Gaels add two-time Olympian Benn as women’s rugby assistant coach

Napanee’s Brittany “Britt” Benn suits up for Canada during one of her many international rugby sevens appearances. Photo via Canadian Olympic Committee.

A two-time Olympian and Napanee native will soon be trading her red and white uniform for the familiar tricolour of Queen’s University, as the Queen’s Gaels recently announced the appointment of Brittany “Britt” Benn as an assistant coach for the women’s rugby team. After the Gaels launched a public search for a new assistant coach earlier this off-season, Benn described the opportunity to apply as one she couldn’t refuse.

“It’s one of those moments where your heart flutters because you know it’s an opportunity you can’t turn your back on,” Benn said in an email to Kingstonist. “I want to contribute to the growth of women’s rugby as a positive role model to the next generation of female athletes. After meeting with Head Coach Dan Valley, I instantly knew our coaching styles would align perfectly. It was one of those moments you wish to relive over and over again. We will move mountains together, and I couldn’t be more excited for those milestones.” 

After growing up in Napanee, Benn attended the University of Guelph. There she made a name for herself as a member of the Gryphons’ women’s rugby team, helping her squad win three Ontario University Athletics (OUA) gold medals and two U Sports bronze medals during her time at the school. In 2013, Benn made her international debut with the Canadian senior women’s rugby team. In 2014, Benn contributed to Team Canada’s second-place finish at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in France, the country’s best finish in tournament history. 

Despite achieving success in the 15-player rugby union format, Benn is perhaps most known for her contributions to Canada’s rugby sevens teams over the years, including a 2015 Pan-American Games Gold medal on home soil in Toronto, as well as two summer Olympics appearances

As a player with significant national and international experience, Benn said she hopes to be able to help Gaels team members deal with the challenges that come with being a high-performance athlete. “[I] know what it takes to reach the top, to chase the dream, to succeed,” she said. “My intentions are to provide the skill set and knowledge I’ve obtained over my rugby career and create as [many opportunities] as possible for these athletes to achieve their dreams. I believe my experiences and expertise… will positively contribute to the Gaels women’s rugby team [and] their goals and aspirations.”

While Benn has never served in an official coaching capacity, she does have experience leading rugby clinics in schools from her time on the Canadian Women’s rugby sevens team, which should come in handy in her new position. 

As for what kind of assistant coach Benn hopes to be, the two-time Olympian plans to lead by example, inspiring the next generation of elite players. “I envision being a positive role model for these athletes, someone they can trust, they can talk to, they can connect with. The most effective and efficient way for players to learn is to see that skill demonstrated, and that’s exactly how I intend to coach.”

“If a player is struggling with tackling, then we simply break it down, and we run through progressions until that player is confident in that skill set,” Benn explained. “If a player is struggling with fitness testing, I will be there to run beside them until the end. It’s important for these athletes to understand [that] I was in their shoes once upon a time, and I will be there to help them through this journey.”

The Gaels enter the 2023 season as the defending OUA champions, after winning gold on home soil in 2022. Photo by James Paddle-Grant, Queen’s Gaels.

This coming season, Benn will join a Gaels team that has been one of the most dominant forces in Canadian women’s university rugby in recent years. In the last three seasons, the Gaels have won two OUA gold medals, a U Sports national title in 2021, two U Sports silver medals, and an OUA silver medal. 

“Dan and his coaching staff have done an excellent job creating an environment that players can thrive in,” Benn said of the current state of the team. “I hope to contribute to this level of excellence and provide athletes with the confidence they require to perform at their fullest potential.” 

For the past seven years, Benn has lived in Victoria, BC, in close proximity to Rugby Canada’s National Training Centre in Langford. With the new assistant coaching position, Benn will be relocating back to Ontario, close to her hometown of Napanee. When asked how it felt to be returning to where she grew up, Benn referenced the popular Elvis Presley song ‘Home is Where the Heart Is.’

“I trust this is exactly where I need to be at exactly this time,” said the assistant coach. “I am very grateful for this opportunity to be so close to home. My family, friends, and hometown are able to show their support in person. Living in Victoria, BC for seven years while travelling across the world was a very different story.”

The Gaels have yet to announce their 2023 women’s rugby schedule. More information about the women’s rugby program at Queen’s is available on the team website.

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