to play for us. Prospective players went to Edmonton or Lethbridge,” Chi said. “It was about finding players who could work hard and developing them. We built on that foundation for years. We still take in players who are raw and develop them.”
Chi says that a large part of the team’s success comes from sharing a common goal.
“A big thing we’ve been working on the last couple of years has been our team culture,” Chi said. “To make it sustainable and long-term, the care has to come from within [the players]. So together we generated our own four values — commitment, family, fun and hardwork.”
In reference to these four values, Chi wants the team to enter the 2017–18 season with a vigorous work ethic.
“In training, we try to simulate a real game as much as possible,” Chi said. “It comes down to how decisions and skills are executed while under physical duress and pressure. You can never fully replicate a game but we want [the players] to get comfortable getting uncomfortable.”
Chi says it’s especially important for first-year players to understand the expectations of a varsity-level sport before entering the pitch.
“Part of the challenge that any varsity program has is turnover,” Chi said. “It’s about building a new core — assimilating the younger players into our team and having them understand the work that has to be done.”
Chi’s emphasis on team cohesiveness and effective communication is echoed by fifth-year kinesiology major and team member Emily Tuttosi.
“Simon is authentic and caring and obviously really knowledgeable,” Tuttosi said. “Any one of us could go to him with a problem in rugby or life and he would find actions to solve them. The littlest gestures Simon does makes me realize I am valued as a person and a player.”
While the team’s prestige is inspiring to incoming and veteran players, Chi says the legacy of the team’s first head coach, Jenny Vincent, who tragically passed away from cancer in 2010, is also an important source of motivation.
“[Vincent’s passing] is a part of the fabric of this program,” Chi said. “[The Jenny Vincent Coaching Endowment Scholarship] was created for this program and helps us a lot. It is something that ties all of us together. We don’t forget about her.”
Tuttosi says that strong team engagement is crucial to maintaining their momentum this season.
“We want everyone to feel they contributed to the success of the team this season,” Tuttosi said. “It’s a harsh reality that not all the girls will get as many minutes but if you’re showing up to practice, you’re still adding to the dynamics. You’re building up the team for next year and years to come.”
The women’s rugby team’s season begins in Lethbridge on Sept. 21 against the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns. The Dinos will also host the Canada West Rugby Final Four tournament beginning on Oct. 20 on Hellard Field.