Courtney Sims (left) gets some reps in Tuesday evening at the velodrome in Colwood before the Women’s B.C. Rugby sevens team headed to the Las Vegas Invitational. (Lindsey Horsting/News Gazette staff)

Courtney Sims (left) gets some reps in Tuesday evening at the velodrome in Colwood before the Women’s B.C. Rugby sevens team headed to the Las Vegas Invitational. (Lindsey Horsting/News Gazette staff)

Courtney Sims is honored to wear the B.C. jersey at the Las Vegas Invitational

The defending champs will be in a higher division at the tournament this year

West Shore resident and member of the NextGen Sevens squad, Courtney Sims, will be representing B.C. Rugby in Las Vegas this week.

Sims started playing rugby when she was in Grade 7 because her older sister Brittany played, and the two of them were very competitive, she said. Brittany is four years older than Courtney, but that didn’t stop the little sister from wanting to show she could rival her big sister. Sims fell in love with the culture of rugby. It’s a sport so inclusive, she said, and there’s a position for everyone.

“I realized very quickly no matter where you go in the world, as long as there is a rugby club, you have a place where you can find friends and feel at home,” she said.

She also possesses the physicality and skill needed to excel in the sport, but Sims credits her first rugby coach, William Hayworth, and her first teammates for helping her stick with it. Hayworth was an advocate for women’s rugby, very passionate about the game, and her teammates were strong, confident, fun and encouraging, she said.

Sims was on the NextGen Sevens team in 2016 that won the first championship that has started the notion of a hat trick. She wasn’t able to make it to Las Vegas last year for the repeat in the women’s open division because she had commitments to the University of Victoria women’s rugby team.

NextGen Sevens is looking to win its third championship in a row at the Las Vegas Invitational, but this year they are in a much tougher division of competition.

NextGen women used to compete in the women’s open division, which she described as more fun play and for developmental rugby. This year the team collectively decided to play in the elite division, a faster pace and higher calibre of rugby, she said. Teams in the elite division include the Maple Leafs and the Eagles, the Canadian and American developmental rugby teams respectively.

“In the past we haven’t really been tested, we went undefeated every time,” Sims said. “This time, it’s going to be hard, we’re being tested at every aspect of the game: contact tackling, rucking, skill, passing the ball.”

NextGen women have five returning players from previous year’s teams: Demi Stamatakis, Jessica Piotrowski, Kaitlyn Cumming, Allison MacCormack, and Sims.

She is excited for the challenge of winning this division with some of her close friends. The five of them have played 15s and sevens B.C.’s together and club rugby with the Westshore RFC, so they know each other’s tendencies, but they also get along well, she said. Sims is excited to add the talent of some 18- and 19-year-old up-and-comers to their team for the tournament.

The entire NextGen team are 15’s players and Sims said they are going to have to be more disciplined playing sevens, and spread the field to make it to the championship game in this new division.

“15s is contact driven. Sevens is all about open play and passing instead of running into the defender,” she said.

It’s a quick turnaround for the team as they arrived in Las Vegas on Wednesday afternoon and played three games Thursday morning.

They will play in Sam Boyd Stadium that can hold 40,000 people and is one of the stops on the circuit for the world men’s teams.

Even though she’s been on this stage before, she still feels honoured to represent B.C.

“Every time you put on that B.C. jersey you think about the people who put it on before you, Barbara Mervin or Andrea Burk. These international players that have all played for B.C. before. It’s kind of exhilarating to think that you’re doing the same thing that they started doing,” she said. “The three-peat would be the cherry on top.”

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