The St. Albert Rugby Football Club's senior men's team capped off an already incredible season by winning their league championship match on Saturday.
In the Edmonton Rugby Union championship, the St. Albert senior men defeated Grande Prairie 52-32 on Sept. 24. Will Diederichs led the local squad by scoring four of the team's nine tries.
The game didn't start in St. Albert's favour, however, as Grande Prairie held a 12-5 lead after the first 15 minutes.
Like any strong leader, St. Albert's captain Jon Anderson gave the team some momentum as he powered his way through a strong Grande Prairie line for a try to bring the team within two. Just before the half-time whistle, Austin Mazzolini-Flynn gave St. Albert their first lead of the game with a try of his own.
St. Albert exploded in the second half, scoring 27 straight points thanks to tries by Liam Speers, Yoichi Nagase, and two from Diederichs. The try by Speers was a two-metre bulldozing effort that followed an incredible solo run by Matt Jarvis to put the team in scoring position.
Despite the game seemingly out of reach for Grande Prairie, the team didn't quit, as quick back-to-back tries brought St. Albert's lead down to 20.
In the remaining 15 minutes of play the teams took turns scoring as Diederichs found open grass for a long run to score his fourth try of the game, which Grande Prairie answered quickly.
St. Albert's Andrew Marsden scored the team's final try of the game, which Grande Prairie also answered quickly. Immediately following Grande Prairie's conversion attempt the final whistle blew, and the St. Albert men started celebrating.
The St. Albert men's team went undefeated this year, winning all 13 of their regular season and playoff games. The team's first-year coach Alexi Michel said in an interview after the game that he couldn't be more proud of his crew.
"Very proud of the boys," Michel said. "I’m really proud of the success of the team.
“I’m really happy with the season, it’s great for the group.”
Michel, who hails from France, said his goal at the beginning of the year was just to bring the team together after the senior men's team's disappointing 2021 season.
“I think we had good players, they just didn’t know how to play together," Michel said.
“My goal was just to build a team again, you know.”
Michel said although he'd like to, he hasn't decided if he will be returning to coach the team again next summer. For now, Michel said, he will be returning to Europe to coach a semi-professional team in northern Italy until next May.
“I’m a young coach and I have a lot of things to learn and it’s great to be able to learn in St. Albert and next season in Italy,” Michel said.
St. Albert's senior women's rugby team didn't fare as well as the men's team in playoff action.
Playing in their league's plate final (think bronze-medal game) on Sept. 24, the SARFC women fought to the end but came up short as they lost to the Edmonton Clansmen 40-34.
The plate match began as a game of inches as neither team was able to find much running room. The players earned their bruises as each team made tackle after tackle for the first 15 minutes of play.
Despite a strong defensive start for St. Albert highlighted by multiple goal-line stops and forced turnovers, Edmonton scored the game's first try, followed by a successful two-point conversion.
In response, St. Albert's Taylor Borschneck made sure Edmonton didn't pick up too much momentum as she took off a massive sideline run which allowed teammate Brie Gray to score the team's first try.
Before the half-time marker the teams each punched the ball in for another try, including Gray scoring her second of the game.
The field really opened up in the second half as both teams got their legs going.
Ashley Holden opened second-half scoring, which gave St. Albert their first lead of the game, and not long after that Gray scored her third try of the match to increase the lead to 22-14.
Edmonton fought back with two straight tries of their own to re-take the lead, although short-lived, as Gray once again scored for St. Albert to put her team back on top.
With 15 minutes left to play, Edmonton took advantage of a couple of St. Albert turnovers to score two straight tries, putting the game out of reach.
St. Albert did fight to the end as Kendall DeWitt scored with seconds remaining, and after kicking her own conversion, the final whistle blew.
First-year St. Albert coach Josh Elliott said after the game the result was disappointing, but he was proud of how the team played.
“They played beginning to end," Elliott said. “Both teams played really well, and I’ve got a lot of respect for both teams.
“It was a great day for rugby in general."
Elliott said he hopes the team can build off this year's success and carry it into next season.
"It was a very awesome season," he said.
“It was extremely enjoyable, everybody grew a lot, and the team was very enjoyable to be around."