Rugby provincials: Panthers top T-Wolves in all-Abbotsford AA final
One of Abbotsford's great high school sports rivalries was showcased on the provincial stage on Saturday.
The Abbotsford Senior Panthers and the Robert Bateman Timberwolves met in the B.C. AA senior girls rugby championship game in Port Alberni – the rubber match of an epic season series which saw Bateman win 12-10 in league play and Abby Senior bounce back for a 5-0 victory in the Fraser Valley final.
The T-Wolves dominated the first half of the provincial title game, and led 7-0 at the break. But the Panthers regrouped and carried the play from that point, reeling off 26 consecutive points en route to a 26-12 triumph.
It marked the third straight B.C. AA crown for Abby Senior, and capped a memorable season which also saw them claim the provincial sevens rugby title.
"Bateman pressured us, they played very well, and they had possession probably 75 per cent of the time in the first half," said Panthers co-coach Peter Cannon. "And they only scored seven points.
"We basically just played defence in the first half, and we held up. We felt we could come back, and we did.
"It was a great game. The tackling on both sides was dynamic, both teams were making good runs, and we were able to capitalize. And that was the difference, I think."
The Panthers' road to the final began with a 44-0 blowout of Merritt in their tournament opener, followed by a 12-10 semifinal win over Brentwood.
Bateman, meanwhile, beat Valleyview 41-12 and Shawnigan Lake 17-12 to set up a crosstown clash for all the marbles.
The T-Wolves took the lead on a try from Katie Farnell and a convert from Sarah Miller, but Panthers' superior depth shone through in the second half. Gurpreet Dhaliwal (2), Nakisa Levale and Tausani Levale scored tries, and the Levale sisters each booted converts (two by Nakisa, one by Tausani).
Bateman captain Lauren Kerr had watched the entire B.C. tourney from the sidelines after suffering a separated shoulder in the Valley final, but T-Wolves coach Jen Ross put her in for the last five minutes of the game. Despite the fact that she had to avoid contact situations, Kerr snuck through for a late try.
"She was our captain and our leader and our heart and soul," Ross explained. "She's just given so much of herself to this program."
Minnie Inthapanya of the Panthers and the T-Wolves' Miller were named to the President's 15 all-star team, and Nakisa Levale earned player of the game honours.
"Nakisa, she's going to be something," Ross marveled. "I'd say she's the best high school rugby player in the province. She can kill you, and she did. If it weren't for her, I think the score would have been different."
The Abby-Bateman rivalry is an interesting one – the players on both sides know each other well, with many of them playing together on club, Fraser Valley and provincial rep sides.
"They're friends off the field, and that's what rugby's all about," Cannon said. "There's a camaraderie that's unlike any other game in the world."
The Panthers can now be considered a dynasty, and Cannon, a retired homebuilder, went with a construction metaphor to analyze the provincial three-peat.
"In order to build a house you have to have good material," he reasoned. "And in order to build a team, you have to have good material. These girls are good material."
LIONS BATTLE TO BRONZE
In the AAA senior girls draw, the Yale Lions notched a landmark bronze medal – the first provincial podium finish in program history.
The No. 2-seeded Fraser Valley champs opened the tourney with a 32-19 win over Carson Graham, but dropped a 10-0 decision to Elgin Park in the semis on Friday, in part because five players had to return to Abbotsford for graduation ceremonies.
Those players hustled back to Port Alberni in time for Saturday's bronze medal game, and helped the Lions to a 28-5 victory over Gleneagle. Sarah Klok earned player of the game honours, Sydney Stoltz was named to the President's 15, and Mackenzie Carson was the team's tournament MVP.
"We dominated the last game," team manager Marisa Meola said. "The girls stepped up and really proved their teamwork. They really persevered. It was all about using each other in every position."
T-WOLVES, LIONS BOYS WIN OPENERS AT B.C.'S
The senior boys rugby provincials got underway with first-round games at locations around B.C. on Saturday. Two local teams find themselves on the winning side of the draw as the scene shifts to Abbotsford's Exhibition Park for the balance of the tourney.
In the AAA draw, No. 4-seeded Fraser Valley champ Bateman crushed No. 13 South Kamloops 53-12, while No. 9 Yale engineered a mild upset, edging No. 8 Kelowna 20-18.
The Rick Hansen Hurricanes, seeded No. 11 in AA, dropped their opener 26-14 to No. 6 Hugh McRoberts.
The tourney continues with games on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at Exhibition Park. On Wednesday, Bateman plays No. 5 Lord Byng, while Yale faces No. 1 seed and five-time defending AAA champ Shawnigan Lake. Both quarter-final games start at 3:30 p.m.
Hansen takes on Glenlyon Norfolk at 9 a.m. Wednesday, while Abby Senior faces Charles Tupper in other consolation-side action, also at 9 a.m. The Panthers were a late addition to the AA field after Kalamalka of Vernon – who lost their first-round game to Southridge – was unable to attend the latter portion of the tourney.
Gold medal games are slated for 2:30 p.m. (AA) and 4 p.m. (AAA) on Saturday.