Photo By: Melinda Nagy/Shutterstock.com

This past week, two former Brock women’s rugby players traveled to Dubai with the Philippines National team to compete in the Asian rugby sevens Olympic world qualifiers. 

OUA all-stars Vanessa Cifuentes (‘17) and Lorahmel Matteo (’21) competed with the Philippines national team that went 0-3, finishing last in the tournament. 

“My mom is Filipino, so she was my motivation to want to represent the Philippines and wear the flag,” said Cifuentes “She is the strongest, most hardworking, selfless human being I know. I was so nervous to play on this level, but thinking of my mom and her story of how she immigrated to Canada by herself, that’s the motivation for me to know that I can because she did. I wanted to represent my mom through this jersey.” 

The Philippines national rugby team, also nicknamed The Volcanoes, has seen no international competitions due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This past week marked their official return to the international scene with a few days to practice and then a dive into the Olympic world qualifiers. 

I’ve always wanted to travel and live in the Philippines for a bit when I’m done with school. But I’ve always wanted to continue playing rugby for as long as I can. I decided I wanted to play for the Philippines and I figured it would give me both those opportunities,” said Matteo. “I’m not that in touch with my Filipino side because I’ve grown up and lived in Canada for the majority of my life. Being able to play the sport that I’m passionate about on top of representing my Filipino heritage was something that I was interested in doing when I first found out about the volcanos program.”

Most teams are fortunate enough to have their players all in the same region to train and grow together as athletes. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the Philippines national team. Their trip consisted of ten days; five days to train and two days to compete followed by a few days to explore the city of Dubai. 

The most challenging part of all of this was for sure only having five days to train with the group, considering all the other teams have the resources and money to train together and live together. In the Philippines it’s a little bit more difficult because they’re still battling with COVID-19 restrictions as well as the majority of the players are from all over the world,” said Matteo.  

Playing on a new team is difficult, and flying across the world to represent your home country on the national stage can certainly be overwhelming. For Matteo and Cifuentes however, they took it in stride.

“The experience with this group of girls [was] hands down something to remember. The culture within the Philippines rugby program is one that I’ve never been a part of, you truly feel like you’re training with family,” said Cifuentes 

Although the team went 0-3 in qualifying, it was a rewarding experience for both Cifuentes and Matteo.

“We went through the highs and lows together and it felt like a lifetime. Even though on-the-field chemistry takes time, the off-the-field chemistry was unmatched. It’s also such a rewarding feeling playing at such a high level for the first time, no matter the result, playing against Japan was a memory I’ll never forget, “ added Cifuentes. 

Both Cifuentes and Matteo sacrificed a lot to make this happen, but in the end they are happy they did it.  

“Leading up to Dubai, I felt it was really hard for me to balance everything and consequently, I didn’t have much of a social life. Now that Dubai is done, I can finally settle down and get myself into a routine. My agenda is my bible, so I live by it,” said Cifuentes. 

Despite the results, both Matteo and Cifuentes are happy that they were able to make this unique opportunity happen.