His­tory mak­ing 2006 X-women rugby team en­shrined

First CIS cham­pi­onship launches dy­nasty

The Casket - - Sports - COREY LEBLANC coreyle­blanc@the­cas­ket.ca

They are not only pi­o­neers, but also the foun­da­tion for what is, ar­guably, the great­est dy­nasty in Xave­rian ath­letic his­tory.

With that re­sume, the 2006 X-women rugby team, which won the first na­tional cham­pi­onship for the pro­gram, was a shoe-in to be en­shrined in the St. F.X. Sports Hall of Fame.

That hap­pened Sept. 27 dur­ing an in­duc­tion cer­e­mony for the Class of 2018 at St. F.X.’S

Schwartz School of Busi­ness Au­di­to­rium.

“We showed them,” team cap­tain Laura Fore­man said dur­ing the cer­e­mony, not­ing the X-women “flew un­der the radar” dur­ing the then-cis tour­na­ment in Lon­don, On­tario.

As a re­flec­tion of that sen­ti­ment, Fore­man re­mem­bered no one asked her or X-women head coach Mike Ca­vanagh a ques­tion dur­ing the tra­di­tional pre-tour­na­ment press con­fer­ence.

“No one looked twice at us,” she noted.

Fore­man said she was “a leader that led a team full of lead­ers,” an illustration of the vet­eran pres­ence on the team.

“They made my job [as cap­tain] easy,” she added.

‘Re­mark­able story’

In 2006, St. F.X. fin­ished with a 5-0-1 reg­u­lar sea­son record and clinched the At­lantic Uni­ver­sity Sport (AUS) crown with a vic­tory over the UPEI Pan­thers.

At na­tion­als, the Blue and White top­pled the two-time and de­fend­ing na­tional cham­pion West­ern Mus­tangs, who were play­ing on their home field, 13-5 in the semi-fi­nals.

They clinched the Cana­dian ti­tle – the first one for a St. F.X. fe­male team – with a 10-5 win over the Guelph Gryphons.

“What a re­mark­able story,” Leo Macpher­son, St. F.X. Di­rec­tor of Ath­let­ics and Recre­ation, said in his re­marks, be­fore read­ing the team’s ci­ta­tion.

While speak­ing, he pulled a rope chain from his pocket, with a puz­zle piece as its charm, which Fore­man gave him at the tour­na­ment. She told him he was a piece of the cham­pi­onship puz­zle.

“There may have been teams with more tal­ent, but no one had more guts and char­ac­ter,” Macpher­son said of their per­for­mance at that tour­na­ment.

‘Spe­cial team’

Ca­vanagh, who has been at the helm of four more na­tional cham­pi­onship win­ners, called the in­duc­tion of the 2006 squad a “great hon­our.”

“It was a spe­cial team,” he said, adding the play­ers “set the bar high for ev­ery­one” who has fol­lowed in the pro­gram.

Like Fore­man, he re­called, at na­tion­als that year “no one gave us much of a chance.”

“They proved ev­ery­one wrong,” Ca­vanagh said.

He praised the lead­er­ship of the team, not­ing the play­ers were de­ter­mined to get over the hump.

The X-women were “close the year be­fore,” go­ing win­less at na­tion­als, but los­ing each match by less than five points.

“They took on the re­spon­si­bil­ity of tak­ing it to the next level,” Ca­vanagh said, adding “we had a great batch of fourth-year play­ers.”

He added the X-women had more depth than they had dur­ing other cham­pi­onship tour­na­ment ap­pear­ances.

“She was the miss­ing piece,” Ca­vanagh said of Ghis­laine Landry, the then-fresh­man sen­sa­tion who has gone on to an il­lus­tri­ous in­ter­na­tional ca­reer with Team Canada, adding “she could score from any­where.”

“It all clicked,” he added of the leg­endary sea­son.

When he took the podium ear­lier in the in­duc­tion cer­e­mony, St. F.X. Pres­i­dent Kent Mac­don­ald cred­ited the 2006 team for “the start of a dy­nasty.”

“It is our great­est one,” he said.

We are fam­ily

Team mem­ber Zoe Field­ing said she has al­ways found it dif­fi­cult to an­swer, when some­one asked why those X-women were so spe­cial.

“I would al­ways strug­gle putting into words – why it is we won that year,” she added.

Af­ter re­unit­ing with her team­mates for their in­duc­tion dur­ing St. F.X. Home­com­ing, Field­ing added “it is now much clearer to me.”

“This team was fam­ily. We worked hard, we played hard and we were there for one an­other,” she said.

“Our friend­ships off the field are what sep­a­rated us from the other teams, which trans­lated to how we played with one an­other on the field.

“We stood up for each other, we knew where one an­other was on the field and could eas­ily read their play­ing style; putting us in a po­si­tion to be able to sup­port and mo­ti­vate one an­other nat­u­rally,” Field­ing added.

She noted the “in­stru­men­tal role” their head coach played that mag­i­cal sea­son.

“He cared about us and had high ex­pec­ta­tions, so in re­turn we all wanted to play for him and make him proud,” Field­ing said of Ca­vanagh.

She added the hall-of-fame recog­ni­tion “means so much.”

“Be­cause ev­ery time I look at that [team] pic­ture, I feel blessed to have shared that year with the girls and our coach­ing staff,” Field­ing said.

Re­mem­ber­ing Michelle

Be­fore the X-women took the stage for their mo­ment in the spot­light, the au­di­ence en­joyed a high­light video of the 2006 run, which con­cluded with a photo of the late Michelle Birks, a key con­trib­u­tor to the na­tional cham­pi­onship vic­tory.

“Just take a mo­ment to re­mem­ber her,” Fore­man said, with tears welling up, of her team­mate and friend.

Only a few months af­ter cap­tur­ing gold, in early 2007, Birks passed away. She was only 22.

At the time, the fourth-year stu­dent-ath­lete was the uni­ver­sity's all-time lead­ing scorer in rugby, an all-star and aca­demic all-cana­dian.

Birks kicked two con­verts in the cham­pi­onship match win over the Gryphons.

“This was a spe­cial hon­our for us be­cause we could all re­flect on the fact that one mem­ber couldn’t be there,” Field­ing said.

“2006 brought the high­est of highs, when we won na­tion­als, and low­est of lows, when we lost Michelle a few months later.”

Paul Hur­ford

The 2006 St. F.X. X-women rugby team, which won a then-cis na­tional cham­pi­onship, is now en­shrined in the St. F.X. Sports Hall of Fame.

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