Most years at this time in the Wildfire’s 12-year NRL history, players and bench staff are busy preparing for the NRL playoffs and the NRL Championship tournament. Not so, this year. For only the third time in 12 years, everyone has packed away their equipment and clipboards and is looking toward the 2016-17 season.
So, what happened? Why is a perennial post season participant on the sidelines watching the playoffs and regretting not being in the NRL Championships which will take place, practically in Waterloo’s backyard, just an hour’s drive down the 401 in London, ON?
The old saying, "If it wasn’t for bad luck, there would be no luck at all", probably sums up the situation. Or, in the words of head coach, David Duncan, who just completed his third season as the Wildfire leader, "It was a season of challenges and transition".
Here is a summary of what he means:
· The team’s only seasoned goalie, Hailey Moore, commenced Medical school and stopped playing ringette. This left a sophomore, Maddy Desrochers, and a rookie goalie, Emily Ferguson, to fill the goaltender duties. The two young goalies did well facing the tough challenge of NRL shooters. This experience positions them favourably for next season.
· One of the Wildfire’s seasoned centres and top offensive players, Emily Bakker, took the year off to focus on her graduate University studies.
· One of the top offensive players on the team broke her neck in the off season (see previous NRL article on Tori Duncan) playing College rugby. She has been back on the ice practicing and is expected to be active at the start of next season.
· Overall, the Wildfire had six players from the previous season not back in the line-up (1 injury, 2 retirements – Tara Gross and Lindsey Vivian, 2 school related and 1 work related – Sammy McIntosh)
· Waterloo is also one of the youngest teams in the league.
· The team is well positioned with 3 of the top 4 draft selections in the upcoming July draft.
Two comments from the Wildfire’s 2 top bench staff members sum up the season: GM, Shelly Woodley, "It’s been a tough year, and definitely not as successful as expected, but we’re looking forward to next year", and head coach, Duncan," It was a disappointment not to make it to Playoffs, having made Nationals in both of the past two seasons".
Chalk it all up to experience, coincidences, bad luck . . . . the Wildfire will be back blazing next season!