The York Lions women’s rugby team will take to the field this season looking to make a run up the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) standings in head coach Jenn Russell’s third year leading the squad.
Last season the Lions came away with a 1-3 record in the OUA regular season playing out of the tough SHIELS Division in the first year of the OUA’s new division re-alignment. The Lions advanced to the playoffs by finishing in fourth place in their division and won their first playoff game over the Brock University Badgers by a score of 34-24 to advance the OUA semi-finals for the first time in program history. They closed out their season with a hard-fought loss to the McMaster University Marauders in the OUA bronze medal game by a score of 36-19.
While the Lions lost a few key veterans from last year’s team, they still return a lineup filled with talented upper year players with successful OUA resumés. Team Captain Megan Pakulis returns for her fourth year with the team fresh off a summer where she played for the Ontario senior women’s team and won a bronze medal at the Canadian championships. She is joined by Natasha Naismith, who suited up for a game against a competitive team from New Zealand this summer and has grown into one of the most important players on the roster.
Other senior players who will be counted on to lead the team on the field and in the locker room this season are Jasmine Hector, Michaela Stratton and Brooke Jensen.
Joining the veterans on the roster this season is a promising group of rookies who come to York with elite level experience. Leading the way is first-year player Asia Hogan, who will be an important piece in Russell’s lineup this season. Hogan, a communications studies major, was a member of the under-20 Canadian team as well as the under-20 Ontario team that won a silver medal at the national championships.
Some of the talented newcomers also have familiarity playing with each other, as rookies Bernice Ediagbonya and Esther Sivalingam played together with the under-18 Ontario team that toured Ireland this summer, and Faith Williams and Selena McCuaig competed together with the under-18 Ontario entry in the Eastern Championships. Alessandra Troiani also joins the Lions roster this season with experience playing on the under-18 Ontario team in 2017 and was teammates with Hogan on the Toronto Elite Reds club team.
The combination of experienced veterans and talented rookies gives the Lions a solid foundation and designs on making a splash this season in the SHIELS Division standings.