HIGH ACHIEVERS: Sarah Schonfeld earns first national team rugby assignment at Commonwealth Youth Games – Ottawa Sports Pages

By Martin Cleary

Good things happen in threes and Ottawa rugby player Sarah Schonfeld can certainly tell you all about it.

And it happened all at once for her on May 31.

On the last day of the fifth month, the Grade 12 student-athlete wrote her final high school exam (data management) at Elmwood School.

She then joined her Elmwood girls’ rugby team and played one last and exhilarating game in her interscholastic career. Elmwood closed its National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association season by winning the girls’ 10s championship over Longfields-Davidson Heights.

If all that wasn’t enough excitement, Schonfeld took a phone call from Rugby Canada and learned she had been named to the national women’s 7s team for the 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games, which begin Friday with the opening ceremony and run through Aug. 11 in Trinidad and Tobago.

Canada has named a team of 57 athletes, five coaches and eight support staff for women’s and men’s competitions in rugby 7s, athletics and beach volleyball as well as women’s netball.

More than 1,000 athletes and para athletes between the ages of 14 and 18 will attend the Games for seven sports. The Games also will have road and track cycling, swimming and triathlon competitions.

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The region also will be represented at the seventh Commonwealth Youth Games in athletics by Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club sprinter John McGowan of Kemptville, coach Leslie Estwick of Nepean and the Lions, and team manager Gabby Faoro of Ottawa.

An all-around athlete who has played community soccer and hockey as well as high school basketball, volleyball and soccer, Schonfeld was excited to be named to her first national team.

“I had no expectations. I was pretty surprised,” Schonfeld, 18, said in a phone interview on the day she was leaving with the rugby 7s team for Trinidad and Tobago.

“I was excited I had an opportunity to try out for the team and I’m grateful for all the coaches who have helped me.”

Schonfeld, who trains with the Bytown Blues Rugby Football Club women’s and U18 teams, was nominated by Rugby Ontario to attend a Commonwealth Youth Games tryout session in the spring in Ottawa. There also were camps in Kingston and Toronto as well as talent identification camps across the country.

After experiencing a series of drills and plenty of scrimmaging, Schonfeld waited for the team announcement, which turned out positive as she was named to the 13-athlete women’s roster.

“The tryout was definitely a mix of emotions,” she added. “It was my first tryout for a Rugby Canada team. I didn’t know what to expect and there were a lot of players from across Canada trying out.”

Women’s rugby 7s head coach Darcy Patterson will lead Canada into five round-robin games – Wales and Australia on Sunday, Fiji and Trinidad and Tobago on Monday, and Kenya on Tuesday. Canada’s matches will be played at Shaw Park Cultural Complex in Tobago.

“This is a group of eager, rugby-enthused players who are more than excited to be putting on the jersey and representing Canada in Trinidad and Tobago,” Patterson said.

“It will be the first time these players put on a Canada jersey and we hope to make it an incredible experience. There is a legacy of this program doing well at these Games and we are excited to put the work into keeping that legacy alive.”

Sarah ‘Jiggy’ Schonfeld. Photo provided

Last year, Schonfeld was excited to return to competitive rugby after the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted play for two years. She represented Eastern Ontario at the 2022 Ontario Summer Games and won a bronze medal.

Schonfeld, who goes by the nickname Jiggy to honour her vibrant great aunt Gillian Crosby, recently played for a Toronto-based team called the Mis-Fits at the Tropical 7s tournament. She was named the MVP at the tournament. The Mis-Fits finished in fourth place.

Planning to study kinesiology in her first year at Queen’s University in 2023-24, Schonfeld is “super excited” to be making her debut with Canada.

“As a team, we’re hoping for a medal,” she said. “My role (as a prop) will be to create play space and opportunities for the other players.”

Schonfeld started her rugby career at age seven, playing two years in the Manor Park neighbourhood program. Then soccer caught her attention for a couple of years before she returned to rugby at age 12 with the Blues. She also has played competitive and house league hockey for the past eight years.

“The biggest thing about rugby is the community. Ever since my first game, everyone has been so nice and encouraging,” she explained. “The sport is physical and fast and that’s what I love about it. It’s a reaction sport. I love the thrill and excitement I get playing.”

Meanwhile, John McGowan will compete in the men’s 100 and 200 metres in the 22,575-seat Hasely Crawford Stadium, which is in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

McGowan, who attended St. Michael High School in 2022-23, is ranked No. 3 in Canada in the men’s U18 100 metres with a season-best time of 10.75 seconds. That time allowed him to win the OFSAA East Regional boys’ senior final on June 2. He also is ranked No. 6 nationally for the 200 metres at 21.93 seconds, which he set in his heat at the Ontario U20 athletics championships.

During the provincial U20 championships, he was seventh in the 100-metre final at 10.91 seconds and fifth in the 200-metre final at 22.15 seconds.

McGowan placed fifth in the boys’ senior 100 metres in 10.99 seconds at the 2023 OFSAA provincial high school championships on the Terry Fox Athletic Facility track. He also posted the fourth best time in the heats at 10.81.

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Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.

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