CANMORE – Local rugby star Holly Phillips’ evolution as an athlete over the past 12 months brought her back to the national stage after she crashed down to a low point in the sport.
The 19-year-old Canmorite was named to Rugby Canada’s 2019 U-20 women’s team, her third national team selection, and will travel to the U.K. with the team from July 15-29 for a Tri-Nations tournament against England and the U.S.
After reading of her selection via email, Phillips confessed she was relieved, but motivated after a rough 2018, where she was cut from the U-20 team, suffered an ankle injury and questioned her worth on the pitch as a member of the University of Calgary Dinos.
“It felt like I was getting selected for the first time all over again,” Phillips said. “It was a new me, it was completely different.
“I was expecting a weight [on my shoulders] to be lifted, but it transformed … It went from, I was dreading the news and I’m going to let people down and I’m going to let myself down, to the weight turning into I worked for this, now I can’t squander the opportunity.”
For most of her teenage rugby career as loosehead prop, Phillips was an intimidating force up front. Last season, though, as business picked up on the national stage, the once dominant forward had become undersized for her position and fell behind her peers.
“That was almost a rude awakening,” she said. “I thought did I peak at 18? … It lit a fire under my ass and that’s where the whole I have to put more depth in my resumé with versatility in my positioning and I have to get my strength and conditioning up to compete as an athlete who’s five foot eight instead of five foot 10 and 200 pounds in the front row.”
Phillips whole mentality for rugby changed, including adjustments to her strength and conditioning routines and diet. She trained privately at Pro-X Rugby Academy in Calgary, putting in work to become versatile as a tighthead prop and hooker, to go along with her loosehead prop expertise.
“So instead of being a player that specializes in one position, I can move to all three and that’s one of the main reasons I was selected this year,” Phillips said.
“I just took every opportunity I could to refine those skills and get into a shape where I could be threatening all the time.”
The upcoming U.K. tour will be significant for Phillips because next year, she’ll be eligible to compete amongst Canada’s senior women.
“A lot of pressure this year and most of that is coming from myself,” Phillips said.
On July 20, Phillips and the U-20 team play an exhibition match against the Loughborough Lightning. On July 24, Canada plays against the U.S. and on July 28, Canada is against England.
Phillips added she would love to stomp each team.
“For me personally, I just want to showcase the hard work that I’ve put in and play in these new positions and do it well and put my hand up for the senior women’s selection, ‘cause obviously they’re watching.”