When she traveled with the BC U18 Select Banshees to a rugby showcase in Las Vegas in 2014, Campbell River teen Kristine Osachuk thought it would simply be a chance to play against some high-calibre competition in the States.
But, thanks to a chance meeting with a university coach, she’ll be getting high-calibre U.S. competition on a regular basis.
Osachuk, a graduate of Carihi, will take the pitch tomorrow as the Lindenwood University Lions of St. Charles, Missouri, open the women’s 15s collegiate rugby season against Northern Iowa. She signed to play for the program — which finished second in last spring’s U.S. Collegiate Championships in women’s 7s — after meeting the program’s coach during that earlier trip to Las Vegas.
“I was very taken by surprise,” Osachuk said of her recruitment. “We were playing and after the game the Lindenwood coach came up and talked to us. I was like, ‘A school? Cool.’”
Osachuk caught the attention of Lindenwood coach Billy Nicholas despite having played the sport of rugby for only two seasons at the time of their first meeting.
“The biggest thing I saw was, besides she had the basic skills down, that she had some really good decision-making skills,” Nicholas said. “For a latecomer to rugby, she picked up on the game really quickly, was able to read plays as they developed and read what opposing defenses were doing.
“I thought it would be good to put her in a full-time (rugby) environment.”
Osachuk, who received a partial athletic scholarship, had the same idea and relishes the challenge of playing for the Lions’ 15-a-side team this fall and then the 7-a-side team in the spring. But it didn’t take her long to realize she’s stepped up to higher level of intensity.
“We’ve been training together since Aug. 24, and it’s a big jump from high school,” she said. “The physical aspect of it and the commitment to the program is a big change. But I really enjoy it; I want to become a fitter player and a stronger player. I’m looking forward to where I’ll be at the end of the season.”
Osachuk grew up playing soccer, and in high school competed in basketball, volleyball and two years of wrestling. Ironically, Carihi did not begin a school rugby program until this spring, and she was unable to compete while recovering from a knee injury and surgery.
Osachuk first tried rugby near the end of her grade 10 year. After playing for the Vancouver Island U16 Tsunami, she earned a spot on the B.C. U16 provincial team and competed last summer for the Island U17 Selects in the BC Summer Games.
Kristine Osachuk with her letter of acceptance from
Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri.
In 2014, she also played high school rugby for Vanier Secondary of Courtenay, which won the provincial championship.
Earlier that year, Nicholas first met Osachuk when he was coaching a U.S. high school select squad in the New York 7s, where her B.C. team was playing. Later, they ran into each other in Las Vegas at another select tournament.
“I’ve done some select-side high school coaching and we’ve run into some very good B.C. select-side teams — sometimes unfortunately,” Nicholas added with a laugh. “I’ve always wanted to bring in some international players as well, because we have a big international student population here at Lindenwood.”
Her knee injury also wiped out Osachuk’s final season of soccer, during which she was selected co-captain of the Tyees.
“It put a huge toll on my fitness and leg strength,” she said of her forced layoff. “I did four months of hard physiotherapy and fitness and strength work to go to college (and play).
“I’m still getting up to my top fitness. I’m almost there.”
Whether her own physiotherapy and rehab played into the decision or not, Osachuck is majoring in exercise science and pre-physical therapy, and is leaning toward a career as a physiotherapist.
She admits to missing family and friends after having chosen to study so far from home, but loneliness is not a problem.
“Having a huge, 60-person rugby team, it’s easy to make friends,” she said. “There’s always something to do here. I’m never at rest.”