A pair of young guns have accompanied a very experienced Canadian Sevens Team to the Women's IRB event in London.
It is a squad made up of a core of highly successful veterans, such as Edmonton's Jen Kish and Winnipeg native Mandy Marchak. But as Head Coach John Tait has been hinting, competition within the program for the tour rosters is beginning to increase. Two of the newest faces on the roster are 21-year-olds Kelsey Willoughby and Kayla Moleschi.
Both girls are students at the University of Lethbridge, where they are trained by Canadian U20 Head Coach Neil Langevin.
Willoughby, who Captained the Canadian development side at the Dubai Sevens, in 2011, is thrilled to have been named to the full Canada team that has embarked on this 2012 European Sevens tour. Additions like these appear to be prime examples of the type of depth that Canada has been trying to build into its program, in recent years.
"The selection process has actually become more difficult," said Tait. "There are girls that haven't been regulars in other competitions, that have been pushing really hard from the development squad."
For Willoughby, it has been an interesting journey. One of the parents of her current Lethbridge and Canada teammate, Ashley Steacy, convinced her to try-out for her high school rugby team, following basketball season, and she found an instant love for the sport. A few months into her collegiate career, under the tutelage of Coach Langevin at the University of Lethbridge, and Willoughby was named to the Canada U20 national team. Her athletic gifts and skills soon caught the eye of Canada's national Sevens selectors and she was asked to train with the rest of the program's talent pool, at Rugby Canada's new Centre of Excellence, in Langford, B.C.
"Training every day at the Centre of Excellence is awesome. The veterans in the program are super helpful and easy to get along with. The twenty of us who are involved are all learning so much from our coaching staff, as well as the experts who are brought in to teach us. It's a great program and I'm super excited to be involved with it."
The University Lethbridge Pronghorns were not done adding talent to the Rugby Canada program, as the arrival of Kayla Moleschi has clearly proven.
Moleschi, who is originally from William's Lake, B.C., is one of the more dynamic additions to Canada's roster. Lacking the gazelle-like of running style of Willoughby, she brings acceleration and dynamic running that terrifies opponents, even in international competition.
Having gotten her start in her grade nine year, Moleschi was blessed with an earlier start than many similar rugby talents get in this country. She credits her rocket-like rise to the national team to her dedicated coaches back in her home town.
"So much of my success has to do with all of my coaches back home. They pushed me and never gave up on me. It was my coach back home, Brad Baker, who introduced me to the national team coaches and things have just sort of progressed from there.
My first ever rugby sevens tournament was in Dubai, in 2011, with the full Canada side. It was a phenomenal experience and the other girls on the team were so welcoming. To run out on the field in front of thousands of people wearing a Canadian jersey was just the best feeling ever."
It was in the tournament that followed Dubai, at Hong Kong in February 2012, that the Canadians had their string of five consecutive international tournament victories broken by their arch rivals from England. Now, on England's home ground, Willoughby and Moleschi are eager to help their country regain, what they are sure is, its rightful place atop the world of Sevens rugby. This weekend will be their chance.
Jeff Hull is Press Officer to Canada's women's rugby programs.