By Dale Woodard on September 17, 2021.
One player is returning to school and to rugby.
Another is returning from England.
It’s even a family affair.
Throw it all together and it looks to be the ideal mix for the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns women’s rugby team.
After losing their 2020 Canada West season to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Horns return to the field Saturday night when they host their season opener against the Alberta Pandas at 7 p.m. at the University of Lethbridge Stadium.
The game also doubles as the Suggitt Cup, the game played between the teams in honour of the late Ric Suggitt, the former coach who left his mark on both programs.
“The girls have worked incredibly hard and we have such a range in age and ability,” said Pronghorns first-year coach Graeme Moffat. “We have some first years who are in there competing and we have some fifth-years who have some experience. Abby Duguid comes back and joins us after having played professionally in England, which is a big bonus. We have some experienced girls and a great bunch of girls who work hard and, from what I’ve gathered, like spending time with each other, and that’s half the battle. We had a really good team-building weekend, which was really good. It definitely helps us get on the journey where we want to go.”
In addition to Duguid, also joining the team and making her return to rugby is first-year Horn wing/fullback Ruby McRae a product of Fort Macleod and mother to three-year-old daughter Sawyer.
“I’m very excited, but I haven’t played in six years,” said McRae.
Fortunately, the first-year Pronghorn has a fan in her daughter.
“She loves coming to watch us play and the girls love it when Graeme’s kids are here, too and when my daughter is around.”
McRae said it’s too early to tell if her daughter will follow in her footsteps.
“We’re not sure yet, she gets mad when people hit me.”
But after a season lost to COVID, it’s a safe bet the Pronghorns will be happy to hit and be hit Saturday night.
“I think we’re really excited to go and play, the homer opener and under the lights, but also playing for the Suggitt Cup, which is incredibly important for the girls,” said Moffat. “Ric was a character who was larger than life and in his short years he was with the university he left an incredible legacy. When we get the opportunity to hopefully go out and play and hopefully honour him and his family, that will be an extra motivational factor.”
Moffat was announced as the fourth head coach in the program’s 22-year history in June, replacing athletic director Neil Langevin, who has remained on as an assistant coach.
“‘I’m excited to coach again,” he said. “The last match I was involved was Canada vs. Uruguay in the World Cup qualifiers back in 2018. So I’m really excited to get going again. I just have to look at the program and I see something pretty special. All the coaches who are still involved are here when it started in 2000. That’s pretty uncommon and it gives me a good insight in the program and the culture which has been developed.”
After going over to England last October to play for the Loughborough Lighting, Duguid returns to southern Alberta as a fifth-year veteran.
“It was amazing,” she said of her overseas experience. “That league is so different over there and some of the women you play are incredible. Not that they aren’t here, but there are some world leaders in women’s rugby over there. It was incredible.”
Now, the product of Edmonton returns to the Horns to wrap up her university career.
“I was so upset in my fifth year, to finally be there and get injured in that second game,” she said. “I felt like I lost it and then COVID took it away again. So to be back now is like a dream come true. Everything fell into place, all the pieces worked out and I get to be back and finish this year with the girls.”
That starts with the Pandas and, ideally, a win and some early-season hardware that will come with the Suggitt Cup.
The importance of the cup up for grabs wasn’t lost on either McRae or Duguid
“A lot of the girls that I played rugby with in high school and provincials played for Ric for all three years he was the coach,” said McRae. “It’s really meaningful for a lot of people. It’s awesome to be able to do that, too. To come back and the first game be the Ric Suggitt Cup.”
“Most of the girls who are still here who have come back through COVID have known Ric, so it’s really emotional for them and me as well,” added Duguid. “But to start building the legacy for girls who hadn’t met Ric and don’t know him, it’s important to explain the importance of it and share his legacy with them. So I’m excited to kick it off and we’d like to have the Cup here with us as long as we can.”
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