The University of Alberta Pandas rugby team persevered through frigid weather and a determined team from the University of Lethbridge last week to win their fifth straight national title. They have won the title every year since the Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) organization founded a women's rugby league in 1999.
The Pandas pounded their division rivals 20 - 3 in front of more than 500 fans, who braved -10 C and blowing snow in the Edmonton suburb of Sherwood Park to cheer the Pandas.
Helen Wright, who has coached the Pandas to each of their five CIS titles, said the victory this year was the most difficult and the most rewarding.
"We had about four players graduate from last year's team who were big contributors and team leaders, so it was a challenge to fill those positions...And every year the other teams are more and more determined to knock us off," Wright said. "For years now we've been telling everyone around (Edmonton) how good these girls are, and this year it was especially sweet to win at home and show everyone first-hand how they play."
The Pandas completed the year with a 12.0 record, outscoring their opposition by a cumulative total of 324 - 32. The team is now 41.1.1 in its five-year history.
Adriana Footz, a third-year student in the U of A Faculty of Agriculture, Forestry and Home Economics, said each national title adds to the pressure to win again the next year.
"Lethbridge didn't really have anything to lose, but we definitely felt the pressure - so far we've handled it well," said Footz, who was named player of the game in the final.
Team captain Katie Murray, a fourth-year engineering student, was named CIS player of the year. Murray, Footz, and fellow Pandas Natalie Mailman (fourth-year, rehabilitation medicine) and Denise Breeuwsma (fourth-year, nursing) all made the final tournament all-star team.