Canby alumna Amee Svatos and the University of Alberta rugby team won a Canadian rugby national title.

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - The University of Alberta Pandas celebrate after winning the national title.

When the University of Alberta women’s rugby team returned from Quebec City in November, Amee Svatos was overwhelmed.

The Canby High School alumna had just helped the Pandas finish an undefeated season with a Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championship, and she could hardly believe the scene at the airport.

“We were pretty famous when we got home — surreal moment,” she said. “The local news met us as soon as we got off the plane — never would see that (in the United States). People came up to me and congratulated me and actually knew what rugby was.”

For Svatos, the Canadian national title — Alberta’s sixth in program history and its first since 2003 — was one of the most satisfying accomplishments on a journey in rugby that has allowed her to make friends and memories around the world.

The feat was particularly meaningful for her considering the Pandas, who compiled a perfect 9-0 record, prevailed in the finals against the University of Guelph — the squad that upset them in the semifinals a year earlier.

“This year was different,” she said. “We had the determination of several senior players who wanted redemption and knew what it would take to win.

“I felt an amazing feeling. ... We had a new confidence as a team that took us to the top. I am very proud to be a Panda after seeing the hurdles we overcame in just over two months together.”


Svatos didn’t always plan to end up in Canada. She didn’t even start playing rugby until high school.

She ran track and cross-country at Ackerman Middle School. She snowboarded recreationally. She played goalie in soccer, her childhood sport, as a Canby freshman.

But after a little nudging by Cougars soccer coach Ben Winegar, who helped establish the high school’s rugby program, and former teammate Hannah Lockwood, she decided to give rugby a try.

“I didn’t really know what it was at first, but I fell in love with it immediately,” she said. “As soon as I held a rugby ball and was able to run across the field with it still in my hands, I was hooked.”

One-on-one training sessions with Ernie Espinoza soon followed. A chance to play on the Oregon Redhawks all-star team wasn’t far off.

Her bridge to the rich rugby scene north of the border came in the form of Redhawks coaches Doug and Randi Hamre, Canada natives who spearheaded the North Clackamas high school program.

The Hamre’s encouraged Svatos to look into playing collegiate rugby in Canada, where women’s programs in the sport are further developed than they are in the States.

But it still seemed too drastic a change for Svatos, who graduated from Canby in 2011. She didn’t truly consider those options until halfway through her freshman year at Oregon State University, where she was a member of the women’s club rugby team.

“I didn’t see myself improving my rugby skills,” she said. “I really was going to (Canada) to play higher-level rugby.”

A big part of what convinced Svatos to make the move was a full-tuition scholarship offer from Alberta, where she is studying exercise science with a minor in coaching.

Once she earns her undergraduate degree, Svatos can envision herself working with young athletes at a high-performance center and pursuing a career as a chiropractor.

As for where?

“It will be tempting not to leave when I am done,” she said.


For Svatos, rugby has been a travel passport.

With the help of Winegar, Espinoza and the Hamre’s, she earned a spot on the USA Rugby junior national team when she was 16 years old.

That spot has served as her ticket to play around the world, including in Canada, the Bahamas and Santa Barbara, Calif.

This past summer, Svatos and the Women’s Junior All-Americans traveled to Long Eaton, England, to compete in the U-20 Nations Cup. The squad took second place after a loss to Canada in the finals.

Now that Svatos is too old to play on the junior national team, though, she is turning her attention to her academic and athletic commitments in Alberta.

“After four years of heavily fundraising and sacrificing a ton for U-20s, I want to focus on school and representing my university to the fullest in gratitude for the opportunity they have given me,” she said.

Svatos is a vocal leader for the Pandas, and she has played an integral role as a first-strike defender. By tackling the first player to receive the ball out of scrums, she disrupts numerous offensive chances for her teams’ opponents.

In 2012, Svatos was named rookie of the year by the Canada West Universities Athletic Association, her school’s conference. This past season, she helped Alberta win gold.

“My whole team was talented and determined throughout the season,” she said. “Not one player was a weak link — we all contributed greatly to our success. It took a lot of heart as we improved each game and each practice. I continue to be honored to have this experience to be a Panda.”

When her time at Alberta draws to a close, Svatos will consider trying to rejoin the U.S. national team at a higher level. Ric Suggitt, the current USA Rugby Women’s Sevens coach, used to preside over the Pandas.

For now, though, Svatos is striving to soak up the guidance she receives from a variety of coaches whose approaches and philosophies — even terminologies — often differ greatly.

“There is still more to learn,

more to discover about my physical limits in fitness and more places to travel and build a cultural perspective of rugby,” she said.

Alberta’s sixth Monilex trophy in program history, a CIS record, put the exclamation mark on an undefeated season. The Pandas are the most successful program in CIS women’s rugby history, but hadn’t won the national championship trophy since 2003, which was the end of their five-in-a-row run. The program, however, did collect one silver medal (2005) and two bronze medals (2004 and 2012) between 2004 and 2013.

Canadian Interuniversity Sport is the national governing body of university sport in Canada. Every year, 11,000 student-athletes and 700 coaches from 54 universities and four regional associations vie for 21 national championships in 12 different sports.

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