Despite being shorthanded and missing most of their grade 12 players due to graduation, the Strathmore High School (SHS) Spartans girls' rugby team won provincials. This was the school's first-ever rugby provincials championship.
It was a hard-fought weekend, with Head Coach Jerry Flaws explaining their first win against Peace River High School went down to the final seconds, followed by another tight battle in the semi-finals against Vulcan School. In the finals, the Spartans were able to come back against Frank Maddock High School, who took an early lead. However, once the Spartans earned a 7-5 lead they never looked back, ultimately earning a 22-10 championship win.
Grade 11 rugby player Bethy Salmon said it was quite thrilling to win it all, and really applauded the entire team's effort and their ability to come together shorthanded to pull off the improbable win.
"It's crazy, I didn't expect it. Rugby at our school wasn't super popular, so just coming in and just wrecking... it was amazing," Salmon said.
Fellow grade 11 player Breanne Corbiell also emphasized the full team effort and credited the championship win to their unparalleled drive to win.
"We really wanted to win this and we were pretty determined and put our mind to it," Corbiell said.
All three games over the weekend followed a similar formula: the match started off close only for the Spartans to pull away in the second half. Flaws credits this to the team's conditioning and determination but also explained the Spartans' style of play was a huge factor in helping them pull away.
"Our style is kind of chaotic, where other teams have taught more structure I'm just trying to teach flow, like move the ball, pass the ball, run quick, where they (other schools) like to slow it down and stay in a little more control. I just like to put the gas pedal down and go, let's just go full speed the whole time because nobody can keep up with us," Flaws said.
This fundamental difference in team building really benefited the Spartans, as Flaws said they have many talented athletes so trusting the players to make the right choice vs. focusing on the x's and o's allows the players to adapt to the flow of a game.
"Coaching rugby, they can't hear you from the sideline because sometimes they're 100 metres away so you have to trust them to make the right decision when that opportunity presents itself."
Another huge strength of the team was that all players were talented and could meaningfully contribute. This was yet another huge contrast to the other teams, who had one star player the Spartans had to stop vs. the Spartans having threats all over the field, rather than one standout player who was clearly above the rest.
Flaws said having an entire team of players around the same ability allowed them to pull away in the second half of games because once they tired out the one star player on the opposing side the Spartans knew they could count on their entire roster to make a difference.
Flaws and the returning players are already looking forward to next year, as they hope to build on their success and defend the title. With a championship under their belt, Flaws hopes this brings more players onto the team that want to continue building a championship-caliber program, while also continuing to work with the players already on the team and return even stronger.
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