Lady Knights priming for repeat
Rugby: HTA looking to build off zone title as Foothills eyes revenge
Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014 06:00 am
The defending South Central Zone champion is optimistic there is strength in numbers on the rugby pitch.
The Holy Trinity Academy Knights Senior girls rugby squad broke new ground as provincial debutants last season, now they’re looking to take it a step further with a new group of reinforcements totalling 32 players.
“It will help us overall, myself and them, knowing what to expect and the biggest thing was we needed more players,” said Knights head coach Darcy Gallant on the lessons from provincials. “That was one my big concerns that we would have at least 30.
“We went to provincials and in the first game we had about 20 players and we finished with 16 maybe, and that was a huge thing, we just didn’t have the depth.”
The Knights finished seventh at the Tier 1 provincials last season, where a short bench and huge jump in competition caught up to the upstart club. On the heels of a groundbreaking season, the Knights’ recruitment has gone swimmingly.
“It’s a combination of the success and that if we want to have a team we have to have the players,” the coach said.
“And I think the players, especially the Grade 12s, got a lot of girls out for the Wildrose training in the winter, that was the big factor.”
HTA boasts a strong group of incumbents with seven Grade 12s and one Grade 11 returning to the lineup, including U18 provincial team veterans in Macai Schneider and Jenna Morrison as well as scrumhalf Abi Watkins, Macaela Bolduc, Maddie Zapach and Jessica Van Vliet.
“They’ll be the core, but we have a good group of Grade 10s and 11s that are out,” Gallant noted. “They (the seniors) definitely stir the drink, they’re all important, they all do their own thing.”
Noting the lack of competitive balance at times in the Big Sky Rugby Union, Gallant has tackled the competition problem by adding more exhibition dates with teams from Calgary to Fort MacLeod. HTA opened its exhibition slate on April 11 in shutting out the Bishop Grandin Ghosts 35-0.
“Our league is not the strongest, there are a couple decent teams,” Gallant noted. “Definitely the two goals are to win at zones and see how we can do at provincials again.”
The HTA coach expects his club to be the team to beat in league play behind their stingy defence and physical ferocity on the pitch, noting strong opposition from the likes of Springbank, Strathmore and the Foothills Composite Falcons.
The Knights’ provincial berth came at the expense of the Falcons as HTA edged Foothills 15-0 to hoist the South Central zone banner.
A new crop of Foothills players hope turnabout will be fair play one season later.
Across town, the Falcons enjoyed fruitful recruitment in the off-season as well with as many as 35 players on the Foothills squad.
“It’s a great group of girls, really dedicated,” said Falcons co-coach Kevan Yeats, who’s sharing the sidelines with Jarrett Richardson. “One of the things about coaching girls is they all want to be out there, they’re there to learn and they’re really good girls this year.”
The Falcons will be led by captain Tianna Going, a Grade 12 back, on a Grade 10 and 11 heavy roster short on experience.
“We have a lot of new girls,” said Yeats. “Some of the girls have never even heard of rugby so every year you have to start from scratch. They hear about the game through friends or this or that and are interested in it and want to come out.
“A ton of Grade 10s and 11s this year so next year we’ll have a very senior-oriented team.”
In the meantime, the youthful Falcons expect to make a run in the Big Sky Rugby Union and get themselves back to the Tier I provincials for the first time since 2012.
Yeats expects the Knights to be amongst the toughest opposition.
“They’re always going to be a good team, they’re a well coached team,” Yeats said. “They’re always going to be contenders. Do I think they’re the best team? No.
“I’m fairly sure that we’re going to have a good team. We’re very deep in the roster so we can switch girls around here and there and find that perfect team we’re looking for.”
The Big Sky Rugby Union season is slated to open with a bang with back-to-back cross-town rivalry hitting the pitch on May 2.
HTA will host Foothills Composite in both Senior boys and girls rugby, a rematch of last year’s South Central Zone finals, at St. John Paul II Collegiate field.
The girls open proceedings at 5 p.m. with the boys to follow at 6:30 p.m.