WOLFVILLE, N.S. - Monique Coffey has always been a dynamic 'lead-by-example' performer on the rugby pitch, but she has definitely taken her play to new heights this season.
"I've definitely been developing throughout the season, and throughout my career," Coffey said in an Oct. 21 interview as she and her Acadia teammates prepared to meet St. F.X. in the AUS final Oct. 26. Both teams had already punched their tickets to the U-Sports nationals in Ottawa.
This fall, "playing as a senior, I've had to adjust how I play, and take on more of a leadership role," she says, both on and off the field. "It's been good for me. It's been more than just playing the game."
The five regular season tries Coffey scored in 2019 are the most of her four years at Acadia. Finishing among the Axewomen regular season scoring leaders, she then added a pair of tries in a 52-20 semi-final win over UPEI, but it is her 'take-no-prisoners' playing style that makes her such a valuable player.
"I'm a little short, a little small, but I can catch the ball and I can tackle anyone," she says, adding, "that's really all you need."
Growing up in Dauphin, Manitoba, Coffey began playing rugby in Grade 9. "In middle school, I played football," she says. "Some of the girls on the rugby team saw me play and 'recruited' me.
She acknowledged, "I didn't know a thing about rugby, but I loved it from the start. The first game I played, I scored, like, five tries. I thought to myself, 'I can get on board with this'."
Coffey found herself with "a lot of options" when she got to Grade 12. A long-time air cadet, she had taken aviation training as part of her cadet experience. "I considered pursuing aviation, and joining the military, but I knew more than anything, I wanted to keep playing rugby."
Acadia, as it turned out, "had everything I wanted" in terms of a post-secondary education option, including a highly regarded kinesiology program and "a great rugby program."
She played the wing position her first two seasons, scoring one try in 2016 and two in 2017. She switched to the flanker position in 2018, and this season, has played mostly fullback-15 – though she acknowledged she would likely play anywhere the coach asked her to if it would help the team.
Coffey joined an Axewomen team that had won the conference championship in 2015. Acadia has been unable to win another championship since, though the Axewomen have competed at nationals the past four seasons (and have already qualified this season) and hosted the national tournament in 2018.
Coffey is encouraged with the way Acadia has played this season, despite falling short in both regular season meetings with St. F.X., the defending national champions. "I love my teammates, and being with people every day that are as excited and committed as I am." Head coach Matt Durant and his coaching staff "really see our potential and are always pushing us to be better."
Coffey sees it as an advantage for Acadia to have St. F.X. in the same conference. "You can't be the best unless you compete against the best," she says. "Playing them as often as we do makes us better."
She believes the Axewomen "have the tools we need to win. We need to execute and execute perfectly. We have the team to do it, and I definitely think the way we've been performing, we can get it done."
Over and above her athletic and academic responsibilities, Coffey volunteers with the Best Buddies program, which sees students partnered with people with special needs. She does "cardiac rehab in the fall and kinder skills in the winter, depending on how my schedule works out," and also runs a club on campus called Athletes in Action for Christian athletes who want to integrate their faith and sport.
The emphasis on student community involvement is one of the things she likes most about Acadia – "the community feel, how all the (varsity teams) support each other. We really have each other's backs." She is also impressed with "how the community supports all the teams. You wouldn't see something like that in a bigger place, or at a bigger school."
Coffey has remained active in air cadets since coming to Wolfville and takes part in training programs at Camp Aldershot. She credits the cadet experience as having had a big impact on her life, not to mention giving her a fairly unique hobby.
"My third year in cadets, I took a basic aviation and aerospace course." She received a glider pilot scholarship and qualified for her glider pilot's license. The following summer, she received a power pilot scholarship and as a result, added her private pilot's license.
She "aged out" of cadets at age 19, following her first year at Acadia. "The next two years, though I wanted to join as a volunteer, I couldn't because I was too busy with school."
The past few summers, she has "practiced to keep up my private pilot's license," and she has also become an instructor. "They have a program through the cadets. It runs for three hours on Sundays."
Coffey and another instructor teach cadets about various aspects of aviation and aeronautics. "I love it," she says. "I especially love some of the topics we cover," including meteorology, navigation, radio communication and the theory of flight. In addition, "we do three to four hours on Tuesdays. I also teach drill, leadership and general cadet knowledge."
Coffey is scheduled to graduate in May of 2020 with her honours degree in kinesiology, specializing in psychology. She is "considering coming back" next fall to play a fifth season of rugby, "but I've also applied to med school (at McGill in Montreal)."
If she doesn't get accepted into medical school next fall, she is "leaning towards coming back for a fifth year (at Acadia)." If that happens, "I may decide to apply to other med schools."
Her long-term goal is to eventually become a doctor, "specifically a neurosurgeon." She has "done some shadowing in South Africa, both in pediatrics and in neurosurgery." As well, "there are courses students interested in becoming doctors can take to learn more about medicine."
Coffey has no regrets over having chosen Acadia to study and play rugby. "I love it here," she says – "especially the community feel." She also enjoys being busy, and the "juggling act" of being a student-athlete. "You have to be committed to what you're doing, and time management is a big part of it."