Balancing act: Women's sevens snatch silver in nationals despite scheduling demands

Women’s rugby sevens made history this past season when they competed as one of six teams in the inaugural Canada West Women’s Rugby Sevens Series.

The three-series, three-year project — to be played by UBC, the University of Victoria, the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, the University of Lethbridge and the University of the Fraser Valley — will allow athletes to pursue new opportunities within the sport. It is expected that the extra time spent playing in the series will provide additional training for those aiming for the national program.

The team held their own in the newly formatted program, finishing in second place at the National University Sevens Rugby Championships after a 16-8 record through the season.

Despite their strong finish, the ride was anything but easy for the ’Birds.

“We had a lot of losses throughout the season, we had a lot of wins throughout the season — but it wasn’t pretty,” said UBC head coach Andrea Burk. “We certainly didn’t coast.”

The girls had to deal with two team schedules: the fifteens schedule — which all of the sevens roster still played in — and the new Canada West sevens series schedule. Those commitments forced a balancing act between the two teams.

“It wasn’t a major challenge really. We just had to just plan things early and communicate with everybody,” said the fifteens interim head coach Dean Murten regarding the schedule coordination. “The sevens girls were training, we were still able to train with the fifteens girls and at certain times, we’d all be training together.”

Burk — a member of the Canadian women’s rugby team — recalled some of her own experiences with the two schedules. One time, some of the athletes were unable to play in a sevens game. This did not end up being a big problem, as it “wasn’t the pinnacle of our season.”

“Likewise, we couldn’t make a fifteens game because we were one week out from a national final and that’s what needed to give [in the player’s schedules],” she said.

The sevens roster had a lot to work on over the season, particularly with regards to its own team culture.

“The forefront of our strategy this year was to work on culture, to work on how we perform as a team, as a unit, under pressure,” said Burk, a former Acadia University soccer and rugby player. “That was something that we saw big strides in from our first tournament in Edmonton into the national final.”

Within the newly established Canada West series, the ’Birds had a hard-fought first season. Still, they managed to finish their year off strong. They defeated their western Canadian rivals the University of Alberta Golden Bears 24-14 in the national semi-finals, and then took home silver in the their match against the University of Victoria Vikes.

“For the girls to get into the final again this year, it’s been a tremendous effort for them because a lot of teams are now putting a lot more focus into sevens,” said Murten. “Real credit to the girls and the coaches for the work that they put into it.”