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Banff Australian football teams win Battle of Alberta

The Banff Bisons and Bilbies are provincial champions.
The Banff Bisons women's team, also known as the Bilbies. SUBMITTED PHOTO

BANFF – It took just over a month for Banff’s first-ever women’s Australian rules football team to go from an interest-gauging social media callout to provincial footy champions.

The Banff Bisons women’s team, also known as the Bilbies, started out how you’d figure any brand new team playing in their first contest would be on the field.

By the end of the first half, they had scored one goal by kicking the ball through two goal posts, worth six points, while their opponents, the Calgary Kookaburras, had a commanding 18-point lead.

In a championship game and trying to get used to new teammates, it was going to be an uphill battle for the 10s team last Saturday (May 25) at Banff Recreation Grounds.

“It’s not easy to come back from that,” said Audrey Pring, Bilbies organizer and player.

With such a small scene in Canada for the sport, also known as footy or Aussie rules, the Bilbies were given a championship match right out of the gate – and only a month to prepare for it.

The contact game is Australia’s most popular sport and plays like a mix between rugby, basketball, and soccer. In Banff, a resort town of accents, the Australian population is usually one of its biggest year after year.

During the Bilbies first practice, five women showed up, but by the third practice there were 12 and that was enough to field a 10s team. With a mixed bag of green and experienced players, there was a lot of learning on the fly and getting comfortable with each other in real time.

“We didn’t know exactly how it was going to turn out,” said Pring of the championship match.

However, like in every sport, you can never rule an underdog out.

Following a quick goal in the second half by Pring, who scored a team-high three goals and two behinds (20 points), the rejuvenated Bilbies began a remarkable comeback and out-scored the Kookaburras 43-8 to claim gold by a final score of 49-32 in the Battle of Alberta.

“It was awesome,” said Pring. “We had a chat with one of the girls who was playing ruck … and we gave her some tips and from then on she won almost every time there was a ball up. We also did a lot more running out and getting into space and playing more of a team.”

The Bison men also were victorious in their Battle of Alberta matchup, defeating the Calgary Kangaroos 46-21. The win gives the Bisons back-to-back provincial champions status.

Following victory, the Alberta champs plan to compete this summer in Kelowna, B.C., and Calgary and they have been invited to play in Austin, Texas, this fall.

Founded in 2016, the local club joined AFL Canada as the Bow Valley Bisons. The club was revived in 2022 by Mitch McLeod and Callum Walker as the Banff Bisons following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Putting together a women’s squad was something they struggled with, but McLeod said Pring was instrumental in getting the team together.

“To see the demand from the girls in town over the last few months was massive,” said McLeod. “Getting to see women’s sport growing, not only worldwide, but for a small town like Banff to field an Australian rules football team is massive, so hopefully we can keep that going for years to come.”

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

An award-winning reporter, Jordan Small has covered sports, the arts, and news in the Bow Valley since 2014. Originally from Barrie, Ont., Jordan has lived in Alberta since 2013.
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