Antigonish, NS - On a beautiful Friday evening at Oland Stadium in fornt of 300 fans, the AUS women's rugby season got underway in what has become the traditional opening fixture between the Saint Mary's Huskies and the StFX X-Women. This time the defending AUS champion X-Women came out on top with a 76-12 victory.
StFX head coach Mike Cavanagh selected a starting lineup with a mix of youth and experience to begin the campaign. Olivia DeMerchant (Bedell, NB), returning for a fifth season from national team duty, and three-time reigning league MVP Joanna Alphonso (Ajax, ON), were mixed with second year players Katie Pentz (Trenton, NS) and Sara Hoering (Whitby, ON). The youthful Huskies were led by Julie Naugler (Stillwater Lake, NS) and Brittany MacKInnon (Halifax, NS) with Dartmouth, NS natives Alondrea Johnston and Leah Matheson making their debuts.
StFX demonstrated why they are ranked number two in the U SPORTS rankings by scoring early and often against an organized Huskie defence, which could not contain a fluid and ruthless StFX attack. StFX opened the scoring in the first minute with Keely McCuish (Halifax, NS) touching down for StFX with Alphonso making a nice pass leading to the score. Five minutes later converted fly-half Jacqui Salvatore (Scarborough, ON) crossed the line. To complete a torrid first ten minutes for X, Sarah Hoering completed a brilliant passage of play by StFX which began with great first phase play by lock Katie Pentz (Trenton, NS) and a powerful run by DeMerchant to put them up 15-0.
In the second ten minutes it was more of the same by the X-Women who continued to play, as the saying goes, 'rugby without numbers' as the forwards displayed their skill with superb off-loads in tackles. Antigonish's Sarah McCarron was particularly effective in her passing ability in tight quarters. In the next few minutes the winger Salvatore and fullback Sam Nadeau (Bewdley, ON) showed great handling and passing skills down the wing before center Meghan Buchanan (Lethbridge, AB) crossed over.
Fly-half Hannah Ellis (Halifax, NS) was key in orchestrating the next try by McCuish. Sophia Parker (Windsor, NS) put StFX up by 30 points and a fine reward for her play in both the rucks and in open play. Salvatore, on first half kicking duty, slotted her first conversion of the evening, after a number of near misses and hitting the posts twice.
Loose-head stalwart, Sam Lake (Windsor, NS), master of the hard and often unseen work in the rucks and scrum, next touched down and Salvatore once again slotted the conversion to increase the StFX lead to 39-0. Not long after Salvatore would score in the far corner after another string of nice passes in which inside centre Buchanan showed great awareness and soft hands.
The X-Women finished out the first half with style as McCuish, and scrum half Lucy Killacky (Wolfville, NS) touched down. In the final five minutes X refused to let up. Fresh off the bench, freshman prop Maddie Harroun (Halifax, NS) scored before Hoering and Hamilton completed a 13 try-scoring half for the X-Women who were up 71-0 after the opening 40 minutes of play.
The second half saw a number of changes for both sides and the less experienced StFX players did not play with the same cohesiveness and aggression as the side that started the match. The Huskies enjoyed the vast majority of possession, but StFX defended well and made it difficult for Saint Mary's to make their possession count territorially or on the scoreboard.
First-year SMU flanker Paige Parker (Ellerhouse, NS), impressive throughout the match, came into her own in the second-half with a number of powerful runs and superb reads in both defence and attack. SMU performed well at scrum time with number 8 Sarah Penney (Dartmouth, NS) solid at the base. The Huskies new half-back pairing of Emma Baines (Halifax, NS) and AUS all-star Julie Naugler were both intelligent and skillful in their distribution. Playing the fullback position against StFX is a difficult assignment, but second year Elish Redshaw (Point Edward, NS) was brilliant throughout the 80 minutes. She was solid under the high ball, tackled efficiently and made a number of surging runs that gained her team valuable territory.
Both teams had difficulty advancing down the field yet, despite Saint Mary's having the majority of possession, it was StFX that eventually scored first with Harroun once again showing the depth X has at every position on the field.
The final five minutes saw the Huskies find an extra gear that perhaps even surprised the X-Women, when SMU finished by scoring two impressive tries which rewarded both their mental and physical resilience throughout the match. In the 76th minute substitute Leah Heath (Kanata, ON) scored before lock Marissa McBride (Cambridge, NS) surged across the line to complete the game's try scoring in the 80th minute. Fittingly, Redshaw converted the try to close out the contest. The final score ended at 76-12 for the X-Women.
The player of the game for the Huskies was fullback Elish Redshaw. The Subway Player of the Game was StFX's Keely MacCuish who had three tries on the night.
Next up on the AUS schedule sees the X-Women travel to Charlottetown to face the Panthers next Saturday at 2:00 pm. Saint Mary's will play host to the Axewomen next Sunday at 3:00 pm.
Courtesy Bart Sears, StFX Sports Information
SMU 0-12: 12
StFX 71-5: 76
StFX - Keeley MacCuish try, 1st minute
StFX - Jacqui Salvatore try, 6th minute
StFX - Sarah Hoerig try, 8th minute
StFX - Meghan Buchanan try, 14th minute
StFX - Keeley MacCuish try, 18th minute
StFX - Olivia DeMerchant try, 20th minute (Jacqui Salvatore convert)
StFX - Sam Lake try, 25th minute (Jacqui Salvatore convert)
StFX - Jacqui Salvatore try, 28th minute
StFX - Keeley MacCuish try, 30th minute
StFX - Lucy Killacky try, 33rd minute
StFX - Maddie Harroun try, 35th minute (Jacqui Salvatore convert)
StFX - Sara Hoerig try, 38th minute
StFX - Claudia Fulton try, 40th minute
StFX - Maddie Harroun try, 64th minute
SMU - Lianne Heath try, 76th minute
SMU - Marissa McBride try, 80th minute (Elish Redshaw convert)
Players of the Game:
SMU - Elish Redshaw (Point Edward, NS)
StFX – Keeley MacCuish (Trenton, NS)
Try: 5 points
Penalty goal: 3 points
Convert: 2 points