Perennial favourites set to succeed again

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Western men's rugby

Jonas Hrebeniuk

Although Western boasts many talented varsity teams, the men’s and women’s rugby squads certainly stand out.

Both programs thrive year after year and are consistently ranked among the best in Ontario.

This season is no exception. After going undefeated in the regular season, the women’s team captured the Ontario University Athletics title before a home crowd last weekend, besting the Waterloo Warriors 69-0. This weekend, the team looks to extend its winning streak at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Championships, which it is hosting at the St. George’s rugby pitch.

“If I had to sum up the rugby program at Western in one word, I would say ‘successful,’” fifth-year hooker Jill McCallum said.

When asked where their repeated success stems from, most women’s ruggers were quick to mention head coach Natascha Wesch.

“We have a dedicated coach and she recruits really high-calibre athletes,” McCallum said. “That definitely helps with our program’s success.”

Fourth-year prop Lauren MacDonald credited Wesch with getting the best out of her athletes.

“She drives a really tough ship,” MacDonald said. “She demands a lot out of us so we demand a lot out of each other. It’s the dedication and the amount of work we are willing to put into it that makes the rugby program what it is.”

For her part, Wesch said it’s all about helping her athletes succeed in the rugby world.

“I think one of the big things is that we try to develop athletes to take them to the next level,” she said. “That tends to attract some of the best athletes in the province and in the country.”

Wesch also attributed the team’s success to her supporting staff.

“We have a coaching staff of four and that is very important,” she said. “You have to bring them as much diversity as possible and make sure all of the information is not just coming from one person. That’s a key thing.”

As for the future of women’s rugby at Western, fourth-year prop Allison Lamoureux is confident the squad will continue its winning ways.

“The future of the program looks really strong,” Lamoureux said. “[Wesch] does a lot in terms of recruiting players that she knows will be a good fit on our team. She looks for people she knows will be leaders in the future.”

Alongside Western’s female ruggers is the men’s squad, which is also no stranger to success. After going 5-2 in the regular season and securing first place in its division, the team dispatched the Waterloo Warriors 34-10 in their OUA quarter-final match last weekend. Its next challenge will be facing the Queen’s Golden Gaels in a semi-final game in Kingston this Saturday.

As with the women’s squad, the men’s team insisted recruiting is vital to building a strong program. Fourth-year second row Cory Appleton revealed that often success begets success.

“I think that our excellence really perpetuates itself,” Appleton said. “For the last 11 years, we’ve been in OUA finals, either winning or coming in second. I think that bodes really well for our recruiting.”

Teammate Kevin Feheley, also a second row, stressed the importance of recruiting athletes who are dedicated to rugby year-round.

“We try to get guys who will buy into the program, not just during the season, but during the off-season as well,” he said. “That’s part of our success, because guys know there will be good players coming in. If we don’t work hard and don’t train, someone will come in and take your spot.”

Fifth-year winger Josh Campbell said newly appointed head coach Tony Roes has also helped the team continue its tradition of success.

“Tony is really organized,” Campbell said. “He’s given us a set of goals that we need to accomplish and [told us] what we need to do to get there. I think that helps us a lot.

“He’s a really approachable guy, so if you have any issues or any questions, it’s really easy to go talk to him. He’s really straightforward with you.”

As for this weekend’s do-or-die match against Queen’s, the squad is ready to face its league rivals, even if it means a long bus ride.

“I think the chance to go on the road and stay in a hotel is part of the excitement,” Feheley said.

“There’s nobody on the team who has had to play a semi-final game on the road; it’s always been at home. This is a new experience for us and I think it will make us even more focused.”

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