Brentwood College capped off a perfect season in the perfect way last Saturday, beating Abbotsford Collegiate to win the provincial AA girls rugby championship.
Brentwood has been on the cusp of provincial glory since winning their last title in 2009. The results in the interim have included three silvers and a bronze, and the years of patience paid off with the 27-10 win in North Vancouver "For a smaller school like us, it takes a long time to develop players," Marius Felix, who coached the Brentwood team along with Steve Cowie and Dave Grisdale, said. "We don’t bring in rugby players or try to recruit. We get athletes and teach them to play. These girls have been taught to play and they buy in, and they love it. They love to play for each other, and they get results."
Abbotsford, Felix said, was "undoubtedly the best team we’ve played all year."
"We’ve played them three times in the last three years, and they’ve all been just crackerjack games," he said. "The way we won was just terrific."
Brentwood won the provincial title game the same way they’ve been winning games all year: with steady defence and killer speed.
"Our characteristic this season has been our ability to defend really good teams terrifically and turn the ball over, which we’ve been able to do all season," Felix said. "Once we get the ball, we have other skillful, experienced and very quick players, and we’re off to the races. It’s great fun to watch."
In terms of both possession and pressure, Abbotsford dominated the first 20 minutes of the championship game, but weren’t able to turn that into offence. Brentwood held on until they were able to generate the turnover they were looking for. Two passes later, the ball was in the hands of Denise Roy – among the quickest of the quick – who ran 90 metres and beat three defenders to open the scoring with the first of her three tries.
Ciel Arbour-Boehme and Shannyn O’Callaghan also scored tries, while Brentwood limited what Abbotsford could do in response.
Brentwood opened the tournament last Thursday with a decisive 57-5 win over Heritage Park, then got past Shawnigan Lake School 33-10 in a hard-fought semifinal.
"We defended and defended and defended, and once we got turnovers, we were able to score," Felix said. "They threw the kitchen sink at us. They’ve got some very good players."
At no point did Felix feel his team was the preordained provincial champion, knowing that any of the final four teams could have claimed the title.
"On any given day, Shawnigan, Abbotsford, Lakeview or Brentwood could have won the final," he said. "There was a very high quality of rugby this year."
Shawnigan had opened the tournament with a 46-0 win over North Vancouver’s Windsor Secondary before falling to Brentwood in the semifinal, the fourth time this season that Shawnigan and Brentwood had met.
"The girls received much praise
for their extreme improvement of play and much congratulations for giving Brentwood a tough go and fighting until the very end of the game," Shawnigan coach Tanja Ness said, noting that her team scored the final try of the contest. "Shawnigan pride ran strong there."
Shawnigan virtually controlled the bronze medal game against Lakeview from start to finish, but ended up on the wrong side of a 10-5 final score.
"We had the majority of ball possession and worked hard against their strong forwards," Ness said. "Unfortunately, two mistakes in the first 10 minutes led to them having a hold of the scoreboard. We were able to get back one but couldn’t force the line to even the playing field."
Shawnigan plans to build on this year’s fourth-place finish.
"Our girls had a terrific season," Ness said. "We are a young team and now have a fantastic base to build upon next season."
Cowichan Secondary competed in the AAA girls provincial tournament, also in North Vancouver. Going in seeded seventh, the Thunderbirds lost 52-24 to Yale in their opener, and wrapped things up with a 22-7 loss to Elgin Park to finish eighth.
As for the provincial AA champions, Brentwood will lose key players Arbour-Boehme, O’Callaghan, Brooklyn Navarrete, Anita Agopyan-Miu, Cevina Ghuman, Rachael Macey and Hannah Colbourne to graduation this year, but players like Roy, Avi Sharabi and Mckenna Haz will be back to lead the team next year, which bodes well for the continuation of the legacy.
"There will be big shoes to fill," Felix acknowledged. "But I think every coach says that every year when they say goodbye to their veterans."