Sherwood Park – There is light at the end of a long and dark tunnel for women’s rugby in St. Albert.
“It’s been a tough season but we can only go forward from here,” hooker Zara Dowie said Thursday, after the premier side went down to defeat for the eighth time in 10 games. “We’ve been working hard to get better and it’s slowly coming together for us.”
The 51-5 loss to the Strathcona Druids was arguably one of the team’s better efforts of the year.
“It wasn’t as scrambled as most of our games have been. Everyone’s heads were in it even though we lost. Everyone played really, really hard,” Dowie said.
The night before against the Druids in the second division fixtures, St. Albert showed promise despite losing at home 32-17.
“It was one of the best games we’ve had this season,” said Jasmine Van Staveren, a resilient prop and the women’s club captain. “We’re gradually growing every game, especially with our defence and our talking.”
The seconds are a dismal 1-8 [63 PF/431 PA) for seventh place. Their only victory was 15-5 in Grande Prairie against the winless Sirens.
“That was awesome. It was about time too,” Dowie said. “It’s really frustrating going from a season where you win just about every game to a season where you struggle so it was really good in Grande Prairie to get that win.”
Last year in the second division the St. Albert Blues dominated the pitch while going 13-1 as the pennant winners and playoff champions in Edmonton Rugby Union and provincial gold medallists. The St. Albert Reds also placed seventh at 2-9.
This year marks the first St. Albert team in premier since 2006, when the ladies failed to win a game. They were credited with two wins this season through defaults, when the Southern Alberta Selects folded after going 0-3.
“We reached our goal in second div and now we’re starting over again. Our goal now is to reach the top of premier. You’ve got to start working your way from the bottom to the top and then you can get that winning streak in the end,” Van Staveren said. “I definitely think we can go far and we have so much time to get to that point and I know we’ll get there. We’re still a young team with tons of amazing girls coming up and I want to see our club do some amazing things.”
Despite a season of crushing defeats, St. Albert is here to stay in premier.
“We’re definitely not going back down,” said Dowie, one of the few players remaining from St. Albert’s last stab at premier.
The firsts are learning the hard way how to play at the highest level of rugby in Alberta while averaging a whopping 76.6 points against in eight losses. They were humiliated by the Calgary Irish, the reigning provincial champions, 116-0 in May in St. Albert, 80-5 last month in Calgary and 109-0 recently in Calgary, when the firsts dressed only 16 players and nine starters were missing. The Irish are the only premier team in southern Alberta and their line-up is loaded with national calibre players.
“It’s never easy losing but in order to be the best you have to lose, right?” Van Staveren said. “Every game that we have, especially against tough teams like the Irish, it’s always a learning experience for us and that is what we need because we’re still a very young team and we have so much growth room. It’s just another step forward in becoming the best.”
In the back-to-back series against the Druids, a number of players from the firsts and seconds saw action in both games.
[Wednesday] we had a legit div two team. We did have a couple of premier players that had to sub and today we had some div two players who played for us, said Dowie, who scored the third try for the seconds as a late substitute in the second half.
The Druids (3-5) were kept under wraps until their opening try in the 21st minute and at halftime led 15-0. A run from the halfway line by Kris Hannah put St. Albert on the board in the 55th minute. Katie Davis kicked the conversion. It was 22-7 when Brooke Meunier busted loose with a spirited gallop in the 66th minute.
“We played as a unit. We talked. We moved around together. It was like we were a family on the field,” said Van Staveren, 20, last year’s MVP for the Reds.
In the premier tilt on the mosquito infested Sherwood Park field, the firsts limited the Druids to three tries in the first half and nine overall. Prior losses to the Druids were 67-13 in the season opener and 65-0 last month.
Down by 36 points, the firsts got on the board with a try by rookie Caitlin Pon in the 61st minute. After the sixth try by the Druids, Sabrina Kelly kicked the ball off and inflicted pain as the lead tackler on the play. The former high school star with the Paul Kane Blues would later wrestle the ball out of a maul and quickly flipped it to Sarah Davis in front of the 22-metre line. After gaining a few yards, Davis fed it to Pon motoring down the left wing. The 2008 captain of the Bellerose Bulldogs made some nice moves to stay in bounds en route to the try area.
“We played strong today. The first 40 minutes they only had three tries on us and I think we shocked them. I don’t think they were expecting that at all. We were pressing up hard on them and they were dropping the ball and we tried to take advantage of that,” said Dowie, 23, the recipient of the most effort/least recognition award with the Blues.