By Thomas Becker
The UPEI Women's Rugby Panthers were dealt a difficult hand in their Week 1 matchup against the Acadia Axewomen, coming up short 29-17.
Despite the loss, the air at MacAdam Field was filled with Panther optimism, even though their opponent ranked first during the 2015 CIS Rugby Championships.
Eager to get their 2016 season underway after a devastating defeat by the eighth seeded Queen's Golden Gaels last November, Acadia faced a fearless UPEI squad that was ready for a fight, despite the odds.
"We stood our ground," said first-year Panther head coach John LaBoyne. "We wanted to show them the new Panthers and our new way of doing things."
The Panthers showed intent from the kickoff, as Amy Hickey was first to get her team on the scoreboard on a third minute try for an early 5-0 edge. But Acadia's precision passing allowed Natasha Johnson to cross for one of her two tries, giving the Axewomen a 7-5 lead 16 minutes in.
UPEI's strong tackling and rucking play kept the game close early, but Acadia's Janice Cougle pushed the lead 12-5 before halftime on a try of her own.
Acadia head coach Matthew Durant commended UPEI for their physical play and determined spirit.
"We've preached all week that UPEI was going to be the best tackling and the best rucking team in the league," said Durant. "Girls from the Island are always proud and we prepared for that, and they still beat us at those elements of the game."
Both teams found their offensive rhythm, trading tries throughout the second half. Acadia's Emma Pfleiderer opened the scoring in the fifty-third minute, but was countered four minutes later by UPEI's Brodie Cassata, keeping pace with the Axewomen 17-12.
Before the half was over, Acadia used the entire field, as cracks formed in the Panther defence allowing them to cross for two more tries. UPEI capitalized on a try of their own, but it wasn't enough as the Axewomen came away with the 29-17 win.
Subway Player of the Game was Acadia 5th year prop Janice Cougle.
"We worked on spreading out the field a little bit more in the second half and we did a better job of that," said Durant.
The Panthers will battle it out again Sept. 18 when they take on the Saint Mary's Huskies in Halifax.
UPEI – Amy Hickey try 3rd minute
ACA – Natasha Johnson try 16th minute (Annie Kennedy convert)
ACA – Janice Cougle try 37th minute
ACA – Emma Pfleiderer try 53rd minute
UPEI – Brodie Cassata try 57th minute (Alysha Corrigan convert)
ACA – Natasha Johnson try 60th minute
UPEI – Holly Jones try 62nd minute
ACA – Gillian Bergsma 76th minute (Annie Kennedy convert)