In the women’s rugby season opener, the Mustangs were shutout 135-0. The Golden Gaels, of rival school Queen's University, romped them.
The Gaels' season has been nothing less than dominant, as they are currently the top team in U Sports and remain undefeated so far this season. Still, the old-as-time rivalry between Western and Queens made the loss sting more than most.
“It was tough, it is not the outcome we wanted,” said Katherine Baer, head coach. “At the end of the day, it is just one game and we will go forward.”
Looking for redemption, the team trained hard but met defeat last week when they played the Brock Badgers on home ground. The Mustangs were yet again shutout by the Badgers 55-0.
After two tough losses at the beginning of their four-game regular season, there are a couple questions they need to answer: How did this happen and where do they go from here?
One of the biggest challenges faced by the Mustangs' group this year is their age.
“Each year deals with new challenges, our challenge this year is that we are a young squad,” said Baer. “We have new players, new coaching staff and it is a big change for the team this year.”
Of the 33 players who make up the 2019 roster, only five athletes are in their third and fourth years of university. In striking contrast, 60 per cent of the team is composed of first-year student athletes, meaning that the team has adopted 20 new players in this year alone.
For the new players on team, the learning curve that has come with transitioning to play at the Ontario University Athletics level is huge.
“As seen in the Queens and Brock game, the games are tough,” said Baer. “But they are learning and the pace in which they are learning in being able to play at the OUA level is impressive.”
Like many of the players, Baer is somewhat new to the team this year. A Western rugby alum herself and the interim head coach for the women’s rugby team in 2016, Baer accepted the role of full-time head coach this year.
With such a new team, Baer anticipated this kind of struggle for the season. She recognizes that the team is in its building phase.
“The plan that I have in place will take about three to five years to develop,” said Baer. “In which time we should be performing at an elite level.”
Baer hopes that in due time, the young women’s team could grow into a real contender on both the OUA and U Sports circuit.
But for now, the team needs to keep their focus on this season as they take on the Guelph Gryphons this Saturday.
Over the past few years, Guelph has consistently been a strong team winning the past three women’s rugby OUA championships. Needless to say, this game will be another uphill battle for the Mustangs.
“Our plan for Guelph, keep honing in on the field and playing the game we want,” said Baer.
Surely with the tenacity and determination this team has shown, they will only go up from here.
Update (Sept. 24, 11:18 a.m.): paragraph two has been updated to reflect Katherine Baer is the head coach.