The Hunting Hills Lightning senior boys rugby team has had a Jekyll and Hyde season, but as the playoffs come around the corner they are hoping for more of the good to shine through.
Their 69-15 loss to the Notre Dame Cougars (3-0) on Wednesday at Titans Park, encapsulated their season.
The Lightning (0-2) had beat the Cougars 20-5 earlier in the year in an exhibition game, but in the rematch they were missing several top players.
It has been a season long battle.
“I think we were maybe a little cocky that it would be easy this time — but we had our full squad, we had everyone out there (the first time),” said Lightning coach Aaron Sewards.
“It was payback time, for sure.”
The Lightning have also been dealt a couple of momentum killing blows like having their previous league game snowed out and are coming off a heart breaking, one-point loss to Cold Lake in a tournament in Drayton Valley.
The biggest thing they are hanging their hat on from the game on Wednesday is their resiliency, as they kept playing hard until the final whistle.
“At the end of the game they were still fighting and clawing,” said Sewards.
“We were down by 60 points but it didn’t matter, they were still fighting to get into that end zone.”
There is much to like about the roster they can field, if everyone is available. They do have a lot of talent with the likes of the Howse twins — Blaine and Shaun — Clay Willie and Grade 11 co-captain Zech Pilgrim, who play on Team Alberta’s U-18 squad.
“Last year (Pilgrim) was invited out to the U-18 Team Canada tryouts, he’s our playmaker, our quarterback, our general,” said Sewards. “Sometimes he tries to do a little bit too much, but he’s our heart.
Their biggest strength is with their backs while their forwards have a lot of inexperience.
“Our backs have been playing together since they were about 14 so they can read each other and they know where to go,” said Sewards.
One of their biggest challenges this year is their youth, with only one Grade 12 player — co-captain Keaton Lachance — on their roster.
But that also means their is some big potential on the horizon, including their eighthman, six-foot-five Caleb Neilsen.
“This is his first time playing rugby, he’s a basketball player and he’s loving it and getting better every game, every practice,” said Sewards. “He wants the ball and that’s impressive because we didn’t know how he’d take contact because rugby is a little different than basketball. He’s itching to play and he wants to play over summer and he wants to play next year.
“Next year should be very exciting, all of our boys will move up a grade and put on about 20 pounds and a couple of inches, they won’t look tiny any more.”
Despite their troubles and an 0-2 record with playoffs beginning on May 25, they believe they stand a puncher’s chance at making it to the league final. They have two regular season games left and think they should be able to get back to .500. Regardless they will play the second place team from Red Deer in the first round of the tier I playoffs.
If they win that game then they will be playing for a chance to go to provincials.
“We need to get that commitment from everybody — when we have our full team and everyone is in the right spot, the machine runs great,” said Sewards. “Right now we have people playing out of place, they’re not used to it, so they’re a little shy, a little hesitant.”