While the global community was in a frenzy over the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar this past November and December, there was another major tournament that also recently captivated audiences worldwide: the Rugby World Cup 2021. From Oct. 8 to Nov. 12, 2022, all eyes, especially UCalgary’s, were on New Zealand as Canada’s women’s rugby team fought their way to the bronze medal match.
But why was UCalgary so focused on this tournament? It’s because two former Dinos rugby players, Emily Tuttosi, BSc'18, and DaLeaka Menin, BA'18, represented Canada on the world stage.
While Canada came up short in the bronze-medal match against France (0-36 France), Menin and Tuttosi gave stellar performances, highlighting the outstanding talent of Canada’s rugby team.
From Dinos to national rugby leaders
Menin and Tuttosi had always dreamed of playing on the national team, and part of the foundation that helped them get there was the time they spent as UCalgary Dinos.
For these women, their love of rugby started in grade school. Both exceptional athletes, they joined the UCalgary women’s rugby team in 2013. During that time, they led the Dinos to their first three conference championships in women’s rugby — two in 15s and one in 7s. Both earned U SPORTS All-Canadian honours during their five-year university careers, while Menin was named the national player of the year in 2016.
“UCalgary’s athletics program focuses on producing world-class athletes, and Emily and DaLeaka were both highly touted recruits that we wanted to have in our athletics program,” says Simon Chi, UCalgary Dinos women’s rugby head coach.
“During the time that they played for the Dinos, both played key roles in accelerating the trajectory of women’s rugby at the post-secondary level. It’s no surprise that these two now compete on the largest stage possible for their sport — they’re both exceptional athletes who helped shape the UCalgary Dinos rugby program.”
For Tuttosi, being a Dino gave her the basis she needed to pursue her dream.
“I’m living a dream I didn’t know I could have,” says Tuttosi.
My time as a Dino taught me the professional standards needed to launch an international career.
"For example, we had access to a high-performance weight room, and having those standards helped me transition to a professional league.”
Menin shares similar sentiments. “I never thought I’d play rugby at a high level. I’m so thankful for my time with the Dinos because they were a cornerstone that helped me get to where I am today.”
As both players neared graduation, they discussed their future rugby aspirations with Chi.
“I had contacts in the U.K., so I put them in touch with coaches over there,” says Chi. “Both Emily and DaLeaka are top athletes, so it’s amazing to see them play as professionally contracted athletes. We’re proud that UCalgary helped set the stage for their international sports careers.”
Experiencing the New Zealand rugby craze first-hand
Both Menin and Tuttosi got their first call-ups for Team Canada in university, but playing professionally in the U.K. has allowed them to carry bigger roles on the squad. For Tuttosi, the 2021 World Cup was her first world cup experience, while for Menin, it was her second.
“For me, it was definitely a highlight of my rugby career. Not only was I able to be on the squad, but I had the opportunity to take the pitch every game,” says Menin.
“It was impressive to see how well New Zealand hosted the tournament and how the entire country got behind it. I love how rugby is part of New Zealand’s everyday life, and a lot of fans came out to support us. You could really see how much women’s rugby is growing worldwide.”
When the Canadian women’s team made the Rugby World Cup final in 2014, all participating teams were non-professional. This year, Canada was the only one of the top four teams not professional. One of the hallmarks of the tournament for both players was seeing how professionalism of the sport in other countries is accelerating the growth and raising the standard of the women's game.
“Right now we’re at a turning point for women’s rugby worldwide,” explains Menin. “The Canadian national team used to have a pay-to-play model, but when I started playing with them in 2015, you no longer had to pay, but you weren’t paid either, so essentially, you ended up with zero.
“Rugby Canada now pays a small amount of money which is a huge help because we take so much time off work to train. We really look up to the professional models that England and New Zealand use for their rugby teams, and it was so cool to see this at the World Cup.”
The World Cup created many memories for both players, especially Tuttosi. While they may have lost their bronze medal match to France, Tuttosi was named one of the tournament’s top 15 players.
Menin and Tuttosi both enjoyed a couple weeks of relaxation after the tournament, but are back on the pitch competing in the Allianz Prem 15's. Tuttosi is also celebrating her accomplishment of being named to the World Rugby’s Women’s 15s 2022 Dream Team.
And as they continue their journeys, UCalgary will be on the sidelines eagerly watching their next moves and cheering on this dynamic duo.
“Emily and DaLeaka joined the Dinos together, and they have been attached at the hip all the way through to the international stage,” says Chi. “It’s been amazing to watch them share this significant part of their lives and to know that the Dinos helped play a part.”