By: Dwayne Tingley
Veteran StFX X-Women head coach Mike Cavanagh never takes victories or championships for granted.
"Other teams are improving every year and you have to be prepared to face some very good athletes," said Cavanagh, who is entering his 21st season with the X-Women in the AUS women's rugby conference.
"When you look around the Maritimes, you see that women's rugby has really taken off," he added. "There was a time when we used to get the athletes who were not playing hockey or basketball, but now we are getting rugby players in their own right and they're very good players by the time they get to our university teams."
The X-Women have won 20 championships in the 21-year history of the conference. They are the defending AUS and U SPORTS national champions. They have also appeared in the national final in seven of the last 11 years.
The X-Women, who outscored opponents 372-59 in conference play last year, have 30 returning players.
"We lost four players and they are very good players so we are going to need others to step up and establish themselves," said Cavanagh, who is a 10-time AUS coach of the year.
"We are fortunate to have a talented group of freshmen coming in so the team has a lot of potential, but it's a very short season so we have to work hard every day in order to improve," he continued. "We have to push ourselves in practice so we are well-prepared for our opponents in the games."
The Acadia Axewomen placed second last year with a 6-2 record. They beat the UPEI Panthers in the semifinal game before falling 38-7 to the X-Women in the championship game.
The Panthers were 2-4 last season and the Saint Mary's Huskies were fourth with an 0-8 record.
Axewomen head coach Matthew Durant has his team setting its sights on winning its first AUS championship since 2016.
"Our team is very fit, talented and dynamic," said Durant, who is beginning his 10th season at the helm of the Axewomen. "We are hoping to have a very explosive attack this season."
Durant sees the benefits of having a powerhouse like StFX in the same conference.
"Playing in a small conference comes with challenges, (but) we see having another talented team like X in our region as a huge advantage as we get to test ourselves against another team often," the coach said.
Regular season play begins Friday, Sept. 6 when the X-Women visit the Panthers in Charlottetown. Game time is set for 5 p.m. The game was originally slated for Saturday, but was rescheduled due to impending weather. The Axewomen will host the Huskies in their season opener this weekend in Wolfville, N.S.
Panthers head coach John LaBoyne is entering the new season with a low-key approach.
"Our goals are to have a good season with no injuries," LaBoyne said. "We will have to play to our strengths and trust our structures and patterns."
Amber Davison, who is beginning her fourth season as head coach at Saint Mary's said the Huskies will work hard and look to make steady improvement.
"We've got a great group of core veterans who have been working tirelessly through the off-season to improve their fitness and their skills," Davison said.
"Having them involved and excited for the season helps our younger players strive for more at each session," she added. "We're confident that we will make our mark on the AUS this year."