Back At It: Shawna Brayton Returns to Playing for Canada At FISU Universiade

Stingers Rugby Player Ready to Dawn the Maple Leaf in Italy

Stinger stand out Shawna Brayton pierces through defense during home game at Concordia University. photo courtesy Kyran Thicke

It was an emotional phone call for Shawna Brayton.

“I wasn’t even home, I was at my boyfriend’s and I just broke down crying. I was like what do I do? I called my mom and said what do I do? Do I accept? Do I decline?” said the Stingers rugby star. “It’s in a month and I don’t even have the money to go.”

The call was to let her know that she had been selected to team Canada’s rugby 7’s roster at the The Fédération Internationale du Sport Universitaire tournament in Italy.

Her mother wasn’t about to tell her to pass up the opportunity to represent her country. She told her to accept and they would make it work.

FISU pits the top university athletes from around the world against each other, a kind of university olympics. Brayton will head overseas July 1 and come back a week and a half later, once the rugby portion of the tournament ends.

Once she had decided to accept, she texted Concordia coach Jocelyn Barrieau immediately. Brayton’s coach felt the same surge of emotion as her player.

“It’s kind of emotional. I’ve known Shawna a long time […] I’m just really, really proud of her. I’m so glad she continues to play this crazy sport,” said Barrieau.

The two share a special relationship. Earlier this season, Brayton said she didn’t know if she would be playing rugby today if not for Barrieau, who recruited her to the provincial program and has coached her for years.

Barrieau is definitely familiar with what Brayton is heading into and couldn’t be happier for her.

“I had the amazing opportunity to go to FISU myself in 2006. It was one of the best opportunities in my life. I’m just so happy for [the athletes],” said Barrieau.

Barrieau went into how special of a time it is for these athletes. To head overseas and play a completely different level of rugby while representing your country is “the perfect storm,” according the Concordia and team Quebec coach.

Brayton found out about her selection in mid May and the nerves have certainly started to set in. She’s in complete training mode and has left her usual summer club play with the Town of Mount Royal RFC in order to avoid injury and focus on FISU prep.

There’s a strong dose of excitement with those nerves though.

“I’m typically a shy person so I’m a little nervous,” said Brayton. “But with the atmosphere of being on a rugby team, we’re all there for the same purpose, we all have the same qualities and the same goals so it really works well.”

“She’s a worker. She’ll put her body on the line for her teammates and I think that’s a pretty big need, to have someone like that on your team.” — Jocelyn Barrieau

The team is going to Italy a little early to get to know each other before the tournament.

It will also help get everyone in the same rhythm according to Brayton. Training together, getting on a similar diet, sleeping and getting home at the same time; it’s a structure and strictness that helps them get on the same page and be in the right mindset.

This will be Brayton’s fourth time representing her country, twice in regular rugby 15’s play and now her second trip as a member of Canada’s 7’s team.

“I haven’t played for Canada since 2017. I’ve taken a bit of a break. Going back, now I think I’m more nervous than I was for the last two [times],” noted Brayton, who knows she’s headed into a tournament where the speed and level of play are much higher than her club or university games.

Team Canada coach Colette Mcauley, who is also the head coach at the University of Guelph, knows that Brayton’s experience is very valuable to her team.

Having a player who understands the experience of high level international play is key with the very short amount of prep time the team will have according to McAuley.

In Brayton, McAuley knows she has a player who can set the tone for the team in terms of both level of play and off the field preparation for the international games.

“She has quite a big tackle area, she catches passes really well. [Her talent] was identified at a young age and she also works like a dog,” said Barrieau. “She’s a worker. She’ll put her body on the line for her teammates and I think that’s a pretty big need, to have someone like that on your team.”

Aside from her experience, her playing style and skill level were very attractive to coaches. Barrieau noted that Brayton’s height, agility, and physical attributes are perfectly suited to the 7’s game.

She’s had plenty of opportunities to show off her proficiency as a 7’s player provincially. She plays for Barrieau on team Quebec twice a year. Brayton noted she’s played in eight consecutive tours with Barrieau for major tournaments.

The last step for Brayton is fundraising. Her participation and travel for the tournament will cost her $4500, nothing new for the Stinger, who’s had to pay plenty of times before just to play in tournaments she’s been selected for.

Looking ahead, both Brayton and Barrieau see a real chance for growth with this tournament. Barrieau knows Brayton will be in high pressure, trying situations and that she can bring that back to the Stingers as a leader on the field.

It’s going to be a high stakes environment, but one that Brayton and those around her can’t help but be excited about.