Jiving with the rugby team

Meghan MacAfee
Meghan MacAfee takes over the women’s rugby head coach position (Submitted)

After two winless seasons in the AUS, the women’s rugby team is planning to make an impression next season with a much-needed move back to the ACAA. With that move comes another big change: a new head coach.

Sitting in her office with a black Harvest Jazz and Blues tank top on, new women’s rugby head coach Meghan MacAfee gushes about her love of the festival.

“The first time I saw JJ Grey and Mofro it was amazing. It was one of those things. A few people knew who they were and they were all sitting back like, ‘Just wait until everybody sees this band’…That was one of the first times I didn’t know anything about a band and now we have their whole CD collection,” said MacAfee.

The former assistant coach has replaced Sherry Doiron, who decided to step down at the end of last season. MacAfee joined the team in 2012, the first season they made the switch from ACAA to AUS.

“Coming into it, I came in pretty blind…I couldn’t appreciate what the differences were because I had never been with STU in a different league. But it wasn’t a surprise [for everyone else]. We were going into the top league in the country,” she said.

MacAfee joined the STU coaching staff when she found out Doiron, a former teammate of hers, was the head coach. She asked Doiron if she wanted some help. Two years on, she took over her friend’s vacant position.

Although MacAfee has only been with the team for a couple of years, she’s no stranger to the game. Growing up in Fredericton, she started playing rugby when she was seven years old. Since then, she has played with the Fredericton Loyalist Rugby Club, UNB, and the New Brunswick provincial team.

“I started playing rugby when I was in mini-rugby…I was like 7. My dad coached. My father was the provincial rugby coach for years when I was growing up and my brother always played. I kind of started because that’s what you did in my family,” she said.

While listing off her favourite Harvest acts, MacAfee also mentioned she’s on the board of directors for the festival. She’s been working on Harvest hospitality since 2006. Along with working as a human resources advisor at Service New Brunswick and her coaching gig for Oromocto High School’s women’s rugby team, she tends to keep herself busy.

But she’s never too busy for the sport. MacAfee and many of her rugby players still meet up to play during winter as part of a touch-rugby league on Saturdays.

Growing up with rugby playing such an integral role in her life means MacAfee knows what’s important for a team. She wants to incorporate those characteristics into her coaching style.

“I have had so many positive experiences because of rugby – that’s why we play sports, right? Student athletes come in and add this extra thing to their plate because they love the sport and what it brings to them. I want to continue to build on that,” she said.

“I want to make it so rugby’s not an eight-week thing you do in the fall. Rugby’s the thing you do then, and then train in the off-season, and in the spring you get excited to play with your club team.”

The women’s rugby team has had a tough couple of seasons. The past two years they’ve played in the AUS, which caters to bigger schools like Acadia and StFX, both of which went 7-1 last season. While STU went 0-8 both seasons, MacAfee was impressed by how resilient the team was until the very end.

“It’s hard to go through a losing season. And watching the girls, even in the last game of the year, come together and be ready and be proud to be part of the team, that’s important for me,” she said.

Part of the problem for MacAfee is how short the rugby season is. Including training, university rugby usually only lasts for ten weeks. The tight time period has been a learning experience for the past two years, but now that MacAfee’s at the helm, she’s preparing for it as best as she can.

The decision to move the team back to the ACAA wasn’t made by MacAfee, but rather athletics director Mike Eagles. Still MacAfee said she’s excited for what this opportunity can bring.

“It’s definitely a positive. It’s going to be a competitive season. It’s a good opportunity to play against similar-sized schools. What more can you want?”

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