STU rugby players take on provincial coaching roles

Bailey Andrews, left, is the ruby development officer for New Brunswick Rugby Union and a St. Thomas University graduate. (Billy Cole/AQ)

The New Brunswick Rugby Union announced two new programs, men’s under-17 and U-19, which allows athletes who missed out on their presumed season another year on the pitch. Bailey Andrews, the ruby development officer for NBRU and a St. Thomas University graduate, is the head coach. Zach Klassen, the Tommies’ men rugby captain, will be an assistant coach.

Although provincial restrictions are still fluctuating, both Andrews and Klassen said they’re committed to making this season feasible. The two have been heavily involved with rugby in Fredericton the past four years.

“I want to make this possible,” said Andrews. “Even if [COVID-19] restrictions go back – let’s regroup and see what we can do to get them out with a ball in hand.”

Originally from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Andrews has played rugby since the tenth-grade, competing at both the high-school and provincial levels. She moved to N.B. for university, attending STU and the University of New Brunswick, where she competed each year. Andrews played for the Fredericton Loyalists on the first ever women’s team.

Andrews coached several teams over the past years including her team at Devon Middle School, the Fredericton Loyalists’ U-14 co-ed program, U-18 Women’s team and the U-18 co-ed team this past summer to winter. This is her first experience coaching at a provincial level.

She said coaching is more than a player’s technique.

“I really like to see the progression in athletes, not just in their physical skills and ability, but also them as people,” Andrews said. “They grow with you when you’re coaching them, and you can see that maybe someone gained confidence – different aspects of their lives grow.”

Zach Klassen, the Tommies’ men rugby captain, will be an assistant coach on the New Brunswick Rugby Union. (Submitted: Stacy Cole)

To kick-off this season, they have organized two open sessions. One was on March 20 and the other will be on the 27 and 28. They said this will allow players to either see if they’re interested or to get back in the swing of things.

With hopes of the Atlantic bubble opening on April 19, tryouts will take place throughout the province in mid-May. Players from different regions will practice together but will be separated by health-zones on the field.

“We’re just hoping everything aligns and we’re able to give them this competition,” she said.

The season will run from mid-May until the end of July – when they hope to have their large final competition in Nova Scotia, the Atlantics, against other provinces. Still, Klassen said they are prepared otherwise.

“If we can’t play with other provinces, we’ll have our own intrasquad game sort of things, we’ll probably mix it up with other age groups potentially,” said Klassen. “Just getting to play at any rate is important right now.”

Klassen has played rugby since the age of six, including playing on the STU team over his four years – captain for his last two years. As well, he played for the Fredericton Loyalists, the NB Spruce and the Atlantic Rock, where they won nationals. He coached at Nashwaaksis Middle School for two years in 2018 and the U-18 team in 2019.

He aims to keep growing rugby within the province and open opportunities for athletes.

“Being able to take potential, mold it and then send them to that level and put rugby on the higher level for Canada is my goal,” he said.

Both Andrews and Klassen emphasized their commitment to this team and said many athletes from N.B. have moved onto higher levels. Andrews said they want to instill in players’ minds that it’s achievable to play for national programs.

“It’s not a far-off dream, it’s very realistic,” said Andrews. “If you’re willing to put in the work, there are coaches like ourselves that are willing to help you get there.”