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Caledon Citizen’s Student Athlete of the Week: Wolfpack Rugby Captain Claire VanNiejenhuis recovers from ACL injury to return to the pitch

May 16, 2024   ·   0 Comments

By Jim Stewart

Claire VanNiejenhuis captained and kicked her Hall Wolfpack to a ROPSAA Rugby championship in 2022.

The talented leader of the squad appeared headed for another stellar season when a debilitating knee injury shut down her 2023 season.

Her successful rehabilitation is a poignant one, indeed, as is her return to the rugby pitch in a Wolfpack uniform this Spring and in a Golden Gaels uniform this Fall at Queen’s University.

VanNiejenhuis expressed her gratitude at being nominated as the Caledon Citizen’s Student Athlete of the Week and explained her arduous road to recovery.

“I am honored and grateful to even be considered, let alone be picked to be Athlete of the Week. This means a lot considering just over a year ago, I was learning how to walk and run again. Therefore, this truly means a lot to my athletic career.” 

Based on this courageous comeback and her past achievements on the flag football field and rugby pitch, Wolfpack coaches Dale Paolucci and Erica Harrison nominated the Robert F. Hall Grade 12 student for community recognition in our newspaper.

Both coaches delineated VanNiejenhuis’s qualities as an exceptional athlete.

“Not only is Claire an exceptional athlete, but it is her exemplary work ethic that sets her apart from the rest. She is constantly looking to learn, better herself, and improve her own personal skills. And it is this drive for excellence that inspires the desire for success in others. Claire brings honesty and integrity to everything she does.”

Coach Paolucci and Coach Harrision also described VanNiejenhuis’s qualities as a student at Robert F. Hall CSS.

“Her work ethic is evident as much on and it is off the pitch. Claire is also an exemplary student in the classroom.”

What impressed the Hall Wolfpack coaches the most about this student-athlete was her “ability to lead by example, her work ethic and commitment is displayed in everything she does; her ability to connect with her teammates and be a positive role model for others.”

“She‘s the teammate that pushes others to want to do their best as well and always offers to help.”

They both were looking forward to the Spring Rugby season as VanNiejenhuis returns to the pitch.

“After being sidelined due to injury last year, we are very much looking forward to having Claire back with us this year and cannot wait to see the immediate impact she will make for us on the field in 2024.”

The two-sport athlete and Honor Roll student at Hall took time out from her second semester studies to answer our interview questions: 

Caledon Citizen:  What qualities did you demonstrate in your sports season to earn Student-Athlete of the Week honors?

Claire VanNiejenhuis: “I believe that my leadership qualities allow me to be recognized as Student-Athlete of the Week. This is because I am very understanding when it comes to rugby as it is many people’s first time playing the sport. Therefore, I try to help wherever I can in helping my new teammates learn and understand the sport.”

Caledon Citizen: What were your key statistics and performance moments from the 2022-23 season that you are most proud of?

Claire VanNiejenhuis: “Unfortunately, during the 2022/2023 season, I was not playing because I tore my ACL. However, during the 2021/2022 season, I captained the team and was the main kicker. Additionally, I am very proud to say that in that season, our team won the ROPSAA championship.”

Caledon Citizen: In addition to your high school sports team(s), what other community teams do you play for and at what level?

Claire VanNiejenhuis: “Rugby is an odd sport in the way that you can play on many teams at once. I play for the Aurora Barbarians (club team), Toronto Reds (rep/regional team) and I am a member of the Ontario Blues Development Academy.” 

Caledon Citizen: How would you describe yourself as a student at Robert F Hall? To which sports teams and clubs do you belong? Honor Roll?

Claire VanNiejenhuis: “I believe that I am a fairly well-rounded student due to my commitment and work ethic. I am part of the flag football and the rugby team at Hall. In addition to this, I have also made Honour Roll in all my years of high school and plan on doing the same this year in grade 12.”

Caledon Citizen: What are your post-secondary plans regarding prospective academic/athletic destinations?

Claire VanNiejenhuis: “Next year I will be attending Queen’s University to further both my academic and athletic career as I have officially signed for the Women’s Rugby Team. Additionally, I will be majoring in Health Sciences so I can follow my pursuit of going into the medical field.”

Caledon Citizen: Who is your role model in terms of the person you admire the most?

Claire VanNiejenhuis: “My role model is Chloe Daniels who is on the National Canadian Women’s Rugby 7’s team. This is because she is my coach’s daughter and she shows me that it is achievable for someone from our area to make it to the big stage. Furthermore, Chloe is also a great student and is getting her degree in Commerce.”



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