With one of its two campuses right here in the lakecity, the head coach of the fledgling Thompson Rivers University WolfPack women’s rugby sevens team is hoping to drum up some enthusiasm.
The WolfPack has agreed to be part of the Western Canada Women’s Rugby Sevens series this winter — the second year of a pilot project involving six other schools from Canada West.
“We’re really excited for the region,” head coach Derek Pue told the Tribune. “If players are enrolled at the campus in Williams Lake they are eligible to play. Right now we’re allowed to carry a roster of 14 and we have 11 right now, so we’re hoping to fill those last three spots.”
Pue is the current coach of the Kamloops Raiders men’s program and is involved in the Thompson Okanagan U16 men’s and BC Rugby Interior Academy. He also serves as the video analyst for Canada’s under-20 men’s national team.
He said he’s happy to be able to help offer Williams Lake players the chance to play post-secondary rugby in a location closer to home, and considers the region a hotbed for rugby in the province.
“I look at it from the viewpoint of, like, you’ve got (Canadian women’s sevens player) Kayla Moleschi and (Canada men’s player) Jake Ilnicki from there, among others, and those players had to do the work and go down to the Lower Mainland and the Island,” he said. “Just how many didn’t have this opportunity so we’re pumped to have that bridge here.”
Incoming Athletics and Recreation director Curtis Atkinson provided some historical background on the league, and said in 2016 Canada West, through a research and planning working group, identified rugby sevens as an emerging sport.
“In 2017, Canada West, with support from Rugby Canada and B2ten, launched a three-year rugby sevens pilot project called the Western Canada Women’s Rugby Sevens Series,” Atkinson said. “The objectives of the pilot program are to grow the game, to retain talented student athletes in Canada and to build depth of pipeline for the national program.”
The WolfPack will be run as a club team, and will play in two of three sanctioned tournaments next month (Feb. 10-11, hosted by the University of the Fraser Valley and Feb. 24-25 hosted by the University of Victoria).
The other teams involved in the Western Canada Rugby Sevens project are: UBC, Lethbridge, Calgary and Alberta.
Pue, meanwhile, said he’s excited to get the program up and running.
“Sevens rugby is an incredibly exciting sport that is dynamic and fast paced,” he said. “It’s taking off in North America because that fast-paced action links well to the sporting market. We are seeing athletes from traditional Canadian sports like hockey, football, basketball and track making a successful transition to rugby sevens later in their athletic careers.
“Rugby sevens debuted at the Rio Olympics and was incredibly popular. We see this program at TRU as being a great first step for student athletes from the Interior of B.C. to get on the national team radar.”
Pue invites any players currently enrolled at TRU — either in Williams Lake or in Kamloops — to look into joining the team.
“It’s wide open right now,” Pue said. “The training schedule will obviously be modified for athletes coming out of Williams Lake if there are any interested girls. If anyone wants to get involved, we’re still just in our first week of training.”
Joining Pue on the coaching staff will be assistant coach Jesse Olynyk, a former U Sports all-Canadian at the University of Victoria. Olynyk will fill the role of skills coach and team manager.
Kaitlyn Cumming will round out the coaching staff after playing Canada West rugby at UVIC and at the University of Alberta.
“Both Jesse and Kaitlyn bring a wealth of knowledge about the game, as well as an understanding of what it takes to be successful in women’s university rugby,” Pue said.
If you are interested in trying out for the team, contact Olynyk at email@example.com.