Burlington, Ont. – There was plenty to celebrate on the pitch this season, with both new and familiar faces helping their programs reach new heights. While several schools saw standout performances this year, both on and off the pitch, multiple honours for the Queen’s Gaels and Trent Excalibur – including the respective Player of the Year nods – highlight the OUA women’s rugby major award winners and all-stars for the 2019 season.
Three Gaels were able to secure major awards in the Shiels Division, and chief among those electrifying efforts is reigning OUA and U SPORTS Player of the Year, Sophie de Goede (Victoria, B.C.). de Goede continued to shine for the talent-laden Kingston squad, adding yet another award to her decorated case. The two-sport star, who has also been suiting up for Queen’s in preseason basketball, was the conference’s top scorer in 2019. She churned out an outstanding 76 points on the year, surpassing her closest competitor by 26, as a result of her three tries and 26 conversions.
This honour is nothing new for de Goede, who is quickly rising the Gaels’ all-time scoring list (now in 2nd place), as the win is the second straight for the third-year No. 8. Throughout the rest of her now three years on the pitch, the commerce major has also claimed OUA Rookie of the Year honours and a trio of all-star nods at the provincial level, in addition to her aforementioned national recognition.
From a former top rookie to a current one, a fellow Gael has earned the first-year honour for the Shiels Division this year. Lizzie Gibson (Caledon, Ont.) is set to take home the 2019 hardware after she burst on to the scene from the back row this season, finishing fourth in the OUA in scoring with 42 points.
In addition to her impressive contributions on the scoreboard, which saw the all-star tally six tries and six conversions in her foray onto the university scene, it is her work on both sides of the ball that truly sets her apart. The Canadian U18 member, who competed at the Youth Olympic Games in 2018, produced an 86% tackle completion on over nine tackles per contest and 96% gainline as the ball carrier (10+ carries per game) this season, and all-told, she will certainly be one to watch as she continues her career with the high-octane Gaels.
Rounding out the Tricolour’s triumvirate of winners is head coach Dan Valley, who led the talented team to new heights in his third season as bench boss. The 2019 Shiels Division Coach of the Year led Queen’s to an undefeated season, which included a win over the powerhouse Guelph Gryphons for the first time in nine outings. Not only is that a monumental feat for the program, which is looking for its first OUA championship since 2013, but it helped buoy them to the nation’s top seed at the time; another first for the school. For the year, Valley led to the team to a conference best 371 points for and just 26 against.
For the second straight season, a member of the McMaster Marauders claims the Community Service Award, as Alissa Zhang (Richmond Hill, Ont.) has truly excelled off the field this season. A three-time Marauder Scholar and Academic All-Canadian, Zhang is an accomplished member of the school community, but her reach has gone beyond the classroom as well.
The third-year scrum half has volunteered with the McMaster Children’s Hospital, the Rotman Research Institute, and more. Zhang also founded GIrlsZone, a program designed to inspire and provide opportunities for young girls to be active and engaged in science; served as a Youth Development Officer with Toronto Inner-City Rugby, focusing on growing the sport in identified neighbourhood improvement areas across the GTA; and is an Executive Committee member and team rep in the McMaster Athletes Care Program. Add this lengthy list to her additional coaching endeavours, training, and more, and Zhang is certainly a deserving recipient of this year’s divisional award.
While Zhang, a member of the maroon machine, prevented a Tricolour sweep of the Shiels awards, another team went 4-for-4 in the Russell Division. And while a famous Muppet once said, “it’s not easy being green”, in the case of the Trent Excalibur, their season on the pitch was a definite exception.
Leading the charge for Trent was Player of the Year Caleigh McMillan (Ottawa, Ont.), who in just her second year, was a driving force in the team’s attack. The sociology law major registered top-10 marks in both tries and points in the conference. The 2018-19 Academic All-Canadian covered all back three positions and centre for the Excalibur, showing tremendous improvement since her rookie campaign. Key among this growth was her fitness and strength, the uptakes in which have helped her become one of the most dominant players in the division.
Despite registering six tries in four contests, McMillan’s work on the defensive side has been equally as important to the team. A powerful strike runner and an outstanding open field tackler, the all-star’s work ethic and on-field execution has helped her play at the highest level as a sophomore en route to her award-winning results.
Certainly, McMillan’s game has grown since her debut efforts, but a teammate of hers has shone bright in her first kick of the can this season. Taylor Fronchak (Paris, Ont.) earned the 2019 Rookie of the Year for the Russell Division after working her way to be a starting prop for Trent. The first-year player showed that she was a hard-nosed and aggressive tackler with excellent strength. Her sound scrummaging technique and multi-position flexibility have also helped her thrive on the university stage, but it is her understanding of the game that goes well beyond her years that has truly helped her shine for the Excalibur and across the conference.
Guiding the likes of McMillan, Fronchak, and company to a three-win season was coach Peter Hercus, who takes home the division’s Coach of the Year award. Hercus, now in his third year at the helm of the Excalibur, is a veteran of the game, having been around rugby at several levels for many years. Since first starting his coaching career at the high school level when he came to Canada in the 1990s and then making stops at both the club and provincial rugby level over the years, Hercus has helped the Trent program grow a great deal since joining the green and white.
His passion and knowledge of the sport have been welcomed additions to the Excalibur, who took great strides in 2019 even from just a season ago. Seeing a spike in scoring of more than 30 points as well as a significant improvement in points against (49 in 2019 compared to 114 in 2018), the Excalibur finished second in the division with a 3-1 record after having gone winless as recently as three seasons ago.
While several of the Excalibur players have stood out on the field this season, one in particular has gone above and beyond off the pitch as well. Lauryn Bons (Trenton, Ont.) has been a key part of the school and grander community during her three years at Trent, and while she was has picked up multiple all-star honours and a Rookie of the Year nod in her career, her additional contributions this year have earned her the division’s Community Service Award.
Bons’ community contributions stem largely from her love of the game, as she has spent a great deal of time coaching rugby. Through coaching, the junior fly half has spent time with the Peterborough Junior Girls rugby team, the Belleville Bulldogs RFC, and even done some work with the Trenton Wolverines U12/U13 rep soccer. The club president for Trent has also assisted with various 7’s and 15’s tournaments, open houses at the university, and has tutored high school athletes, showing that her passion for both the sport and for teaching have guided her well in her university career.
In addition to these eight deserving award recipients are 15 all-stars from each division, who have represented their school and the conference with great success on the pitch. The complete list of 2019 OUA women’s rugby major award winners and all-stars is:
Shiels Division Major Awards
Player of the Year – Sophie de Goede, Queen’s
Rookie of the Year – Lizzie Gibson, Queen’s
Community Service Award – Alissa Zhang, McMaster
Coach of the Year – Dan Valley, Queen’s
Russell Division Major Awards
Player of the Year – Caleigh McMillan, Trent
Rookie of the Year – Taylor Fronchak, Trent
Community Service Award – Lauryn Bons, Trent
Coach of the Year – Peter Hercus, Trent
Shiels Division All-Stars
Back Row – Sophie de Goede, Queen’s
Back Row – Lizzie Gibson, Queen’s
Back Row – Taylor Price, McMaster
Back Three – Talia Hoffman, Guelph
Back Three – Sara Shaw, Brock
Back Three – Carmen Izyk, Queen’s
Centre – Niamh Haughey, Brock
Centre – Julia Schell, Guelph
Fly Half – Taylor Black, Queen’s
Hooker – Pippi McKay, Queen’s
Prop – April Wright, Guelph
Prop – McKinley Hunt, Queen’s
Scrum Half – Bridget Peros, Queen’s
Second Row – Katie McLeod, McMaster
Second Row – Kiara Stecko, Brock
Russell Division All-Stars
Back Row - Nicole Butkovic, Toronto
Back Row – Maddy Howells, Trent
Back Row – Michela Stratton, York
Back Three – Caleigh McMillan, Trent
Back Three – Sara Sue Ping, Waterloo
Back Three – Sara Canini, Toronto
Centre – Abbey Struyk, Trent
Centre – Khadijat Dako, Toronto
Fly Half – Kashisha Ayra, Toronto
Hooker – Selena McCuaig, York
Prop – Taylor Fronchak, Trent
Prop – Idara Okon, Toronto
Scrum Half – Leah McBain, Wilfrid Laurier
Second Row – Francesca Griffin, Toronto
Second Row – Shelby Oad, Trent