CANMORE – Rugby Canada knows it has something special in Krissy Scurfield.
With explosive speed, inherent athleticism and a natural wit for the game, the rising rugby star from Canmore has seriously impressed national level scouts while being an absolute menace for opposing players – all before her 18th birthday this month.
To further develop the budding prodigy's skills, Scurfield was selected to the 2021-22 Maple Leaf Academy (MLA), Rugby Canada's NextGen program for exceptional upcoming female players aspiring to compete for Canada's women's sevens team or, in Scurfield's case, the Olympic Games.
"[National rugby scout] Robin MacDowell found me at the U18 Canada camp in Edmonton at the [Butterdome] and was super impressed ... he said, 'I see Olympic potential,' and as soon as he said that it has not left my mind since that day and that's where I want to go," said Scurfield.
Rugby sevens is featured at the Summer Olympics, which is a faster, shorter, and more intense version of the game with seven athletes per team playing in seven-minute halves. In 2016, Canada's women won bronze at its Olympic debut in Rio.
"My main goal is 2024 in Paris. If not, the next one, but my goal is to go to the Olympics," said Scurfield, who plays centre, known for being powerful runners on offence and defence and excellent decision-makers and passers.
Although it may seem like she was born holding a rugby ball, Scurfield's first love of hockey defined her Olympic aspirations growing up, dreaming that she'd be skating out to centre ice during the gold medal game. Throughout high school, she was a student-athlete in AAA hockey and for the Banff Hockey Academy Bears, where a rough on-ice presence was a big part of her game.
"I'm really physical in hockey and that was kind of like a downside because I would always get penalties and stuff, but in rugby it's what you're meant to do," she said.
Her Olympic goals started shifting to rugby once she got older and more doors began opening.
She's still heartbroken to have officially "retire" from competitive hockey this year, but she's excitedly pursuing what's next for her in rugby.
Scurfield's first taste of rugby was in Grade 9 at Banff Community High School, playing 15s, but it was in her Grade 10 year that the speedy 15-year-old broke ankles and turned heads on the pitch.
Once the ball is in Scurfield's hands, she's a flash, moving from one end of the field to the other and giving big headaches to opposition.
Her skills were on full display at the 2019 zone championships at Calgary Rugby Union field, where she had a monster game – scoring five tries – to help crush arch rivals the Springbank Phoenix 43-15 and propel the Bears to back-to-back titles.
After that, the ambitious player began trying out for youth Team Alberta camps. At first, she didn't really expect much, but her performances at camps and in tournaments spoke for itself. She was scouted to U18 Canada camps, which opened up opportunities playing sevens in her age group.
At this time, she switched high schools to play in Okotoks for the hockey team Rocky Mountain Raiders. One of the best parts about the move was she was eligible to play for the Calgary Mavericks rugby team as well.
"I got to play sevens, which was huge because that would lead me to play for Team Alberta in the winter for sevens and then I got to play for the Maple Leafs that spring, so that was really big that they called me up," Scurfield said. "We had a big tournament before COVID; that's where I got the most [attention], that's where all the scouts were and stuff, so that was super huge."
Players between the ages of 18 and 22 are handpicked for MLA each year, which is a full-time commitment starting in August at Rugby Canada's headquarters in Langford, B.C.
While at the academy, Scurfield will attend the University of Victoria, which is just a few kilometres east of Langford.
"The training centre I'm going to next year is where the Olympic team trains and we're just like the girls below training to get to that level," she said.
"[U of Vic and Rugby Canada] work together, so there are a few university girls that play on the Maple Leafs, so I can train with the Maple Leafs full-time and on some days I have off I can play games with U of Vic as well."
Scurfield's first step toward new Olympic dreams had been achieved this month after her acceptance into the MLA. It's a start, but the longtime student-athlete has been pursuing a higher level of sport and knows there's a hectic, full-on lifestyle ahead to elevate her game to the next level.
"It's good in my shoes because the Olympics got pushed back a year so all the people on the verge of retiring are probably going to retire now," Scurfield said. "But it doesn't mean I have a spot still – it just opens up more opportunities."