After finishing third four times in the five-year history of the World Series, the Canadian women's rugby sevens team is reaching for the top this season.
The goal is to topple perennial champion New Zealand and finish first on the circuit, securing in the process a favourable path as top seed at the showcase World Cup Sevens next July at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The Canadian women were runners-up to New Zealand at the last World Cup Sevens in 2013.
Australia and England will also be factors on the World Series this season.
"We'll get a good idea in Dubai where everybody's at but New Zealand's going to be the benchmark for us for sure," Canadian coach John Tait said in an interview.
The five-event World Series starts Nov. 30 in Dubai with subsequent stops in Sydney (Jan. 26-28), Kitakyushu, Japan (April 21-22), Langford, B.C., (May 12-13) and Paris (June 8-10).
The Paris event will mark the finale for both the men's and women's sevens season. The Japanese stop, meanwhile, comes a week after the Commonwealth Games in Australia in April when women's sevens will be featured for the first time.
Because of the tight scheduling, some of the Canadian women's talent may be held back from the Commonwealth Games to save it for the looming World Series event — although it may depend on how the first two stops go.
The slightest stumble on the circuit has repercussions — Tait points to a poor sixth-place finish in Dubai to kick off the 2016-17 season. Had Canada finished fifth there, it would have finished second overall behind New Zealand instead of third behind the Black Ferns and runner-up Australia.
Captain Ghislaine Landry, the World Series' all-time scoring leader with 844 points, heads up Canada's 25-woman centralized squad this season.
Landry and former skipper Jen Kish are two of nine veterans remaining from the Canadian team that won bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics. They are among the 15 members of the centralized roster who already have World Series experience.
The other 10 are seen as the next generation, coming from a new wave of sevens talent.
Tait sees this season's squad as deeper and more well-rounded than ever before, with injuries opening the door for some new talent to start the season.
Last season, Canada made three finals and won in Sydney where New Zealand suffered its only loss of the campaign — upset by the U.S. in the semifinals.
The Black Ferns beat Canada in two other finals.
In Japan, the Canadian women lost 17-14 to New Zealand on a Michaela Blyde try with no time remaining. And Tait's team was beaten 17-7 on home turf in Langford.
The Canadian women have been training since the first week of August, switching their base from Victoria's Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence to Rugby Canada's Centre of Excellence in suburban Langford.
They head to Australia later this month for a 10-day camp before playing in the Central Coast Sevens ahead of Dubai.
With several veterans recovering from injury, Tait's team may get to test its youth to start the World Series season.
Kish, who continues to train on her own in her hometown of Edmonton, is returning from a fractured hip in Langford in May. Charity Williams, Bianca Farella and Kaili Lukan are also recovering from injury.
Kayla Moleschi and Julia Greenshields are closer to full fitness.
"We'll be stretched a little bit," Tait said of the early going.
"We're hoping to finish well in Dubai and put us in a good spot for the last four tournaments to go after the Series title," he added.
Canada, which finished second overall on the circuit in 2104-15, has also posted tournament wins in Amsterdam (2015) and Clermont, France (2016).
The other Rio Olympic veterans are Britt Benn, Hannah Darling, Farella, Megan Lukan, Moleschi, Natasha Watcham-Roy and Williams. Veteran Ashley Steacy has retired.
Tait could get some reinforcements. Karen Paquin, another Olympian, may return from the 15s team although she is currently trying her hand at bobsled.
Canada’s Women’s Sevens Centralized Roster (x- denotes players still in high school programs)
x-Olivia Apps, Aurora Barbarians, Lindsay, Ont.; x-Maggie Banks, Shawnigan Lake School, Coquitlam, B.C.; Britt Benn, Guelph Redcoats, Napanee, Ont.; Pamphinette Buisa, Ottawa Irish, Gatineau, Que.; Emma Chown, Aurora Barbarians, Barrie, Ont.; Caroline Crossley, Castaway Wanderers, Victoria; Hannah Darling, Peterborough Pagans, Warsaw, Ont.; x-Olivia de Couvreur, Ottawa Irish, Ottawa; Bianca Farella, Town of Mount Royal RFC, Montreal; x-Maddy Grant, Cornwall Claymores, Cornwall, Ont.; Julia Greenshields, Sarnia Saints, Sarnia, Ont.; x-Carmen Izyk, Foothills Lions, Blackie, Alta.; Sara Kaljuvee, Toronto Scottish RFC, Ajax, Ont.; Jen Kish, Edmonton Rockers, Edmonton; Ghislaine Landry (capt.), Toronto Scottish RFC, Toronto; Nakisa Levale, Abbotsford Griffins, Abbotsford, B.C.; Tausani Levale, Abbotsford RFC, Abbotsford, B.C.; Kaili Lukan, unattached, Barrie, Ont.; Megan Lukan, unattached, Barrie, Ont.; Kayla Moleschi, Williams Lake Rustlers, Williams Lake, B.C.; Breanne Nicholas, London St. George RFC, Blenheim, Ont.; Arielle Normandin-Leclerc, TMRRFC, Montreal; Keyara Wardley, Okotoks Lions, Vulcan, Alta.; Natasha Watcham-Roy, Hull Volant, Gatineau, Que.; Charity Williams, Markham Irish, Toronto.
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press