Axemen add women's rugby team to mix

Club hosting a try rugby event in Squamish

The Axemen Rugby Club is expanding, but needs a few extra bodies to make its vision a reality.

As part of a banner year for the club, in which it won the BC Rugby Union Division 3 championship and earned promotion to Division 2, the club opted to add a second men's team and a women's team.

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For the latter, the club has been recruiting players since the fall, but is looking to round out its roster. In order to do so, head coach Emily Young said the team is hosting a Try Rugby event at Squamish's Totem Hall on Sunday, Jan. 12. The clinic starts at 10:30 a.m. and will run for 60 to 90 minutes, depending on turnout.

"We'll be going through a series of five drills, so it'll be small groups, each with their own individual coach," Young said. "[We'll be] going through some passing and touching, some basic rucking, some scrumming and a little bit of tackling—obviously not full-on tackles ... We are on a gym floor, but it will be tackle fundamentals without full contact."

The team played some games in the fall, eventually amalgamating with the Capilano Rugby Club to boost its numbers. However, hoping to stand on its own two feet, Young has stepped up recruitment.

"We want to enter in the Division 2 BC Rugby women's league as our own Sea to Sky team," she said.

Young said interest is strong, but it's been challenging to land firm commitments. One of the difficulties has been the perception of rugby as particularly rough and tumble, she said. While it is, of course, a contact sport, Young stressed that the physical play leans more toward controlled, rather than reckless as the rules are designed around safety.

"I've heard from a lot of women that they're scared about coming back into rugby. They're super interested, but they haven't been playing for five, 10, 15 years," Young said. "We want to put this event on to make it easier for them to come back in and not be nervous about handling a ball again, or getting into a tackle situation."

Another concern Young has heard from interested women is that they don't believe their fitness levels are adequate, but she said that's not a problem, as the practices will get everyone to where they need to be.

"You don't have to be fit right now. That comes with playing rugby," she said. "It's not scary; it's exciting."

Young hopes to bring 20 to 30 women to the Try Rugby event. Those interested in taking part should wear gym shoes and clothes that are easy to move in.

The club's debut in the autumn season was positive, Young said, as the Axemen attended jamborees where players took part in a series of short games against a variety of teams in order to get their feet wet. The Axemen later hosted a game against Langley in October, pulling out a victory while playing a sevens format.

Practices for the spring season then start up at Quest University on Thursday, Jan. 16, running weekly from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The first game takes place in Langley on Feb 8.

The men's side is also in recruitment mode after a strong showing in the autumn. The Division 2 squad won six of its seven games while the new Division 3 squad debuted with a solid 4-3 record.

Director of rugby Blake Mahovic said the club's growth has gone well to this point.

"It was a big jump for us going forward, but we committed to it and said we were going to do it," he said. "We've really been able to grow our ranks and are showing some real talent in our players."

He added that the team's rosters are fluid, so those who are deserving of time with the top club earn it on the practice field.

"We don't really have a first team or a second team. We all train together. We train at the same level and then teams are picked from who's been training," he said. "Everyone wants to play for each other and there's no real difference playing for the first 15 or the second 15."

All Axemen players practice together, so the men will also start up on Thursday nights. Mahovic said the club is focused on removing barriers to participation, so interested players requiring anything from rides to cleats can inquire with the team.

"We appreciate that the Sea to Sky is a difficult place to live and work, especially if you work a seasonal job, so we make sure that we try not to have any financial barriers," he said.

Mahovic noted that when the weather improves, the club has access to a dedicated rugby field at Brennan Park secured from the District of Squamish for next season. As well, after the snow melts, the Axemen will practice in Whistler.

For more information, email axemenrugbyclub@gmail.com or visit axemenrugbyclub.com.

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