To win a championship is to taste sweet success. To defend is divine; no one knows that better than a dedicated group of rugby players in Banff.
The Banff Bears boys high school rugby squad defended its Tier II zone championship title by defeating the Strathcona-Tweedsmuir Spartans 31-19 at the Banff Rec Grounds, Monday (June 6).
Captain Michael Soukas scored two tries and kicking machine Josh Bartlett was flawless in powering the team over their private school opponents.
“It feels really good. I thought the first one felt good, but the second… it doesn’t get better,” Soukas said.
Due to the size of the division, both teams qualified for a trip to the provincial championships, which take place in Calgary June 10-11.
The Bears drew first blood early when Bartlett kicked his first penaltyof the match from 20 yards out.
A missed tackle, though, gave the Spartans the break they needed, and a subsequent 7-3 lead.
Bartlett, not to be outdone, asked for the ball again before calmly kicking another ball through the uprights to bring the team within one (7-6).
Soukas then showed why his coaches believe he’s one of the smartest players on the pitch; intercepting an errant Spartans pass before running it in for his first try of the game in what appeared to be a huge momentum shift and a 13-7 lead.
Banff played with fire through the first half, however, hitting opponents too high and turning over too many balls. Another missed tackle and misread play again allowed the Spartans to run the field, grabbing the lead yet again at 14-13.
But Bartlett again bailed out his team with his third kick of the game, putting Banff back in control, 16-14.
And that was just the first half.
In the second, Banff scored first again, bowling over Spartan backs for a 23-14 lead. The visitors didn’t back down, again taking advantage of a miscue and miscommunication.
However, after that, Banff discovered how well they could control the ebb and flow of the play through the ruck, taking over with stifling defence and smart play on the ruck. Soukas scored his second try of the game with less than 10 minutes left, and the Spartans didn’t get a sniff after that. Bartlett added one more kick for good measure and the repeat was complete.
Minimizing mistakes and penalties proved key for Banff.
“We wanted to make sure we played hard and reduced the amount of mistakes,” Soukas said.
“It feels great. We worked hard this year and it feels great to be rewarded,” Bartlett said. “It’s a great group. I came here from New Zealand; there the talent is a little higher, but it’s nothing like this.”
Alex Boston of the Banff Rugby Football Club helped coach the squad. He was immensely proud of the team’s performance and expects even more in the future from the team.
“To back it up for the second year means a lot to us. It shows it wasn’t luck and a few good players,” Boston said.
Boston said improved defensive play was key in the second half.
“Getting up on defence. In the second, our defence was better and we had straightforward running instead of drifting off,” Boston said.
As for provincials, Boston said they have a squad that’s built to win. Last year, Banff was fifth at provincials and they believe they have a good shot at finishing even higher this year.
“I think we can go all the way through. We have the team for it.”