Pronghorns finish 3rd among expanded field in first sevens series stop

The University of Lethbridge Pronghorns women's rugby team kicked off the Canada West Sevens Series over the weekend. Danica Ferris / Global News

Third is a familiar place for the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns women’s rugby team.

After back-to-back third place finishes in the 2018 and 2019 Canada West Sevens Series, the Horns opened 2020 in the bronze spot on the first of three weekends. But those around the program believe that the team has a lot more to give this year.

“This is one of my best groups I’ve ever had,” said Pronghorns head coach Neil Langevin.

“In terms of attitudes and working well together and working hard all the time… when you get a good combination of girls who work hard and skill, it’s going to give us a good chance, and that’s what we have with this group.”

The Horns cruised through their first two matches of the weekend, downing the UFV Cascades 36-0 and UBC Okanagan Heat 41-0, before suffering a three-point loss to the UBC Thunderbirds in the final game on Saturday.

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Global Lethbridge Sports Recap: Jan. 20 – Jan 20, 2020

In Sunday’s semi-final, the U of L girls fell again in a second-straight three-point decision to the University of Victoria Vikes, before rebounding against UBC 15-12 in the third place game.

The CW sevens champion will be crowned on Mar. 1 — on the final weekend of the season, in Victoria — and the team that grabs gold will have collected the most cumulative points through the three tournaments: Edmonton (Jan. 18-19), Vancouver (Feb. 1-2) and Victoria (Feb. 29 – Mar. 1).

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After one weekend, the Horns have 10 points, behind just the University of Alberta with 12 and the Vikes with 15.

“It was a great start, in my opinion,” said fifth-year Pronghorn Carolyn McKee, “and honestly I think that we can build from here. That was not the peak of our season by any means.”

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The new decade has been marked by an expanded field in the sevens game, as Trinity Western University and UBC Okanagan debuted over the weekend. The Spartans and Heat join the original six teams of Alberta, Calgary, UBC, Victoria, Lethbridge and the University of the Fraser Valley, as the sevens series enters its fourth year.

For those who have been around the Pronghorns for a while, the growth within Canada West is reflective of the explosion that rugby has seen Canada-wide.

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“It’s insane,” said Pronghorns captain Abby Duguid, who is in her fifth and final year with the team. “When I started — [and] rugby is very much a family thing, I knew about it since I was little — it wasn’t big in high schools or junior highs.

“For females, it’s empowering to have a sport that’s so physical — and typically male-dominated — and see us succeed.”

McKee agreed that as she graduates from the program this year, she will leave it looking far different from the way she found it.

“My first year that I joined, most of us, you know, had just played high school and just kind of fell into it; whereas the rookies the last couple of years, they’ve been working to come play at the university level,” she said.

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The Pronghorns credit Canada’s national success for the boom in rugby’s popularity among young women.

“It’s kind of been spearheaded lots by our Olympic team who got bronze at the last Olympics, and they’re sitting second in the world right now,” said Langevin.

The coach said he believes this group has what it takes to make some national championship noise but for now, those soon to graduate from the program can rest easy knowing that they will leave the program in good hands.

“My big thing is, yeah, I could do whatever I could do on the field, but off the field this is a program that I’ve been a part of and I think I’ve helped build, that people want to come to,” said Duguid.

The Pronghorns will compete in the second weekend of sevens series action Feb. 1-2 in Vancouver, at UBC.

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