With three stops down and three more to go in their Olympic qualifying season, head coach John Tait has split his squad into two Maple Leaf teams that are competing in midseason tournaments ahead of the Kitakyushu, Langford, and Biarritz series stops.
Five BC Athletes are part of the two teams, with Caroline Crossley (Victoria, BC), Maggie Mackinnon (Victoria, BC) and Kayla Moleschi (Williams Lake, BC) heading to Nice, while Tausani Levale (Abbotsford, BC) and Sierra Gillis (Victoria, BC) will be part of the team in action down in San Diego.
“We are just looking at these tourneys as great opportunities to get our entire squad playing some quality opposition to help us prepare and select for the second half of our season. We also want to try a few new combinations and tactics, which is a real luxury to be able to do that in an environment where there isn’t the added pressure of needing to win.” said Tait.
The first team in San Diego opened competition today in their four-team tournament against USA 1, USA 2, and China and will play the final rounds tomorrow. A younger roster with talent to spare, they’re looking to gain experience and touches for the up-and-coming athletes with guidance from the series-seasoned players that round out the line up.
Sabrina Poulin was replaced by Rugby Canada Development Academy athlete Sierra Gillis due to a late injury. This is the second senior women’s tour for Victoria-native Gillis.
The second squad in Nice, France will compete on March 16th and 17th against Japan, Spain, England, Ireland, Russia, France, and Australia. The roster has veterans such as Britt Benn, Ghislaine Landry, Bianca Farella, and Kayla Moleschi playing alongside youngsters Keyara Wardley and Maggie Mackinnon. Mackinnon comes from the Development Academy and replaced Madi Grant—also an Academy athlete—who is out with a lower-body injury.
“This academy is quickly becoming our biggest and most productive pathway to our senior program. We are working closely at aligning everything we are doing on and off the field,” added Tait.
“The coach of the academy, Adam Kleeberger, has really done a fantastic job at growing these young athletes in every area of the game and it’s evident by those athletes being able to come up and play on senior tours already. If a young lady aspires to become an Olympian in 2024 and beyond, then this is the program that will make that dream become a reality.”
France will also be the first action back for veteran Karen Paquin who has been absent from play since the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
“It’s great to have Karen back, she brings an intensity to the group by the way she trains and plays. She has been keen to get back into her best form and she—along with the support staff—have been patiently working towards that.”
In the first half of their season saw a bronze finish in Glendale and a silver medal in Dubai before a fifth-place ending in Sydney after a quarterfinal loss to New Zealand.
The team stops in Kitakyushu, Japan to compete on April 20-21st before returning home to Langford for the HSBC Canada Women’s Sevens on May 11-12th. With the top four teams securing automatic Olympic Qualification, two big performances could allow them to punch their ticket to Tokyo in front of the home crowd.
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“We are always going into competitions with an expectation that we can medal, so getting an opportunity to do that at home in front of friends and family is really special. It comes with added pressure, mostly from within, but regardless it’s the place we always want to win the most.” said Tait.
Tickets for the HSBC Canada Women’s Sevens go on sale next week, with early bird tickets available March 19th and public on sale March 21st. For more information on tickets, click HERE.
For more information on the Rugby Canada Development Academy, click HERE.