UCC Lancers Rugby: Building A True Program

UCC Lancers Rugby Chatham

The UCC Lancers celebrate a berth to the 2019 OFSAA rugby championships – Contributed Photo

Building a winning team is one thing, but building a program, which consistently wins over a decade, and consistently advances players to a higher level, is another thing.

For the UCC Lancers women’s rugby team, they’re building a program, which is why the team has almost annually advanced to OFSAA, including this season.

“I think the key to our success is the culture we have created with our program,” said one of the UCC coaches Jeff Phaneuf.

“When we started we had a small army of players that included grade 9 to 12 kids that learned to appreciate each person’s unique gifts and talents they brought to the squad. We had kids from every walk of life on those first couple of teams, the incredible thing about rugby is that it is a game that requires a variety of different athletes with different skill sets. There is a family theme to our squad that you will hear our players talk about all the time, they love the game but they love each other more,” he added, pointing to head coach Scott Morkin as another key to setting high standards for success.

For Phaneuf and Morkin, they believe once young girls try rugby at UCC, they’ll be hooked, which is why their teams continue to grow, and rugby has become a primary sport at UCC.

“I think there are a tremendous amount of opportunities for any athlete interested in playing rugby,” said Phaneuf. “Post secondary and provincially there are lots of opportunities, we have had a handful of players compete on a provincial team and Breanne Nicholas from Blenheim who plays on Canada’s 7s team is a perfect example of a local athlete finding a spot to play.”

Rachel King was UCC’s first player to ever advance beyond the high school level to play postsecondary rugby. She believes in the game of rugby, and the approach the UCC program is taking to deliver the sport.

“It is a physical game that empowers girls to be strong and courageous,” King said. “The team environment made made me feel I was part of a family.”

“The coaches understand the potential of each of their athletes and are willing to take the time to challenge us and provide us with opportunities for continual growth. Whether its practice in the rain, tryouts in Toronto, weddings 10 years later. As a member of the UCC girls rugby team, you have the most powerful team behind you and they all believe that you have the confidence to succeed.”

According to a trio of current athletes, Natasha Smids, Bailey Thibert, and Rosie Warner, they couldn’t be more pleased, excited, and proud of their school and rugby program.

For Smids, who chose rugby in high school over soccer, which she had played for years, she believes playing rugby has made herself, and her teammates better people.

“It taught me to never stop working for things I desire, and to always look to support those closest to me. I learned that I earn what I work for, nothing is a handout or guaranteed,” she said.

“Because of the lessons of perseverance, and learning to give 100% of whatever you have in each day, and knowing that you are able to ask for help, it aids in the daily life, and teaches each girl to become better people and to become confident in who they are. This confidence helps girls work for goals outside of sports, and this will carry on past high school.”

Those are big words of praise, and selling features for anyone deciding whether rugby is right for them.

“Rugby is unlike any other sport that I have played, which allowed me to learn new skills and apply some skills I already had,” said Thibert of why she chose rugby at UCC.

Her praise for not only the on field success of UCC’s Junior and Senior programs, but of the lifelong benefits of playing the sport echoed Smids.

“It taught me that to be successful in life I need to push myself both on the field and off the field.”

Warner, a grade 9 who is another self proclaimed soccer player, sees a bright future for the success of the Lancers program on the field, and herself knows the history of the program that has been built.

“I think the key to our incredible success has been our commitment to the sport. At the start of the year, our coaches asked us “what will you sacrifice for this team?” Most of the girls answered with “everything and anything.” This is the type of dedication and commitment Lancer Rugby players are willing to put in to remain successful. Our coaches and players know exactly what they want and they won’t stop until they reach it. We will continue to recognize our strengths and weaknesses as we improve as a team.”

As a perennial OFSAA competitor, and developer of college and university athletes, it appears the UCC Lancers rugby program has perfected turning strengths into weaknesses, and developing strong students, athletes, and people.

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