Emily Tuttosi sat in the stands and envisioned herself playing on the field one day.
The Souris, Man., native was in England in April of 2018 with her University of Calgary Dinos women’s rugby teammates to play a tour of matches against universities in the area. While on the trip, the Dinos managed to work it into their schedule to be in West London to watch the the Saracens Women defeat the Harlequins Ladies for the inaugural Premier 15s — the name of England’s top women’s rugby league — title. "I thought ‘Oh my gosh, I’d love to live and play over here,’" Tuttosi told the Free Press over Zoom.
Not only did Tuttosi have the talent to play at that level, but she also had an in. One of her Calgary coaches had a connection with one of the clubs in the league: the Loughborough Lightning. With Tuttosi being a four-time Canada West all-star, and a two-time Westman High School Rugby champion with the Souris Sabres, the Lightning were happy to welcome Tuttosi into the fold.
Despite her humble beginnings in Souris, a small town with just over 2,600 people that’s just south of Brandon, Tuttosi had officially made it to one of the most respected leagues in women’s rugby.
"People here haven’t even heard of Manitoba," Tuttosi said with a laugh. "… It’s pretty surreal because when I was in Souris playing players that were older than me going to play university rugby, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, this is so cool. I could play rugby in university?’ And now that I’ve pushed on to play in the premiership and on the international level, it’s still just kind of wild. If you would’ve asked me five years ago if this is where I’d be I probably wouldn’t have known how to answer."
Tuttosi, a former captain of Canada’s under-20 national team, spent two seasons in Loughborough before signing with the Exeter Chiefs. It’s been a massive acquisition for the Chiefs as Tuttosi, whose position is hooker, was named the club’s 2020-21 player of the year. There are five Americans on the squad as well as four Canadians. Exeter’s rugby club was founded in 1871 but didn’t have a women’s team until last year.
"To be chosen by the staff and the players as somebody that had an impact on this club in its inaugural season was very cool and a huge honour. I realized how privileged I am to be playing here working for a shirt week in and week out… I love this club and I love playing rugby and others saw that, too," said Tuttosi.
“People here haven’t even heard of Manitoba." — Emily Tuttosi
The award is appreciated, but the piece of hardware hasn’t been the most fulfilling part of playing overseas. For the 26-year-old Tuttosi, it’s been seeing the growth of the women’s game. The league is in its fifth season and still has a long way to go (most players, not including Tuttosi, are unpaid), but progress is being made.
"For the younger girls, they’re just so excited because there’s a clear pathway. Now they can be on TV, too. Our games are streamed on BBC which is huge for women’s rugby because when I was 14, I definitely never saw that. Now for the next generation coming up, they have something to watch and something to aim for."
Tuttosi has something to aim for as well. She’s hoping to land a spot on the Canadian senior women’s team ahead of the 2022 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in October. After helping the No. 4-ranked Canadians beat the No. 6-ranked Americans twice to win the World Rugby Pacific Four Series in Glendale, Colo., in November, Tuttosi will be in consideration for the big event later this year.
"I had been on the fringe (of making the national team). Obviously, I’ve been playing over here but just haven’t gotten the call back which is tough as an athlete," said Tuttosi, who has a twin sister named Amy who used to play rugby at the University of Acadia.
"I realized how privileged I am to be playing here working for a shirt week in and week out… I love this club and I love playing rugby and others saw that, too.” — Emily Tuttosi
"But, I loved rugby and wasn’t going to stop playing here to get better. So, getting the call back (for the World Rugby Pacific Four Series) was pretty special. A lot of grinding and time has gone into it and for it to pay off was awesome. My mindset now is to keep doing what I’m doing."
Exeter would be happy if Tuttosi kept doing what she’s doing as she’s helped the club to three straight victories. The Chiefs currently sit at 8-0-3 on the season which puts them in third place on the table. Last week, they defeated the Harlequin, the defending league champions, 18-17 in a match that went down to the wire.
Tuttosi has gone from dreaming of playing on the pitch in England to dominating it.
"The opportunity to fight for a shirt that has a maple leaf on it is a huge reason to be over here. This league is one of, if not the best women’s league in the world. To be playing in it is a huge privilege. For right now, for where I am, I’m willing to put other things off to essentially live the dream right now."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.