International rugby player Olivia DeMerchant a ‘rookie’ again for X-Women

Photo courtesy of Rugby Canada
Photo courtesy of Rugby Canada

By: Monty Mosher

The conversation went something like this.

Olivia DeMerchant called St. Francis Xavier rugby coach Mike Cavanagh last winter and said she knew of a pretty good prop that might make a good fit for his club.

Cavanagh asked about her credentials. She was big and tough, liked to play the kind of physical style the veteran X-Women coach preferred, and had been to two World Cups representing Canada. She also knew about the X-Women, too, having won national university titles in 2010 and 2012.

Cavanagh thought about it for a moment and decided he might like to meet the promising recruit.

The inside joke, of course, is that DeMerchant, a veteran of 32 international matches for Canada, is that prized player and will rejoin the X-Women for her final season of eligibility this fall.

With bruising players Joanna Alphonso and Samantha Lake back in the mix this season, the X-Women will be formidable, bordering on terrifying.

Played for Saracens in London

DeMerchant has been gone from Antigonish for five years. Her former X-Women teammates – Magali Harvey, Tyson Beukeboom and Amanda Thornborough -- are long gone from the X-Women and are now her teammates at the national 15-aside team.

The New Brunswick native now living in the Fredericton area always wanted to use her fifth year. She would have done so several years ago, but went abroad to play two seasons for Saracens FC in London.

A kinesiology graduate, she wanted to upgrade her academic credentials in hopes of getting into a master's program. This year is finally the right time.

"It was always in the back of my mind," she said of returning to St. F.X. "Since I wanted to come back and upgrade anyway it was an easy decision."

She knows how different it will be. At 27, her teammates will be a decade younger in some cases.

"It's going to be all new. It's going to be coming in almost like a rookie."

'Makes us a contender'

Rookie? Not quite.

"I feel like my skills are all there. It's going to be fun to play."

As far as Cavanagh is concerned, he won the lottery with DeMerchant's return. His team. always a contender to win the national championship, is out to reclaim the title it last won in 2016.

"Having Olivia back for the 2018 season is going to be huge for us," he said. "Being arguably one of the best props in the world and being involved in two World Cups, her presence on the field immediately makes us a contender for a national championship.

"Just as importantly it's what she is going to bring off the field which is going to have lasting impact for this program for years to come. Her work ethic, leadership, knowledge and humility are going to rub off on these young players. With her vast knowledge of the game, Olivia will be involved in our coaching setup, which will only make us better."

DeMerchant scored the game-winning try in extra time as the X-Women defeated Concordia 17-12 for the 2010 national title. It was the second national banner for the school.

World Cup silver in 2014

The 2012 victory might be the sweetest. The X-Women hammered Guelph 37-0 in the final to raise the banner on their home field in Antigonish.

"Definitely the 2012 team when we won it at St. F.X. was a highlight," she said. "That team was very close. It will be different not having those teammates, for sure. But I've met some of the new teammates I'm going to have so I'm looking forward to it."

Playing for Canada has been something to treasure. She won a World Cup silver medal in 2014 in France in the best finish for a Canadian side in the competition. They were fifth in 2017 in Ireland.

She toured with the national team last November, playing three games against England. She hopes to be named to the national side to play England, Wales and Scotland this November, which is scheduled for after the U Sports nationals.

She has also played football as a fullback and defensive end for the women's team in Fredericton. Won medal for Canada in football

In 2017, she competed at the women's world championships for Canada, placing second and giving her international medals in different sports for her country.

"I play football for fun," she said. "Rugby is more my passion."

To get some rugby action to stay sharp, she took a course at UNB last fall and played for the men's club team.

Her former X-Women teammates think she'll have lots of fun going back to her old stomping grounds. The ones on the national team never get too far from the St. F.X. roots.

"We still take X-ring photos," she said. "We still talk about the X years."

The X-Women, a bronze medallist at nationals last year, will chase a third consecutive AUS title when the regular season begins Sept. 7 against Saint Mary's in Antigonish. The nationals will be staged at Acadia from Nov. 1-4.

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