Isabel St. Pierre, Tessa Strom and Heather Ritchie, all three from Red Deer helped the UBC Thunderbirds capture its first-ever U Sports Canada West Title earlier this fall. Contributed Photo)

Trio of Red Deer players helping change the game for UBC Rugby

Will play in the U Sports Women’s Rugby National Championship Consolation semifinal Friday

They have arrived at the precipice of Canadian university rugby – a momentous accomplishment given their humble beginnings and perhaps on an even grander scale – the fact that they’ve been able to do it together.

For Isabel St. Pierre, Heather Ritchie and Tessa Strom, their journey to the U Sports National Women’s Rugby Championships in Ottawa, Ont., has been special for a laundry list of reasons.

Paramount is the pride that each feels for each other, as three friends from Red Deer are representing the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds at nationals this week.

St. Pierre was the first to arrive at UBC three years ago – to a program that wasn’t winning much, had a volunteer coach and wasn’t really on the radar for many athletes. She went first and foremost for the schooling, chasing a science degree. Rugby was there and she figured why not.

“I’m pretty sure in my first year we won maybe one game and got beat by every team by a lot. We were struggling. The program was not even close to where it is now,” she recalled.

“We have so many more opportunities now than when I first started. We have more kits and funding and Dean (Murten) as being a full-time coach has really helped the last two years.”

She’s a little bit like the big sister for Ritchie and Strom, two former Lindsay Thurber High School students in their first season with the Thunderbirds.

“It helps to have someone from Red Deer on the team, having (Isabel) here is a really good transition. She’s a good resource for us to interact with,” said Ritchie.

The trio played together in the summer with the Red Deer Titans and forged a strong bond that they carried all the to Vancouver.

This season has been a bit of a perfect storm for the Thunderbirds. After two tough losses to open the U Sports Canada West season, they went on a heater and won five straight games, including a barn-burner to capture the Canada West title over the University of Calgary Dinos.

That booked the program’s first trip to nationals and was also its first conference final since 2006. They denied U of C its fourth straight Can West title.

“That was the first time in program history, so that was fun. It was really cool,” said St. Pierre.

Riding that high, nerves seemed to kick into high gear this week when the Thunderbirds played Laval in the Championship quarter-final Wednesday. Laval jumped out to an early lead and beat UBC 32-12.

“I think we started off with a bit of nerves because it was our first time at nationals. Rusty start, just because it was something we had to get into. We had to learn their style and how to deal with that. By the second half, we started to pick things up,” Storm said.

One standout for the trio was Ritchie capturing the player of the game honours in that loss. Strom was quick to jump in when asked what made Ritchie’s performance special that particular day.

“What I always say is Heather does all the dirty work on the field. She may not be the flashiest player but she’s always there at the rucks and that breakdowns and her effort is 100 per cent the entire game, she doesn’t stop… I know how hard she works and how motivated she is all the time,” Strom said.

Thursday was an off-day for the crew, relaxing and getting focused for Friday, in what could be their final game this season together. UBC will play St. Francis Xavier in the consolation semifinal and with a win, will play in the consolation final Sunday.

“We’re super motivated. We don’t want to be done. We want another game,” Ritchie said.

However it ends, the journey was clearly worth the sacrifice for Red Deer’s rugby trio.

Three players from Red Deer also play for the Dinos, who are also at the U SPORTS Women’s Rugby Championship.

They opened the tournament with an 18-7 loss to the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees. That group includes Sarah Thomas, Emma Newton and Katherine Jensen. Red Deer’s Camryn Holland, in her rookie season, is playing for the Gee-Gees, who will square off with the Queens University Golden Gaels in the Championship semifinal.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The latest numbers on COVID-19 in Canada for Aug. 9

The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 4:00… Continue reading

Team says technical issues from ‘unprecedented demand’ left Oilers raffle in limbo

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers’ record-setting online 50/50 raffle from Friday with… Continue reading

RCMP investigate possible drowning at Pigeon Lake: Man and woman found dead on shore

Bodies recovered from Pigeon Lake’s northeastern shores.

Red Deer Region Highland Dancing Association to participate in national dance-a-thon

Central Albertan dancers have missed performing during the COVID-19 pandemic, says the… Continue reading

QUIZ: Do you know the truth?

In what has been described as a post-truth era, how much do you know about truth and lies?

Cast your votes for Best of Red Deer

The Advocate’s Best of Red Deer Readers’ Choice Awards are back. Community… Continue reading

US hits 5 million confirmed virus cases, Europe is amazed

ROME — With confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. hitting 5 million… Continue reading

University of Victoria and women’s rowing coach sued over alleged verbal abuse

VANCOUVER — A former member of the University of Victoria’s varsity women’s… Continue reading

Parents, teachers press Quebec to revise back-to-school plan amid COVID-19

MONTREAL — For Politimi Karounis, August is usually spent buying new backpacks,… Continue reading

69 salmonella cases in B.C. linked to red onions, province’s CDC says

VANCOUVER — The BC Centre for Disease Control is warning people in… Continue reading

Black Nova Scotia man ‘overjoyed’ as struggle for land title moves forward

HALIFAX — Christopher Downey finished building his home in 2002 on a… Continue reading

Puncher’s chance: Fighting is up during unique NHL playoffs

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season was hanging by a thread from one… Continue reading

Most Read