A season to forget in St. Albert women’s rugby ended with a victory to remember.
In the shield consolation playoffs, the second division squad swept the three-team round-robin draw after beating up the Lep/Tigers 53-0 Wednesday at the St. Albert Rugby Football Club.
“It’s good for team morale right now after a tough season,” second-row Sarah Davis said after the last match of the year for the St. Albert ladies. “It helps build confidence going into next year.”
The seconds finished 3-9 overall after posting one win in league play as the seventh-place team in the Edmonton Rugby Union (ERU).
St. Albert also struggled in the Alberta premier division with nine losses and two wins by default as the fourth and last-place team. In the semifinals the firsts didn’t have enough bodies, including a front row, and forfeited last Saturday’s match against the defending champion Calgary Irish.
The firsts and seconds were basically the same group of players in both line-ups.
“We learned this year how to persevere and how to fight through adversity and keep trucking along as best you can,” said Davis, a veteran of the women’s program since 2004. “It was tough. In the middle of the season people were, I wouldn’t say giving up, but it felt like the heart was lacking but we would have a chat and it would be like, ‘We love this. We love this game. We love playing with each other,’ and it would come back up again.”
Numbers became an issue after the losses of blowout proportions escalated.
“Commitment needs to come up, big time. We need to have 30 girls at training,” Davis said. “We also need to believe in ourselves and know that we’re premier-calibre players and we’re not second-division players anymore. We’re right in between and we need to play like we’re capable of playing in premier.”
Last year St. Albert fielded two second-division teams at opposite ends of the competitive scale. The Blues finished 13-1 as the triple-crown winners of the ERU pennant and playoff cup and the provincial championship. The Reds, a developmental side, placed seventh at 2-9.
This year marked the first St. Albert team in premier since the 2006 winless campaign, following consecutive second division provincial titles in 2004 and 2005.
“We’re still learning how to play premier and the second division is for girls just learning rugby,” Davis said. “At both levels we had to learn how to step up the mental aspect of our game. We had to learn what is going to happen and how to react to it instead of having to stop and think about it and then make the play.”
In the second division the top four teams qualified for the ERU semifinals and the remaining teams played in the consolation round.
Last week St. Albert kicked off the shield playoffs with a decisive 20-5 road victory over the Strathcona Druids, ranked sixth at 4-5 in league play.
In the season finale, St. Albert loaned the Lep/Tigers two players so they could have a starting 15, plus one sub. The LTs were lacking players because their premier team is scheduled to play the Irish today in the provincial final and those players were ineligible to drop down to the second division team, the fifth-place ERU finishers at 5-5.
Meanwhile, St. Albert dressed every healthy carded player available for duty, 25 in total, and it showed on the solar-powered scoreboard. The first of nine tries by the seconds was scored by captain Zara Dowie in the second minute. At halftime they led by 34. Dowie also crossed the try line early in the second half.
Kris Hannah led all scorers with three tries on spirited runs. Marcia Davis also scored twice, including a magnificent end-to-end dash for a try under the posts to close out the first half.
For the second game in a row, Jasmine Van Staveren and Jen Newman advanced the ball into the try area for points. A trio of players combined to kick four conversions.
“It was so much fun,” said Davis, 23, a high school product of the Bellerose Bulldogs. “To have everybody together like that, we definitely felt like a team.”