Program may play intra-program sevens' matches
by Corey LeBlanc
When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.
That proverb could be applied to the perennially powerful StFX X-Women as they try to stay sharp while dealing with the cancellation of the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) rugby season.
If restrictions are loosened further – when it comes to sports – as part of the province's effort in dealing with the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, head coach Mike Cavanagh says the program hopes to launch a rugby sevens' league.
He explains the plan is to form five teams from the White and Blue roster.
If the intra-program league gets off the ground, Cavanagh expects matches to kick-off at the end of September. Some of the weekend games will take place on Friday nights – under the lights – on their home turf at StFX Stadium.
"I think that we can put together some highly-competitive teams," he says.
While crediting those involved in creating the Atlantic bubble – which allows increased movement between those provinces – Cavanagh notes "time will tell" when it comes to the potential "opening up of restrictions" that would accommodate such an initiative.
Players and coaches with the program have been together since the start of classes on the Antigonish campus.
"Everyone is excited to be together, and we are really pleased to be back on the rugby field," Cavanagh says.
Of the 50 or so student-athletes with the X-Women this fall, half (25) are freshmen.
"They are super excited [to be here]," Cavanagh says.
He notes several newcomers lost their Grade 12 season last year because of the cancellation of the 2019 campaign in Nova Scotia amid safety concerns.
"They are happy to be playing again," he adds.
And, of course, the X-Women – particularly the fourth and fifth-year players – are "disappointed" there will be no regular season and playoffs.
"They are not going to get the opportunity to be in the hunt for another national championship," Cavanagh, who has led the program to six CIS crowns, says.
While following public health measures, rugby teams are permitted to tackle and make contact. And, like other sports, the 'Rule of 10' applies – which is the maximum number of players who can be in a group during practice.
"We can work on our skills and get rid of bad habits," Cavanagh notes, despite the cap on group size making playing games impossible.
As for the freshman players, he says that they won't have the "usual pressure" to win a national championship, which has become a hallmark of this highly-decorated program.
That doesn't mean things are going to be easy.
"We are still going to be very competitive and take things seriously," Cavanagh stresses.
As the X-Women just begin on their path to become "bigger, stronger and faster," he describes the process as a "work in progress."
"Everyone is a little bit rusty," Cavanagh says, noting that is understandable, considering the circumstances of recent months.
"It has been a bit of a roller coaster [ride]," he adds
Cavanagh notes he is "impressed" with the measures StFX has taken to ensure that everyone, including student-athletes, has a "safe return" to campus for the fall semester.
"We are very lucky to have this opportunity," he says of being able to come together as a team.
No matter how this fall unfolds for the X-Women program, Cavanagh promises the student-athletes and coaches would "do what they need to do to stay focused, sharp and in shape."
He praises everyone involved for their hard work in "keeping us safe" during the pandemic in this part of the world.
"It makes me proud to be a Maritimer," Cavanagh says.