Abbotsford's rugby stars shine at nationals
Abbotsford athletes were front and centre at the Rugby Canada national championships in Calgary on the weekend, helping the B.C. provincial squads to a series of sparkling results.
Team B.C. combined for four national titles, courtesy the U18 men, U18 women, U17 men and U16 men. The U16 women added a silver medal.
The U18 men played a three-game series against Ontario in the Tier 1 Elite division, and won all three games in comfortable fashion by scores of 61-14, 61-21 and 38-24.
“I’ve never had a group of guys come together within a week and play so well and respond so well to a game plan,” said team captain Jason Hignell, one of three Abbotsford players on the squad along with Gavin Rowell and Kolby Steen. “It blew my mind really.
“The strength of this team is the all-roundedness. We didn’t have superstars, we had a bunch of guys go to the game plan and play for each other. No one tried to do their own thing and it turned out.”
The U18 women's team featured an impressive 11 players with local connections – Abby high schoolers Gurpreet Dhaliwal, Autumn Garrett, Nakisa Levale, Amara Lowney, Chrissa Perez, Sydney Stoltz, Morgan Walker and Kadeja White; Cassie Baldo and Chantal MacLean, who go to school in other communities but play their club rugby in Abbotsford; and Sophia DeGianni, who was unable to play due to a broken arm but attended as a team manager. They beat Ontario 10-7 in a thrilling gold medal match, rallying from a 7-0 halftime deficit as MacLean booted the game-winning penalty kick.
B.C.'s U17 men's squad went undefeated over the course of five games in the U18 Tier 2 division, beating Quebec 35-10 in the final. Abby representation on the team included Noah Bain, Austen Zacher, Josh Thiel and Jake Thiel.
The provincial U16 Gold men's side celebrated its fourth straight national crown, blanking host Alberta 26-0 in the title game. The undefeated squad featured Abby natives Chris Combs and Josh Long.
The B.C. U16 women, coached by Abbotsford's Jen Ross and including Sophia Belsher, Mackenzie Carson, Sarah-Ann Klok, Tausani Levale, Morgan Ursel and Morgan King-Roskamp on the roster, settled for silver after falling 31-7 to Ontario in their finale.
B.C's U16 Blue men's squad dropped a 17-12 decision to Ontario in their bronze medal game. Locals on the team included Matt Calderone, Matt Francouer and Matthew Fraser.
The provincial program also sent two U14 boys teams to the national festival, where they competed against regional squads from Alberta and Newfoundland. B.C. Gold, featuring locals Cole Barker, Sachi Peterson, Carter Miller and Teo DeGianni, went a perfect 3-0, while B.C. White, with Abby's Brock McCartney, posted a 2-1 record.