Banner Season: Gaels look to derail four-peat from Guelph in third straight championship clash

Banner Season: Gaels look to derail four-peat from Guelph in third straight championship clash

Kingston, Ont. – New year, same teams. It has become a familiar scene on the OUA Women’s Rugby Championship stage over the last few seasons, and one that will come to pass yet again on Friday, October 18 at Nixon Field in Kingston. But the continued success of both the Queen’s Gaels and Guelph Gryphons makes it a fitting finale once more, just like it has been in their previous two championship clashes.

2019 OUA Women’s Rugby Championship Fan Guide

When looking back at the last two banner season conclusions, the Gryphons have gotten the best of the Gaels on both occasions en route to their now three consecutive titles. In the most recent gold medal fixture, it was a hot start from Guelph that ultimately paved the way to victory, as they scored the first 29 points of the match. The rest of the way saw the vanquished outscore the victors, but the early deficit was too much for the Tricolour to overcome, ultimately falling by a 39-14 margin.

While the results haven’t favoured the Kingston squad in these championship matches, that has not deterred them from wanting a chance at redemption. “We have one focus and one focus only and that is hosting the OUA championship against Guelph,” said head coach Dan Valley. “We wouldn’t want it any other way.” And thanks to their 54-19 victory over Guelph on September 14 to snap their nine-match losing streak against the Gryphs, the stage is set just how they want it.

Six different Gaels scored tries in that regular season encounter, but it was the 24 points of Sophie de Goede (Victoria, B.C.) that led the way in the important win. The reigning OUA and U SPORTS Player of the Year is no stranger to success on the pitch, and that top-tier performance was just one of the impressive outings on the season; a stretch that saw her lead the conference in scoring (76 points) and top her closest competitor by 26 in that category.

The fifth-year number 8 continued this offensive onslaught into the postseason as well, as the two-sport star notched a pair of tries and four conversions in the Gaels decisive semifinal victory over Brock last week. de Goede and the team, who are entering play confident and capable, will hope this trend continues into Friday to turn the banner season tables on their powerhouse opponents. With a championship on the line, however, that will be easier said than done, especially with Guelph boasting a star of their own coming off a standout semifinal.

Julia Schell (Uxbridge, Ont.), a three-time U SPORTS All-Canadian, missed two games during the regular season due to injury, but returned to the Guelph lineup in last week’s semifinal to record a team-high 32 points (four tries, six converts) in their 77-24 win over McMaster. Understandably, the decorated senior, along with entire Gryphons squad, will be looking for a similar performance to that against the Gaels to cap off their OUA season in winning fashion. And Schell is confident they can do just that.

“Our team is extremely determined heading into the OUA finals. We’ve improved so much since our last meeting with Queen’s and we know what we need to do to be successful on Friday night.” And much like last year’s contest, the fifth-year fly half thinks it will come down to gritty, relentless play, as well as trust in each other throughout the 80 minutes.

One of the teammates that Schell and company will put their trust in is Emilie Nicholl (Toronto, Ont.), who offers up another veteran presence for the 16-time OUA champions. The fourth-year lock was named a U SPORTS first-team all-Canadian in 2018 and will once again be a key cog in the well-oiled Guelph machine on Friday.

When picking out an additional key cog in the talent Tricolour attack, meanwhile, it is hard to look past their leading scorer from 2018. Rachel Hickson (Ottawa, Ont.) turned in another productive season for Queen’s in her third year after, following up on her 50-point sophomore campaign. Six tries led to 30 points for Hickson (8th in OUA), but like many of her fellow student-athletes taking part in the season finale, her play found a new gear in the postseason. An additional three tries in Queen’s semifinal win, along with a try-saving tackle that saw her span the length of the field, will make her yet another central figure to focus on this Friday on both sides of the ball.

While having standouts like Hickson, de Goede, and more will create opportunities against the Guelph game plan, the Gaels’ coach knows it will take more than a rinse and repeat approach to take down the Gryphons in back-to-back outings, recognizing that they’ll be facing a different Guelph team than they saw earlier this year. Despite this, Valley’s team is ready to tackle the challenge.

“To be the best, you have to beat the best. We had a really great performance against Guelph and we know they are going to be reloaded and show up here [in Kingston] pretty ticked off, which is exciting for us.”

This excitement should spread into the crowd as well, as the friendly confines of Nixon Field will see an additional influx of school spirit on homecoming weekend. Fans will be treated to a marquee matchup on Friday, complete with several of the country’s top players hitting the pitch, and with plenty of firepower and championship pedigree on both top-10 squads, there is no telling which star(s) will make the biggest mark in front of the frenzied fans.

If it’s the reigning champions that are able to establish the advantage and come away with the win, they’d be able to secure their fourth straight OUA title and ninth in the last 12 years, while also earning a bit of revenge from their rare regular season defeat. For Queen’s, however, they’d use those gains to hopefully exorcise their second six-year demon of the season, because after taking home their first victory over Guelph since 2013, they’d love nothing more than to double down with their first OUA championship during that span as well – against those same Gryphons.

Fans looking to catch the action and see how this third consecutive banner season battle plays out between the No. 3 Queen’s Gaels and No. 4 Guelph Gryphons, tune in to on Friday, October 18 at 7:00pm.

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