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Varsity Blues rugby player Nick Smith thinks his team deserves some of the credit for his OUA all-star nomination this season. “More so than any other team sport I’ve played, you’re totally reliant on the other guys on the field.”
Smith’s personal success is particularly surprising considering that the Blues finished the season 1–7, the sole win coming via Guelph’s forfeiture. The all-star ranked 10th on the OUA top-scorer list, with 26 points in seven games. “It just so happened that this year I was in a position where I was able to score a lot and had a lot of these flashy kind of plays,” he says.
It’s been a difficult season for the Blues. “We lost a lot of the experience and skill right in the beginning, and it was an uphill battle from that point on,” says Smith, ”Last year we had a slightly larger team and we had [fewer] injuries and we managed to stay competitive right to the end.”
Smith is looking forward to taking an increased role on the team next year. “There’s definitely a responsibility for all senior players to be leaders on the team,” he notes.
His personal success with the Blues notwithstanding, Smith admits that a recurrence of the injuries he has sustained in the past would cause him to reconsider playing rugby. “I’m going into fourth year, and I’m not planning on going to higher levels of rugby and professional rugby,” he says. “So it becomes a toss up — do I want to risk it? Right now, I’m saying ‘yes.’ I love the game, but if I were to get another concussion next year, I would give it some serious thought.”
Still, Smith is looking forward to next season. “We’ve got a lot to prove, definitely. We’re underdogs in the league, but we’re going to come out all guns ablazing.”
OUA MVP Rachel Jewett has had a stunningly successful season. The Varsity Blues pentathlete and runner took the gold and bronze medals in the OUA and CIS women’s pentathlon events, respectively.
The track-and-field star’s achievements come despite sitting out all of last season. “It’s my second year on the team, but I was injured last year so I didn’t compete,” Jewett explains. “So technically, it’s my first year of eligibility and competing for U of T.”
Being sidelined did play a positive role in Jewett’s performances this season, though. “Just having another year in there of training helped me get a lot fitter, a lot stronger for this season,” she notes. “I definitely don’t think it would have gone the same way if I hadn’t been injured.”
Aside from her individual success, Jewett was part of the 4 × 400 m women’s relay team that broke records at both the OUA and CIS championships. “[At CIS] it was very close between us and the team from Saskatchewan, but we were going in with the goal of winning and breaking the record,” Jewett explains. “We had no idea we would break it by so much — we improved our personal best time by about three or four seconds.
“That was the highlight of my season, just winning CIS and breaking the record and all of us being able to do that together — that was very exciting.”
Jewett knows it will be hard to follow up such a successful season. “I know that my improvement curve is going to start plateauing, because I improved so much this year from what I ever did in high school,” she says. “I’m going to have to get used to not improving so much every single time I compete, but I want to get faster and stronger and do better than I did this year.”
Varsity Blues football player Michael Prempeh has seen the team improve drastically over his five years at U of T. “When I first got here we were dismal; we didn’t win a game my first year,” he remembers. “In the past season, we won three games.”
The receiver was named an East-West all-star in 2010 and started all eight games this season. Prempeh made 25 catches for 350 yards, the best of which was a 49-yard catch in the 21–12 victory over Guelph. “Definitely the highlight of the season … was beating Guelph on national TV,” he says. “It was our first nationally televised game in I think about 10 years. Coming up to the game a lot of people were asking, ‘What’s U of T doing on TV? They’re a bad team, they don’t deserve to be on TV.’
“And we came out and proved everybody wrong.”
Prempeh enjoys playing in front of a live audience too. “Personally I like playing on the big stage. I like to shock people. People come to games not knowing what to expect, and it’s nice to give them a couple of highlights and hear the ooh’s and aah’s in the crowd.”
The 2010 Blues receiver of the year believes his cohort of recruits has been important for the Blues. “I think we’ve helped bring the team to a higher level in the OUA and we’re now a respectable team,” he says. “Teams have a game plan for us now. [They] can’t look over us like they used to.”
Prempeh is graduating this year, but he knows he’s leaving the team in good hands. “We’ve brought this team a long way and I think it’s time for the new guys, the younger guys, to step up and continue this path we’re on right now. We have a lot of young guys that are going to be good athletes, that are already good athletes and it’s time for them to step up and make plays and be leaders.”
Varsity Blues hurdler Hayley Warren hasn’t been able to compete much this season. After tearing her meniscus at the start of last season, Warren worked her way back to full fitness in preparation for the indoor track schedule. “I ended up re-tearing it again in January so I had to take the season off again,” she explains.
Before this injury problem surfaced, the Blues athlete looked to be on track for great success. “My first year I did at McGill, and I ended up doing really well — I came third at nationals for the 60 m hurdles,” says Warren, who transferred to U of T at the end of that year. “And then last year I ended up running the second-fastest time a female hurdler has ever run at U of T, so I had a really good ranking going into nationals.”
Unfortunately, Warren’s injured knee ended her season, and at the time of press, she had just begun to work her way back to form. ““I probably started training full-time three or four weeks ago,“ she explains. “It’s going really well so far.”
But despite returning to training, Warren’s injury has permanently changed the way she competes. “In hurdles you have a lead-leg and a trail-leg; my left is my lead, but that’s the one where my knee hurts, and aggressive extension hurts it,” she explains. “So I ended up having to switch lead legs, which is like learning to write with the other hand.”
While she has been sidelined, Warren has been cheering on the women’s track and field squad as they have broken records and performed extremely well this season. “We always want to see our team do well, no matter what,” she says.
Warren is cautiously optimistic about next season. “I’m really just hoping to be able to finish a race at this point or kind of get back to where I was,” she says. “I don’t expect to be better than what I was, but definitely next year is [about] getting used to the whole change.”