By Thomas Becker
If they didn't have your attention then, they surely do now.
On a historic Saturday afternoon, UPEI's Women's Rugby team put on a masterful performance as they took down the juggernaut St. FX X-Women 38-31.
It was their first win over the X-Women since October 16, 2004 when they defeated their rival 15-11. It's also a first for each Panther veteran, who experienced years of hardship against a formidable foe that has lost just three games in 16 years.
"Honestly, this is such a crazy moment," said Sophie Carragher, who's been with the club since 2017. "This is five years in the making for me, and I don't even know what to do with myself right now."
Fans were treated to a surprise when the Panthers stunned the X-Women with a quick strike. UPEI executed a perfect set play off a scrum less than four minutes into the game when Mia Fradsham took a pass and bolted through a seam for a 60-yard run and score. She then connected on her first of four conversions of the afternoon to make it 7-0.
The first thought that crossed the minds of the players when Fradsham crossed the line was simply "let's go," Carragher said.
"It's hard not to let the game get ahead of you there, but we still had 80 minutes to play."
During the offseason, Panthers head coach James Voye preached defence and its importance. Too often, St. FX would come to MacAdam Field and put up ridiculous scores. But today they showed they can keep a high-powered offence down. They tackled as a cohesive unit and consistently pushed their opponent back as St. FX struggled to come up with a solution.
That improved defence paid off in a big way 25 minutes into the game when Kristi Stewart gathered a St. FX fumble and ran it 50 yards for the score and a 19-0 advantage.
"The defence was a major focal point. I know St. FX's style of play and they haven't changed it," Voye said.
Carragher added a try of her own at the 31-minute mark, as the Panthers took a 26-0 halftime lead.
Brinten Comeau, another Panther veteran, said the team was a bit surprised to go into the half with a lopsided advantage, but knew the X-Women were far from done.
"The first thought was, 'what is going on,'" Comeau said. "But then we focused back in and told ourselves to continue to play our game."
St. FX jumped on the Panthers early in the second half and trimmed the deficit to 26-5 after Maddie Harroun bullied her way for a try just a minute in. In the past, surrendering a try would often lead to disaster, but not this year. With newfound confidence, UPEI responded with a try of their own when a series of quick passes led to an Annika Wadlegger score.
"We talked about that a little bit on both sides of the ball," Voye said. "Whenever they score and we kick back to the line, we have to refocus with what we're trying to do."
After the duelling teams traded trys once again, St. FX went on an extended run. In just 15 minutes, the X-Women cut the lead to 38-31 behind 17 unanswered points on trys by Hannah Ellis, Katherine Brennan and Katherine Culligan.
With two minutes remaining and the ball back in St. FX's hands, Voye was understandably anxious, as he paced along the sidelines yelling directions at his team.
"My mouth was so parched, I could've probably struck a match on my tongue and it would've caught fire," Voye said. "I guess what was running through my head was 'let the clock tick.'"
The X-Women did everything they could to push the ball forward, but with a win in their sight, the Panthers found whatever energy they had left and ended any thought of a comeback. And as the final whistle blew, the bench erupted and celebration ensued.
After the game, Carragher talked a bit about Voye—who is now a perfect 1-0 in his UPEI head coaching career—and the confidence he's instilled in this team.
"He's a next-level coach," Carragher said. "He earned this position from the day he started here as an assistant, and he doesn't let us forget that he has all the faith in us."
The Panthers will face another tough test next Saturday when they travel to Wolfville, NS to take on the Acadia Axewomen.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan