The Notre Dame Cougars will have their chance at redemption on Wednesday.
The Cougars boys defeated the Hunting Hills Lightning 34-17 in the Central Alberta High School Athletic Association tier I rugby semifinal on Monday at Titans Park.
The Cougars are coming off a 45-0 loss to Thurber last Wednesday, but they believe they have much more to show the defending zone champs.
“It was a big win today, a definite momentum booster, but all of us know the game on Wednesday is the one we want to win,” said Cougars star Jesse Kowalchuk, who had three tries and two converts on Monday. “The first time we played (Thurber) we didn’t show up very good, but I believe after the past couple of games we’ve played, we’re a new team and I expect a much closer match.”
Taylor Vida added two tries for Notre Dame while Beau Aubin had the other. Kevin Layton, Zech Pilgrim and Shaun Howse replied with one try each for Hunting Hills.
It was a back and forth series between the two schools all season. Hunting Hills won in exhibition, Notre Dame won during the season and this was the rubber match.
“It really could have gone anyway today,” said Cougars coach Dan Meikle. “Our position (was key), we went hard after the ball and got into the right areas. We had a strong kicking game today from Johannes Smith and Jesse Kowalchuk that put us in the right areas of the field. When you’re in the right areas of the field mistakes turn into points.”
For the Lightning, it is a tough loss, but they fought to the end, scoring two of their tries in the final 10 minutes of the semifinal.
With a team full of Grade 11 players, it gives them something to build off of for next year when they should have a strong returning class.
“We can tell them to remember how it felt to loose and then get them to remember how it felt to win and ask them which one they liked better,” said Lightning head coach Aaron Sewards. “We like to win at home, and we like to win, unfortunately it wasn’t in the cards today, but we still fought through to the end.”
One of the big differences between the two teams this year, however, was that the Lightning had no answer for Kowalchuk who was also deadly in the Cougars regular season win over Hunting Hills with three tries and seven converts.
He also starred at defensive back and kick returner for the Cougars football team, but it appears rugby will be his sport going forward with a tryout lined up for the U19 Prairies Wolf Pack Rugby, coached by Meikle, in June and a fallback option to play for the Titans.
“I took Jesse out to one tryout after he had played three games of rugby and he impressed at that level, which is the highest level of junior rugby in the Prairies,” said Meikle. “His talent is pretty unbelievable, a natural talent.”
But he will be concentrating on that more once his high school career is over.
The Cougars have a big hill to climb in just a couple of days, but Meikle says they are up for it.
“It’s a mental challenge now, the guys have to want it,” said he said. “There’s nothing as a coaching staff we can do, it has to come from the 24 players in blue and yellow jerseys, if they want it , they have to go out and take it otherwise the result will be pretty much the same.”
The final is set for 6 p.m. at Titans Park on Wednesday.
l The Cougars girls also advanced to the zone final to play Lindsay Thurber, after beating the Lightning 55-5.
Marquise Plouffe lead Notre Dame with three tries while Leah Bruner, Autumn Letkeman, Taurai Anderson, Erika Lefley, Heather Daniel and CJ Stephens all scoring one try each. Chelsea Antonio was 5-for-7 on converts.
Their final will go at 5 p.m. at Titans Park om Wednesday.