Halton Hawks hit with the best of them at rugby provincials

·4 min read

The Matthew Halton Hawks girls rugby team capped off a season of steady improvement with a wild-card berth into the provincial tournament, held June 3 and 4 in Edmonton.

The weekend outing marked the sixth time the Pincher Creek school’s rugby program had made it to provincials.

Though flying under Matthew Halton’s colours, the team was a coalition that also drew players from Pincher Creek’s St. Michael’s School, Crowsnest Pass, Lundbreck, Fort Macleod, Claresholm and Cardston.

Scheduling practices was a bit of a challenge, with the entire team practising together only once a week to cut down on travel costs, but coach Randy Whitehead says the girls were able to band together and work as a team.

“As a group of individuals from six different schools, I thought this season actually was really good. Every game we improved,” he says.

Although coming up short in the south zone’s final to formally qualify for provincials, the Hawks were invited into the tourney as a wild card after another team was unable to attend.

The girls started the weekend squaring off against the Lloydminster Barons. Both teams were evenly matched in speed and strength, though the Hawks used their slight advantage in ball possession to jump ahead to a 12-0 lead.

The Barons, however, rallied in the latter part of the second half with quick ball movements to the outside to bring the score to 12-10. Undeterred, Matthew Halton dug in defensively to keep the Barons attack at bay and secure the win.

Hawks tries were scored by Mya Lobreau and Luca Canderan, with the team’s advancement into the semifinals coming off the boot of Abi Whitehead that provided the all-important two-point conversion.

The next round offered a steep challenge in the top-seeded Sturgeon Composite Spirits, who received a bye in the first round. Having fresher legs made all the difference as the Spirits defeated the Hawks 26-8.

“We competed really well against them. They never outplayed us in terms of the physical or structural part of the game,” says Coach Whitehead.

“You don’t want to make excuses, but that day was the first time this season we played two games in 25-degree weather. That did factor in a bit, I think, in our mental alertness. They never outplayed us — just two tries where we mentally lapsed.”

Mya Lobreau found her way into the in-goal area for her second try of the tournament and Abi Whitehead rounded off the Hawks offense with a converted penalty kick.

The final game of provincials for the girls was against the Holy Trinity Knights from Okotoks, with the bronze medal on the line.

The Knights came out firing on all pistons, scoring 24 points in the first 12 minutes. A combination of fatigue and a little nervousness playing in a medal game led to several defensive breakdowns for the Hawks, though Coach Whitehead says the girls did a good job of getting back on track.

“After that opening, the next 35 minutes was a 5-0 game for Holy Trinity,” he notes. “We sort of woke up and realized we could play with them.”

Holy Trinity eventually added another two tries in the final segment of the game to cap off a 43-5 victory. Ciera Schmirler broke the shutout for the Hawks with a heroic last-minute run down the sideline, breaking a tackle on the goal line for the try.

Despite coming up short on the scoresheet, Whitehead says the girls were competitive in every game.

“You could see growth in each individual and as a team. It was nice to see,” he says. “Despite the scores, they never really got outplayed, just key breakdowns that made the difference. We showed that we belonged there.”

Playing at a higher level in the provincial tournament, he adds, was a great experience for some of the younger players.

“It was nice getting there again, especially after Covid. Most of the kids haven’t experienced provincials, so it helps them start thinking about characteristics we need as a team to get there again,” Whitehead continues.

“The kids that want to get back again, you can have those conversations with them and you can help them realize what it takes,” he says.

“That’s the big thing every year: you just want a chance to get there again.”

Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze

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