As with any new athletics program, the Mustangs ringette team emerged from humble beginnings. For general manager and assistant coach Iain Findlater and his daughter, team co-captain Cassandra, the first year was difficult.
“My daughter was [at Western] and said, ‘We don’t have a ringette program.’ So we decided to start it up,” he said.
“The beginning wasn’t pretty. We struggled through many early practices where we had two or three girls that made it out. Lots of times we were just beating our heads against the wall wondering if we really wanted to continue.”
Yet four years later, the team is finally getting the respect and recognition they have been searching for.
Last weekend for the first time, Western hosted the Canadian University Ringette Challenge Cup at Thompson Arena. The Mustangs did not disappoint the home fans, taking the Tier Two gold medal for the third consecutive year with an 8–3 destruction of a combined team from Waterloo and Laurier.
“It felt great to show everyone how good we are by winning it for the third straight year,” Cassandra Findlater said. “Plus it was nice to have the support of the Western community behind us.”
“The whole team played superbly and when that happens, you usually win,” coach Findlater said.
This championship was especially sweet for the Mustangs considering their high rate of graduation last year. As left winger Samantha Coleman said, bringing in a number of first and second–year players was very difficult in the first half of the season.
“The first game of the tournament [against Nipissing] was actually our first win of the year,” she said. “We lost over half of our team last year so we were starting all over again. It took a while to mould the team.”
Luckily for Western, goaltenders Kassandra Smith, Danielle O’Beirne and Melissa Gulier were able to shoulder the load, allowing only 10 goals over the course of the seven game tournament.
“Our goalies were phenomenal all year. They continue to stand up in goal and it fills us with a lot of confidence. It motivates the team to keep playing well,” Coleman said.
But for Findlater and the Mustangs, this year was more about gaining legitimacy as a sport on the Western campus.
Prior to this season, the team was on its own — technically they weren’t even affiliated with Western’s athletics program. However, they recently gained status as the third Competitive Sport Club on campus, which was a huge boost to funding and recruitment.
“We are officially sanctioned by the University, we get publicity, we represent Western in an official capacity and we are hoping to build on that. Eventually we want to get varsity status for the sport,” coach Findlater said.
“[Club status] helped us get the word out and we were able to get a lot of girls out. A lot of people didn’t even know we had a ringette team on campus so having a booth at clubs week was huge. We actually had to have tryouts this year,” Coleman added.
Next year, the Mustangs are looking to continue their growing process and move up to Tier One to compete against the top schools in Canada, including the four-time defending champion Calgary Dinos.
“The competition committee looked at the level of play of each team and they determined that there were seven other teams that were stronger than us. With the graduation rate we had, I’m not really disappointed with that decision,” coach Findlater said. “But I feel we are ready for the increased competition.”
“If we get most of the same girls back next year, and keep the enthusiasm for the program going, we should be able to compete in Tier One next year,” Findlater said.