Growing pains

After a season brimming with frustration, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks rugby teams’ year of redemption has hit an immediate roadblock.

With neither team winning a single game last year, the 2011 season openers on Sunday weren’t much to get excited about, as the men’s team dropped a 61-5 decision to Western and the women dropped their home opener by the worst score in team history; a 125-0 thrashing to the number-two nationally-ranked Guelph Gryphons.

But for men’s coach, Rob McQueen and women’s boss Michelle Joslin, there’s reason for optimism.

“I think the girls all understand they [Guelph] are a great team ….They’re a nationally-ranked team so obviously it’s a hard loss,” said women’s rugby co-coach Michelle Joslin. “We looked a lot better than we did last season.”

There were diamond performances lost in the rough.

“[Fourth-year flanker] Samantha Schmalz stepped it up,” said Joslin. “She had a fantastic game; she was all over the field.”

For a program just finding its legs, it’s the team’s veterans that need to provide the comforting presence when things get rough and that’s exactly what the squad’s vets did.

“Briana Wilson, Brittany Maksymyk and Taryn Caley all … stepped it up. Their energy and their experience from playing on the team last year and their positive attitude and positive talk [kept the girls going].”

The women do have skill and craftiness on their side.

“We’re very tiny; we’ve got some great plays on the outside …. We’re going to try and work in some plays to get good ball movement and use our speed to our advantage,” said Joslin.

“We can only go up from here.”

For the men’s team, the squad didn’t let Western leave without giving the team harbouring many national players something to think about.

“The score got out of hand a little bit,” said the coach. “In the first half, we were at times totally playing with them and actually being the dominant team, but there were a few rookies and a few guys who didn’t know their responsibilities, and by the second half, [the team] was a little deflated emotionally.”

But things are looking up for the rest of the season.

The men’s team can build on an exhibition win against those same Western Mustangs (minus a few key players) and put together a solid run.

“I still expect us to compete,” said McQueen. “We should definitely beat Toronto [on Sunday] and we’re about on par with Waterloo and Guelph [the Hawks face both teams after the Toronto contest]. We’ve just got to get a few things ironed out.”

First-year Neil McGregor had a standout game for the men. The fly-half fill-in for the injured starter worked on only two days of practice and performed admirably for the squad, scoring for the Hawks.

The team will also get a boost defensively, as starters Kent Johnstone and Brenden Gilbert will try and make their return from a concussion and a tweaked ankle respectively.

The men’s team visits Toronto on Saturday and returns home to host Guelph at 1 p.m. on Sept. 24. The women will host Waterloo on Saturday at 1 p.m. at University Stadium.