By Woodard, Dale on September 7, 2019.
The University of Lethbridge Pronghorns women’s rugby team was busy in the off-season on the recruitment front.
Some of that youth will be served this weekend as the Horns head into their 20th season when Canada West regular season play gets underway this weekend.
The Pronghorns are in Edmonton Sunday to take on their rival Alberta Pandas in the third installment of the Suggitt Cup in memory of former coach Ric “Sluggo” Suggitt who passed away in the summer of 2017. Game time is 1 p.m.
With the season getting underway, a couple of those new players will see action right off the bat.
“It’s kind of funny, we have 14 rookies and 21 returning players and we have two in the starting lineup,” said Pronghorns head coach Neil Langevin.
Penciled in for Sunday is rookie back three Rebecca Powell of Sherwood Park and Amy Bianchini of High River.
“We were confident (Powell) was going to be able to contribute and she has done a great job already,” said Langevin. “We weren’t expecting Amy to crack the roster, but she’s got a lot of speed. She’s just working hard, so we are really happy with her.”
The Pronghorns were up in Edmonton last weekend for a pair of exhibition games against the Pandas, the first pitting the rookies against each other the second game involving the returnees.
“They’re really working hard,” said Langevin of his first-year players. “We’re trying to change our offence up a bit and attack a little bit more narrow than we have in the past. I really appreciated their attitudes, there’s definitely a lot to work with.”
With only three players graduating from last year’s team, the Horns return a host of veterans that will be led by captain Abby Duguid.
Caitlin Sears, Erin McFadden, Keegan Brantner and Hailey Driscoll will also be key contributors as the Pronghorns look to move back into Canada West contention.
A year ago, the Pronghorns and Pandas finished with identical 2-4 records, but the Pandas took fourth place and advanced to the Canada West Championship on bonus points awarded.
Sunday’s game will mark the first of a two-game series with the Pandas.
“For the veterans, it obviously means a little bit more because they know Sluggo, lots of emotion,” said Langevin. “We’ve had a great rivalry. This is our 20th year. It’s kind of fitting to be playing them in this game.”
The Pandas won the second installment of the Suggitt Cup last year on point differential by a single point after the two teams split the season series.
Alberta won the first game 17-10 in Edmonton, but the Pronghorns replied with a win at home in a 38-32 decision.
The Pronghorns won the inaugural Suggitt Cup in 2017 with a 32-17 win.
“I think they’re going to be pretty physical,” said Langevin of Alberta. “They’ll have a few rookies that will start in their lineup. We’re lucky enough that we’ve cracked the top-10 nationally this week. The coaches rankings in the Canada West just came out. In the coach’s poll we didn’t fare so well. We’re ranked fourth out of five teams in the conference. So we’re just going to get off to a good start.”
The Pandas and Pronghorns will face each other in the second leg of the Suggitt Cup Oct. 5 at 3 p.m. at the University of Lethbridge Stadium.
The Horns home-opener is Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. at the U of L Stadium.
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