It wasn’t easy, but Shawnigan Lake School repeated as AAA girls rugby provincial champions, winning on their home turf on Saturday afternoon.
Shawnigan defeated Carson Graham 20-7 under a light rain, fending off an Eagles team that refused to quit against the defending champs, hosts and top seeds.
“There was a lot of pressure, especially as hosts,” Shawnigan head coach Shannon Atkins conceded. “We’re building a program.”
Shawnigan got off to an excellent start when forward Mikayla Brennan-McCann took the ball over in the corner just a minute into the match. Carson controlled play for the next 20 minutes, mostly deep in the Shawnigan end. The Eagles were rewarded for their efforts with a penalty try.
“They were prepared to gain it by the inch,” Atkins said. “So we were prepared for that kind of goal-line defence.”
The defence kept Shawnigan alive until late in the half when they finally broke out of the defensive zone and worked the ball to Emily Findlay, who scored to give her team a 10-7 lead that they carried into the break.
Gracie McAllister scored twice in the second half and Shawnigan managed to keep the Carson offence at bay until the final whistle.
“Every girl felt like they were part of that victory,” Atkins said. “The expectation was hard to deal with, but this team knew – if they performed at their best – they could do it.”
Entering as the No. 1 seed in the AAA division, Shawnigan defeated Earl Marriott 42-15 in the first round on Thursday, then grounded Gleneagle 42-5 in their semifinal on Friday.
Shawnigan will see 11 players graduate this year, including captain and Canadian international Maggie Banks, but Atkins and her fellow coaches, national XV captain Laura Russell and Dani Robb, are building for the future.
Cowichan Secondary also competed in the AAA division, placing seventh. The sixth-seeded Thunderbirds opened with a loss to third-seeded Yale in their opener on Thursday, then lost to Mount Boucherie on Friday before closing out with a victory over fifth-seeded W.J. Mouat on Saturday.
Brentwood College School finished fifth in the AA division, which they hosted at their Mill Bay campus.
“I think that’s a fair result,” Brentwood coach Marius Felix said. “We’re a Grade 10 and 11-heavy team, so that’s a good place to be.”
Another year of experience will be beneficial for the Brentwood girls.
“We have a lot of kids who work hard, work together,” Felix commented.
Brentwood lost a 19-15 heartbreaker to Abbotsford in their opener, keeping them from a top-four finish, but won their remaining games, beating Langley 45-22 and fending off Mark R. Isfeld 10-7 in a downpour in Saturday’s fifth-sixth game.
“It dumped on us the entire time,” Felix said. “It’s a great equalizer for either team. There were a lot of dropped balls, a lot of mistakes.”
Several players stepped up for Brentwood at provincials, but by and large, it was a team effort.
“Overall, it was just a really good effort on our kids’ part,” Felix said. “No complaints from me. They got as much out of themselves as they could. At the end of the day, it’s a young team, and they’ve got a pretty bright future.”
Felix won’t be part of that future, however, as he is retiring at the end of June and moving to Ottawa to be closer to his children and grandchildren.
“Being part of girls high school rugby has been a privilege,” he said, noting that the sport has grown “like mad” in B.C. since 1994, when the high school girls rugby association started with 14 teams, until this year, when 77 schools competed.