The Strathmore High School Spartans girls' rugby team won the South Central zone Championship, which earned them a spot in the upcoming provincial tournament this weekend in Edmonton.

Grade 11 rugby player Karley Clark said it was really exciting to pull off a big win, but explained it didn't come easily. Battling against Springbank in the zone finals, both teams scored early before locking down defensively. Holding a 10-5 lead at halftime, the Spartans found a way to pull away in the second half, earning a 27-5 victory. Clark credits the second half burst to all the work the team put in during practices.

"I think our team just has a lot of heart and a lot of grit and we're really well conditioned, so I think that allowed us to pull away at the end there," Clark said.

Fellow grade 11 player Kendra Schwartz added Springbank was one of their toughest opponents all season, so getting used to their speed and quality of play led to the slow start. However, once they adjusted, they knew how to attack their weak points.

"Towards the end we really got to know how they play, and we read that, and I think we just got used to them and then we could focus on our defensive work. Once we figured out how that worked, we could move on to our offensive and really push towards the end," Schwartz said.

Both Clark and Schwarts spoke about the importance of proper nutrition and conditioning as key elements of how they could pull away in the second half, which Head Coach Jerry Flaws attributes to their multi-sport background. He said they're both new to rugby but excelled in ringette and their incredible athletic ability and focus played a huge role in earning this championship win.

"(Clark and Schwartz) are by far more focused on nutrition, rest, hydration, that's all part of their daily plan when they go to compete. They've had a good effect on the other players by just modeling what they're doing, and the other ones follow along, so they're taking their multi-sport background and really adding a lot to our team," Flaws said.

Provincials comes at an unfortunate time for the Spartans, as next weekend is also the grade 12's graduation weekend so the rugby team's roster will be cut down from 17 to 12 players, with all of them being in grade 11. While Flaws is confident in the team's offensive capabilities, he said the game plan might change from their usual strategy due to the lost defense of the grade 12 players.

"In a shootout or track meet, I think we will win, but if it turns into a defensive battle, then I think that's where our struggles will be. Hopefully we can hold our own and just take advantage of our opportunities," he said.

While it won't be easy, Clark, Schwartz, and the other grade 11s are ready to step up and replace the lost production.

"I and the other great 11s are going to have to really pull through because it is the grad weekend and we're missing a lot of our grade 12s, so we're going to have to show up for ourselves and really push for that provincial win," Schwartz said.

"(It'll take) a whole bunch of leadership and just taking on the grade 12 role," Clark added.

Despite being short-handed, Flaws and the team set their sights high, as they're hoping to earn a medal in what is expected to be a highly competitive provincial tournament.

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