Leah Brunner is only in the infant stages of her development as a rugby player but the 18-year-old Notre Dame star has already made an impression.
Brunner took up the sport in Grade 10 but has already competed at the national level and trained with the Rugby Canada U18 Development Team.
She played for Team Alberta at a National 7s event in Vancouver last year, coming home with a bronze.
“I don’t consider myself as good in 7s as 15s, and while I didn’t play as much as I would have liked it was a great experience,” said the Red Deer Country resident, who not only plays for the Notre Dame Cougars but for the Red Deer Titans Rugby Club.
She drew the attention of Alberta coaches and scouts while attending a 7s tournament.
“They invited the top 15 players to their camp and cut it to 12,” she said.
She also drew the attention of the national coaches while attending a 15s tournament and attended the first two Development Team camps.
“I was about the same age as most of the girls there, but didn’t have as much experience, so I wasn’t invited to the third camp when they cut down … but that’s fine.
“It was a chance to see where I stand.”
The five-foot-seven, 150-pound Brunner sees herself as a physical player, who has good speed and is willing to play in any role.
“In 7s I play open side flanker, while 15s I’ve played forward and back.”
Brunner felt the reason she was invited to the Canadian camp was that she’s good at chasing the ball off the kickoff, strong defensively and has good speed.
“What I still need to do is work on the basic skills, especially passing the ball off my left hand. It’s something I will continue to work on.”
Brunner got into rugby because she enjoys the physical side of the sport and the “tackling”.
“I don’t have super great hands, so it seemed like a good fit for me,” she said.
She joined the Cougars before attending the Titans camp.
She played in the Titans flag program and has reached their Central Elite program.
I fact she enjoyed rugby so much she decided to give football a try in Grade 11.
“A friend was playing and I always wanted to play so I decided to do it,” explained Brunner, who played corner on defence. “I liked it, but being a girl I was always behind the guys. I didn’t play that much, so I only went out that one year.”
But she continues to grow as a rugby player and hopes to play with the provincial Wolf Pack team this year.
“They will pick their team in late July or August and play at the Canadians,” she said.
She also runs cross-country and competes in the 200, 400 and 1,500-metres for the Notre Dame track team.
Last year she won the top aggregate at the Central area championship and qualified for the provincials in the 200m and 400m at the zones.
“But last year the track and rugby provincials were on the same weekend, so I stayed with the rugby team,” she said. “This year they changed the dates so I could do both and I really hope to qualify in the 400 for sure. Last year my time in the zones would have placed me fourth at the provincials.”
She did compete in the provincials in Grade 10, finishing a solid eighth in the 1,500m.
When Brunner isn’t on the pitch or competing in the track team she’s competing in long-distance horse races with her horse Hawk, who she’s had since she was 12.
“There are two competitions you can compete in, either endurance or track,” she said. “Endurance can be from 25 to 100 miles and comes down to the best time. Personally I like track where you start with 300 points and lose points depending on your time. We run the 50-mile events and you get eight hours to ride.”
The track events is run in loops in the country with veterinary checks also involved.
Last year Brunner and Hawk competed, and finished in six events.
“The previous year Hawk came up lame and we didn’t finish as often,” said Brunner, who will compete in her first event on the May long weekend this year.
Down the road Brunner hopes to be a police officer, but indicates she will likely take a year off before making a final decision. But one thing she won’t do is drop rugby.
“I hope to play as long as I can,” she concluded.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at drode@reddeeradvocate,com. His work can also be seen at Danny’s blog at rdcathletics.ca