CALGARY – Rugby culture is picking up steam again at Bow Valley high schools.
A large Bow Valley contingent of five teams flashed speed and skill on the pitch at the Clearwater Cup Rugby Sevens tournament at Calgary Rugby Union park last Friday and Saturday (May 12-13), which has dozens of schools and hundreds of athletes participating.
Four senior and junior Banff Bears boys and girls teams competed, as well as a Canmore Wolverines junior girls squad, which is brand new this season to rugby.
However, despite being rookies to the game, Wolverines head coach Shaun McQueen said the developing team outperformed expectations, finishing sixth place of 12 with a 2-3 record.
“They were learning on the job and they did themselves extremely proud,” said McQueen. “As a coach, I was blown away by their aptitude and attitude.”
Rugby sevens is featured at the Summer Olympics and is a faster, shorter, more intense version of the game with seven athletes per team playing in seven-minute halves.
To get the girls prepared for the season, McQueen had them practice tossing balls in the Canmore Collegiate cafeteria over winter. He added that they transitioned what skills they learned from school to the pitch. McQueen said he has a good feeling about the program moving forward.
“Next year is going to be pretty exciting and what I’m really excited about is we have such an ecliptic, diverse team,” said McQueen.
Grade 9 Wolverines' player Adele Sanford, who’s been a busy multi-sport athlete the past 12 months, was one of the inaugural students to join the team.
“I thought why not give it a try and I really fell in love with it,” said Sanford. “My highlight [of the tournament] was my tackling, I had a lot of fun tackling girls. When I get the ball, I can run, but when I’m not with the ball that’s definitely my strongest part of my game.”
Picking up a rugby ball and getting out on the pitch was also a first for Grade 11’s Mabel Treustedt.
“I got first try [at the Clearwater Cup],” Treustedt said. “I was just really happy in that moment. Everyone was cheering and it was a lot of fun.”
For most high school athletic programs around Alberta, the pandemic was harsh on local rugby teams. Last year was mainly a re-development season for the Banff squads, which tested out sevens teams as numbers were low.
Although sevens is a nice change of pace for the Bears, 15s reigns supreme in their territory.
“We’re a 15s team, 100 per cent,” said Ian Higginbottom, Banff Bears senior boys coach. “We’ve got 22 solid players, that’s too many to play sevens. With 15s, there’s a spot for everybody and there’s time for everyone to play.”
Banff's senior boys went 3-2 over the weekend, losing 17-5 in their final match against the Wise Wood Warriors. Although it stung for the team, they could get over it quickly thinking back on the match's highlight reel moment, courtesy of Banff's Cam Geyer, who had a monster defensive stop on a cocky Warrior. The opposing winger ran over the try line and nonchalantly breezed through looking for a better spot to touch down for a conversion, but Geyer didn't give up on the play, and smashed the ball loose, which drew a chorus of cheers from the Bears sidelines, as Banff took position.
At the Clearwater Cup, the main mission for Banff was to work on playing together, communicate, and have fun.
Banff Bears girls coach Maya Russow said the girls rucking and tackling were well executed.
"We had some really close games and the girls all really were great at communicating and working together and it was a great collaborate effort," she said.
After impressive matches, a handful of local girls from Banff and Canmore were invited to attend practice for the Calgary Mavericks, a Calgary Rugby Union team.
Banff's senior girls finished 2-3, the junior girls were 4-1, and the junior boys ended with a 2-3 record.