Fans got their money’s worth
After 18 months without competition, the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s and men’s rugby teams lined up on the turf for their season openers against the Sherbrooke Vert et Or on Sept. 11.
For the first time in nearly two years, the stands at Matt Anthony field were packed with spectators wearing garnet and grey.
Ondo and Grant lead the way in 70-0 victory over the Vert et Or
Despite losing last season to the pandemic, the women’s rugby team did not look like they ever took a break.
Within minutes of the opening half, Alexandra Ondo sped into the endzone to score the first try of the game, the first of her final season as a Gee-Gee.
“It was really exciting,” said Ondo. “The try was after a mistake, so it was nice to recover from that and end up scoring.”
Only a few moments later, Madison Grant tapped the ball in the endzone to put more points on the board for the Gee-Gees.
“We put in a lot of work over the past 18 months and it’s nice to show what we’ve done,” Grant said after the game.
The U of O took control of the field, and showed plenty of drive and aggression. It was clear the team was ready to compete.
There was no lack of scoring, and the Gee-Gees found their way back to the endzone six times in the first 40 minutes of play, driving the score up to 34-0 — a solid lead heading into the second half.
The team continued to put on a dominating performance, not allowing Sherbrooke to get past them even once.
A string of exciting plays including a dropped pass by the Vert et Or that Ondo scooped up and turned into a try and a phenomenal run by Tylo Borsboom lead to the Gees taking their first game 70-0.
Ondo and Grant each contributed three tries to the crushing score.
“The girls set me up honestly, especially in the midfield,” Grant said. “They were plowing girls over and creating space on the edges, so I give the credit to them.”
Gee-Gees head coach Jen Boyd praised the team’s effort.
“We played with a lot of energy, so I am really proud. I’m happy to see the girls just playing rugby for the first time in two years,” Boyd said. “There are definitely a lot of positives.”
“I felt very good about the physicality and where we were at in terms of our preparation.”
Men’s rugby follows up with clinic of their own
On the men’s side, the pandemic put a halt to the progress the program had made since becoming a varsity club in 2018.
In 2019, the Gee-Gees, led by James Flemming and Jaime Armstrong, made playoffs for the first time in the Réseau du Sport Étudiant du Québec (RSEQ). Eventually, the Gee-Gees were eliminated in the semis by McGill 37-22, but the league was put on notice — this young team was going places.
Alas, in March 2020, the world came to a halt due to COVID-19, and so did the garnet and grey’s progress. For more than a year and a half, the Gee-Gees were restricted to practices with limited numbers of players and off-the-pitch training — when they weren’t obliged to stop due to lockdowns.
But on Saturday, 679 days after their last game, the Gee-Gees finally ran out of the oversized inflatable to take the field for their home opener against the University of Sherbrooke Green and Gold.
“I think it’s been 600-something days since our last game,” said Elias Hancock, a sophomore back row on the Gee-Gees. “We’ve been putting in the work ever since that season ended in the semis. We’re dogs, and we’re brothers, first and foremost. And I’m just grateful to be back out here with the guys.”
And like dogs, the Gees were relentless, scoring early and often against a Green and Gold team that seemed to have left its legs in Sherbrooke.
Hancock was the loudest barker, scoring four tries, a program record. Not only would he be the loudest hound, but also the first out of the gate, getting the Gees on the board by breaking away from a pile-up of defenders to find the Sherbrooke in-goal about five minutes into the first half.
This try would be followed by a Jamie Armstrong conversion. Andrew Armstrong, who was on this windy Saturday evening the acting head coach of the team in the absence of Stephanie Crawley, saw his son complete five conversions and score one try earning himself the most valuable player award for the game. This was the first time that coach “Bones,” as he is known to players, got to be the head coach for his son at the university level.
“Yeah it was really good, really good,” said the eldest Armstrong following the game.
Armstrong and Hancock were not the only Gee-Gees to stand out on this cloudy Saturday evening. South African rookie Simba Gumbo scored the first try of his Gee-Gee career when he managed to break away from the Sherbrooke defense.
“Feels amazing. We’ve worked very hard as a team to get to this stage. And yeah, just happy we got to win today. That’s what we’re focused on,” said Gumbo humbly after the game.
“I just knew if we could get him the ball with a little bit of space chances are he’s going to find a route … It was nice to see him get out there and get one,” said coach Armstrong.
The Gee-Gees scoring was not the only constant on Saturday night. The crowd — a mix of athletes and students — was behind its hometown team the whole way, cheering when they scored, booing as soon as they felt the Grey and Garnet had been slighted by an opponent or, in most cases, a referee.
“It’s great,” said fourth-year human kinetics student at the U of O, Hannah Charlesworth. “It’s been so long since I’ve been able to be at a game and it’s nice to see everyone out.”
“Oh, my goodness, Charley, it’s awesome,” said Sue Hylland, director of varsity athletics, who was taking in the game near the media table. “I mean, people have been waiting for this, I think you can feel it. The students and the student athletes that are here are loud, and it was a month to get back right now.”
Hylland also spoke about the importance of the return to play for the varsity athletics staff that works mostly behind the scenes to support all varsity and club programs.
“It’s important from a staff perspective, all I can really say is people needed to get back. I think we’ve done a good job of managing this in the right way. And we’ve got a good turnout.”
Going back to the pitch, it was as one-sided as it gets as the Gee-Gees completed the back-to-back sweep of the Green and Gold, tallying a total of 65 points and for the first time in program history and shutting out an RSEQ rival.
For the women’s team, next week will be a challenge as they host their arch rivals — the Laval University Red and Gold. Laval won the U Sports Women’s Rugby Championship in 2019 at Matt Anthony Field — a fact the Gee-Gees, who won bronze, haven’t forgotten. This game will take place next Saturday (Sept. 18) at 3 p.m. It will be the first leg of a home and home between the rivals with the Gees heading to Quebec City the following week.
The “dogs,” on the other hand, will hit the road to face the Concordia Stingers in Montréal next week. Concordia won its first game of the season 47-9 on Saturday against l’École de Technologie Supérieure (ETS). This will be a real test for the Gees as Concordia is the defending RSEQ champion. The game will take place on Sunday Sept.19 at 1 p.m.