The fact the Lindsay Thurber Raiders are going back to the Alberta Schools Athletic Association boys rugby championships is not a surprise.
The fashion in which they manhandled their zone competition this year is.
The tier I final might as well have been a battle of men and boys, as they ground the speedy Notre Dame Cougars into the ground 67-5 at Titans Rugby Park on Wednesday to win their fourth straight zone title.
To say they were motivated after last year’s eighth place finish is a misnomer, they were driven.
“As soon as provincials finished, we had a team meeting and … we sat down with all of the boys and said ‘OK, you need to get bigger, stronger, fitter, harder,’ and that’s what they did,” said Raiders head coach Dean Plant, who was joined on the sidelines with Lonnie Amundson. “They finally understood what we were trying to do here and put some time in in the gym and they can see how their bodies have changed … and it shows out there when you’re much more physical.”
Mischa Maree led the Raiders with four tries while Dawson McCrea and Cody Hawkes added two, Lsyther Rodico, Adrian Ollewagen, Owen Smith and Gordi Walls each had one. McCrea also added four converts while Ryan Reddin had four.
Provincials are at McNally High School in Edmonton June 5-6.
Their own expectations are nothing short of reaching the podium — in tournament play this year they’ve tied Bishop O’Byrne out of Edmonton 0-0 and lost to Winston Churchill out of Lethbridge, in what Plant calls a valuable lesson.
Their other big asset is their depth, as evidenced by their seven different players reaching the end zone on Wednesday.
But to get to a medal position, they will not have the luxury of making mistakes early.
“You always have to win the first game, because if you lose the first game, regardless of how you do for the rest of the tournament, you can’t medal,” said Plant. “You win that and then you have a shot at a medal and that’s the key.”
Raiders 36 Cougars 5
The Lindsay Thurber Raiders made history at last year’s provincials by become the first girls team from Central Alberta to win at least bronze in tier I.
After beating the Notre Dame Cougars 36-5 on Wednesday in the zone final at Titans Park, they now have that high-bar to reach for.
“Our goal is to always finish in the top four, you want to be on the winning side right after the first game,” said Raiders head coach Bill Bowd.
“Nobody has seen us, so they don’t know how good we are, when we go in there I think we can upset anybody we play, because we play a game most teams don’t know how to play against.”
Nikki Thomas scored three tries to lead the Raiders’ attack while Muftah Adair, Angie Cuero and Reece McGuire scored one try each and Molly Rumohr was good on three converts.
Kate Jensen scored the Cougars’ lone try on the final play.
The Raiders carried the play for most of the second half and stretched their lead in the final 20 minutes with four tries.
“The more time we spent running at them, the more time they spent going backwards,” said Bowd. “If you’re going backwards in rugby, you’re also having to tackle the whole time, they just ran out of juice.”
For the Cougars, Rattan is happy with the effort put forth by his girls, they just shot themselves in the foot far too often.
But they have a strong group of girls coming back next year.
“The last 20 minutes of the game we had two Grade 12 players, everybody else was a Grade 10 or Grade 11 so that was cool to see … but we were playing at the same pace as when we had our older girls in,” said Cougars head coach Ian Rattan. “The newer girls stepped up and got a lot better over the course of the year and as a coach, that’s awesome to see.”