WOLFVILLE, N.S. - Three Acadia Axewomen rugby players who fell in love with the sport while playing for high school teams in the Annapolis Valley now know what it’s like to compete for a national title close to home.
Amanda Jardine of Greenwood would have never guessed she’d be one of those players back in her days at West Kings District High School – especially not at the age of 30.
“More people should be 30 trying to play university rugby,” Jardine said with a laugh in a recent phone interview.
“It’s always been a goal of mine to play at Acadia. I never thought that it would actually come to fruition, mainly because I thought that the opportunity had passed because of me joining the military.”
A 15-year rugby player, Jardine has long known Acadia coach Matt Durant. The pair would often joke about her playing for the university someday and when the stars aligned – Jardine was posted to Greenwood and given an opportunity to take some courses at Acadia – she wasn’t about to pass on a long-awaited opportunity.
She’s played club and provincial rugby to remain competitive in the sport, and felt prepared for the high-level competition Acadia would welcome to Raymond Field in Wolfville for the national U Sports championship tournament Nov. 1-4.
“I can honestly say that playing in front of the crowd (the first) night was one of the most exhilarating games that I’ve ever played in just because of the vibe in the stadium and the feeling within the community,” recalled Jardine.
“It was the craziest feeling.”
Acadia’s first match – a quarter-final against the top-ranked Ottawa squad – would prove to be a highlight-reel event. The game was decided in the final moments, with Ottawa narrowly claiming the last-minute 26-24 win.
“I thrive on adversity … It just makes me want to work that much harder,” said Jardine, who estimates she’s the oldest player on Acadia’s squad by about four to five years.
Sydney Smith, Middleton
Like Jardine, Sydney Smith of Middleton was on Acadia’s radar long before she was named to the Axewomen’s roster.
“Matt Durant, the coach, actually was the ref for my very first game in high school, when I was in Grade 8, and he talked to the coach about getting me to come play then, not realizing my age,” the Middleton Regional High School graduate said.
The powerhouse forward was sidelined by an ACL injury in her first two years at Acadia, but she was far from deterred.
“Chances like this don’t come around often,” she said, noting years of playing provincial and club rugby helped her hone her skills.
She held out hope that she’d eventually get back in the lineup and the timing of her return couldn’t have been better.
“The fact that we got to host nationals so close to home so my family and friends, and people that I grew up playing rugby with, could come out and see the event and not have to worry about watching it online or ticket expenses to fly somewhere… was awesome,” said Smith.
She was proud to be a part of the Axewomen’s valiant effort against Ottawa.
“It was by far – and not just from my perspective – one of the best games that we have collectively, as a team, played,” she said.
Going 0-2 was not ideal, but Smith said the experience left the Axewomen hungry for better results next year.
Keisha Kane, Cambridge
Injured Axewomen lock Keisha Kane of Cambridge watched Acadia’s nail-biter national bouts unfold with the fans in the stands.
“I partially tore my quad tendon in our semifinal game against PEI,” she said.
“I wasn’t allowed to play in our AUS finals or nationals… it was heartbreaking.”
It was, however, heartwarming to be a part of the enthusiastic U SPORTS crowd cheering Acadia on.
“It was amazing to see all of the support from the community,” she said.
Kane was pleased to see lots of people, even some with little to no knowledge of rugby, fixated on the games and chanting for the Axewomen.
“It was incredible.”
Kane started playing rugby for Central Kings Rural High School and advanced in the sport with help from club and provincial programs.
“It’s such a team atmosphere and people are always there to support you, which I really like.”
She hopes the exposure from hosting a national championship in Wolfville will result in more people getting involved in the sport throughout the province. She advises players with dreams of advancing to the next level to seize opportunities as they come and work hard to get the results they want.
She knows Acadia’s Axewomen will be looking to do just that next season.
“It wasn’t the results that we wanted (at nationals), but just to see all the girls work so hard all year to prepare for it was so awesome,” she said.
“We’re already looking forward to next year.”