Coach is away, but Stingers amped to play

The numerous storylines of the women’s rugby team

Pictured left to right: Maxine O’Leary, Mahalia Robinson and Fallon Coulouris. Photo Liam Maloney / Concordia Athletics

Stingers’ women’s rugby interim head coach Craig Beemer sits in his office, which is being utilized as a welcoming space. He speaks candidly about the team’s situation. What appeared humble was more clarification. It was still Jocelyn Barrieau’s program, he was just filling the role for the season ahead.

While Barrieau is fulfilling the opportunity to coach the Canadian National 7s team, Beemer is holding down the fort. Although the change at the helm is not permanent, the Stingers’ women’s rugby team finds itself in an unorthodox situation. Nonetheless, the staff is undeterred despite Barrieau’s absence. 

Beemer spoke openly about the opportunity to be the interim coach. He went as far as to say that he would not have taken the role unless he was certain it would still be Barrieau’s program moving forward. 

“It’s almost like you’re plugging me into an advanced computer,” Beemer said, describing the interim coaching role. “[I] get to add what I have to bring. Even when I plug out and [Barrieau] plugs back into her role, the computer hopefully runs smoothly the entire time.” 

Beemer and Barrieau have worked together since 2014. The familiarity the two have with the rugby program’s system has made the transition relatively seamless. 

“[Beemer] brings a lot of technical aspects to the game and he brings a lot of enthusiasm to the game of rugby,” said Stingers’ Captain Mahalia Robinson. 

“It’s something [Barrieau] also brought, but [Beemer] has won championships. He likes to bring that part into the game. We can win, and he knows what it takes to win,” she said.

Hopes are high for the season to come, with many players eager to showcase the talent compiled on the roster. The strength of the program should be credited to the amount of returning players, many of whom endured a tumultuous freshman season in 2022-23. One full of injuries depleting the roster at crucial points in the campaign. 

Nicole Amaral is one of the veteran leaders on the team, participating in her second year of U Sports competition. She explained that the Stingers players look to one another to maintain the standards and values coach Barrieau established, such as playing as a unit and being there for your teammates. She also talked about the growth she has witnessed over the past year. 

“We’re lucky to have a lot of returning players this year to continue this family legacy that is a tight-knit group,” said Amaral. “I think this year is about putting to the test how close we are, and I think we’ve been doing well.” 

The program worked tirelessly in the off-season to amass one of the more successful recruiting classes to date. The 15 first-year Stingers are made up of talent from top programs such as John Abbott College, Town of Mount Royal, and Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. First-year standouts, such as the Quebec Jr. 7s captain for the Canada games Catherine-Anne Blenkhorn, are expected to make an impact throughout the campaign.

“It’s the best recruiting class I think we’ve had since I’ve been at Concordia,” said Robinson. “Rookies are taking charge on the field and being confident, which is something we don’t always see.”

It’s the best recruiting class I think we’ve had since I’ve been at Concordia. Rookies are taking charge on the field and being confident, which is something we don’t always see. — Mahalia Robinson

Despite the unconventional head coaching situation, every member—from player to coaching staff—has a clear focus on the year. The focus is a consistent level of play that leads to strong performances.

“I’ve never worried about wins and losses,” Beemer said, chuckling at its own self-perceived arrogance. “I know for a fact that, if we’re just doing the right things week-to-week, [we] can build momentum. When you get enough momentum, there’s really no stopping that.”

For Robinson, the goal is to best the result of the 2022-23 season: “Last year we finished fourth [in the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec]. This year we want to finish third or higher. I think that’s a goal that we can achieve and we are working really hard to get there. That’s everyone’s mentality.”

The Stingers’ might will be on full display on Sept. 6 when they play host to the McGill University Martlets. Not only is it the season-opener, but it is also the Kelly-Anne Drummond Cup. The annual event is viewed as the most crucial game in the Stingers’ schedule, as it honours the memory of Stingers women’s rugby alumnus Kelly-Anne Drummond who tragically passed away in Oct. 2004.

“That game is more than a game for us. It’s to play for legacy and alumni,” emphasized Robinson. “Rugby is bigger than just a sport. We’re a family. That’s the game where we show the most love on the field. No matter if we win, or if we lose, we go everywhere together as a family.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 1, published September 5, 2023.