Rugby women on the rise

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St. Albert division one women's team showcases speed and skill in Wednesday's home opener against the Clan

The St. Albert women’s rugby team is trending in the right direction as a championship contender.

The division one squad ramped up its record to 4-1 in Wednesday’s triumphant home opener against the Clan at the St. Albert Rugby Football Club.

“We have a lot of ability and we can definitely be one of the top teams just the way we’re going right now,” said inside-centre Brie Gray, after scoring two tries in the resounding 31-19 decision to secure second place in the Edmonton Rugby Union table.

“We’ve been getting more and more glimpses of it and it’s becoming more routine I guess. We’re becoming more consistent.”

Head coach Byron Elliott is pumped over the potential of the young and talented lineup.

“I’m stoked, absolutely stoked,” said Elliott, while savouring the sweet taste of victory. “We’re building and we’re looking good going forward.

“We have so much good youth coming into the side. We had three girls today that just finished high school, Sydney (De La Mare) and the two DeWitts (twins Emily and Kendall), and they did not look out of place at all and that youth and exuberance kind of like fires up the rest of the team,” he explained. “You’ve also got your more senior heads and they’re still quite young themselves in terms of Emily (Oor) at scrumhalf, Cassie (Peterson at standoff), Sabrina (Kelly, the captain) and Jasmine (Fleming at prop) as well as leaders around the field.”

The vast potential of the SARFC women rose to the surface against the Clan.

“This was definitely our best game by far that we’ve played together as a team so that was a big victory,” Gray said. “We really meshed well. We’ve had some ups and downs in the last few games of meshing but today the back line really connected. We were all actually playing in new positions so it seemed liked it worked really well.

“Communication was strong as well. We didn’t get down on each other for like a second, even when they got those quick two tries (five minutes apart in the second half). We were all very positive throughout the whole thing.”

Any win against the Clan is extra special, especially after last year’s nasty Alberta division one affair when SARFC’s most despised rugby rival in the women’s and men’s ranks was red carded twice for punching and hair pulling late in the 30-10 win by the Edmonton club.

“We always want to come out and beat the Clan so it’s always rewarding,” Gray said.

“It’s definitely a confidence booster, especially against a team that we’ve not really tasted success against in the previous two years,” Elliott added. “It’s good to kind of get that monkey off our back so that physiological thing should be gone now.”

SARFC was locked and loaded while riddling the Clan for five tries in its home debut.

“It’s always awesome to win your home opener when the crowd is cheering for you,” Gray said.

The first of two tries by Emily DeWitt was scored in the 12th minute to complete a team-driven drive and on the kick-off to SARFC, Gray ran the ball untouched into the try area.

“I didn’t think I would score because I caught it off the kick-off. I was tired after that one but it felt good,” Gray said.

SARFC continued to press and the Clan scrambling in defence of its try line as Mackenzie Doughty and DeWitt were stopped just short of scoring in a four-minute span mid-way through the half.

On the last play before the break, Dewitt zigzagged her way for a try under the posts and Kendall DeWitt kicked her third conversion to make it 21-0.

SARFC kept rolling and seven minutes into the second half Emily was tackled in front of the try line. SARFC would eventually score two minutes later as Gray finished off a sequence of plays involving the speedy backs and the determined forwards.

“That was a team play. The forwards did really well ramming it up the middle and then it was just a slight dish to me at the very end after they put in all that work so I just had to set it down,” said Gray, 22, who played her high school rugby in Grade 10 and 11 with the metro Edmonton champion Sturgeon Spirits.

After the back-to-back tries by the Clan, SARFC regained field advantage and a questionable forward pass call wiped out Emily’s hat-trick try.

Three minutes later, Oor slipped through the Clan off a quick penalty play around the five-metre line in the 63rd minute to extend the lead to 31-12.

The Clan closed out the scoring with a converted try as SARFC made multiple substitutions while the match wound down.

“We played our game plan and we were clever about it and the girls went out there and executed it,” Elliott said. “Sure there were mistakes but you tell me a team who doesn’t make a mistake. We’re making mistakes in the right areas of the field, which is fine. I’m more than happy with that, especially with the tempo that we are playing with.”

Last weekend in Grande Prairie, SARFC rallied to win 31-29 over the Sirens (0-4) on a last-minute penalty try as Peterson was high-tackled metres from the try line and Nicole Schlemko split the uprights for her third conversion to break the tie.

“In Grande Prairie the execution was poor but this one was a complete performance by the whole squad and not just the 15 on the field. The subs that came on made a real difference,” Elliott said. “The forwards and backs were really grinding it out against a much bigger side. They took the belief of what we’re trying to instil in them and they were blowing things up and they were coming in rucking and holding their own at scrum time.”

In the post-game huddle, Elliott heap praised upon the players.

“Every accolade that comes to you tonight, take it. That was a hell of a performance by everybody. You did awesome.”

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Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.