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Can one rugby star lead the Martlets to Nationals?

Brianna Miller was the name on everyone’s lips on Sunday, September 18 at Macdonald campus’ McEwen field. There, the McGill women’s rugby team played the University of Ottawa. Whispers from the sidelines led to cheers and, eventually, a team-led birthday serenade – all for the second-year fly-half. By game’s end, Miller had led her team to a 38 to 0 victory with 3 tries and 4 conversions.

By now, she’s probably used to the attention. She’s been named McGill’s athlete of the week for three weeks running and was named the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec’s  university athlete of the week earlier this month. Last year, the University Rugby League named her rookie of the year, and a member of their 2010 all-star team.

She has even represented Canada as a member of the Under 20 (U20) team at the Nations’ Cup this past July in Santa Barbara. Miller gushed, “Oh my God, it was an amazing experience. I met a lot of people from all over Canada… People that love the sport just like me.”

Like all student athletes, Miller divides her time between academics and athletics. She shuttles to and from her downtown physical education classes, home games, and practices at Macdonald Campus, as well as away games throughout Quebec and Ontario, and her home on the West Island. Her life, like those of her teammates, is incredibly busy, but she seems happiest when surrounded by like-minded athletes. Her boyfriend is also a McGill rugby player who competed in the U20 Nations Cup.

While watching her play last Sunday, it became immediately apparent that Miller certainly is talented. Her coach, Vince DeGrandpré says she’s “one of the team’s spark plugs, with the ability to fire up her teammates through her explosive offensive abilities.” He points out that after switching positions – from fullback to fly-half – her vision and decision-making has improved.  Playing as a fly-half on the Canadian team further attested to her success in the position.

After the game, Miller was happy to discuss her start in rugby. She credits her high school gym teacher, Marc Faubert at St. Thomas High School in Pointe Claire, for introducing her to rugby. Her three older brothers also all played at the same school.

Despite the amount of tackling in rugby, she’s been seriously injured only once. She broke her ankle in grade nine, but that didn’t stop her from playing the next year, she announced proudly. Sometimes people question her sport of choice because she’s small (5’5 and slim), but her speed and agility are great assets on the rugby field, and have brought her great achievement in the sport.

This year, Miller and the rest of the Martlets hope to make it to Nationals, which is no easy feat considering that they lost during the Quebec conference semi-finals last year. “Martlet Rugby is in a semi-rebuilding process this year,” explains Coach DeGrandpré. Half of this year’s roster is comprised of rookies. Even so, the Martlets are currently undefeated this season, and, according to Miller rival teams, Laval and Concordia, “don’t know what’s coming for them.”

It’s a sport that requires toughness. You get the ball, you get tackled to the ground, you get back up, and you keep going. Of course, Miller avoids spending too much time on the ground, preferring instead to deke around her opponents and sprint down the field to score tries. Nothing stops her, especially on game day. “When I want to do something, I’ll do it,” she says with a big smile on her face.

The Marlet’s next home game is Saturday October 15 at 1:00 p.m. against Bishop’s at McEwen Field. Get there on the 211 bus heading west from Lionel Groulx Metro.