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Rode: High School Rugby Provincials off and running in Red Deer

Plenty of Central Alberta talent will be on display this weekend at rugby pitches across Red Deer
Danny Rode is a former Red Deer Advocate sports reporter.

The Notre Dame Cougars girls rugby team took a step up this season to Tier I in the Alberta Schools Athletic Association provincial championships. 

However, head coach Ian Rattan feels he has the talent to make a run at the podium as the Cougars host the provincial championships for all three tiers this weekend. 

“This is the accumulation of three years for many of our Grade 12 athletes,” Rattan said. “We were fortunate to have around 17 girls in Grade 10 coming out of the Covid break three years ago and they’ve grown together over that period of time.” 

The Cougars were Tier II the past two seasons. They lost in the zone playoffs to Lacombe three years ago before reaching the provincials last year, placing fourth. 

“This year we gained about 10 girls and so we’re Tier I,” explained Rattan, who feels Covid helped build the Notre Dame program. 

“If there was one good thing about Covid was that some high school sports, like rugby, reset the bar. There wasn’t a bunch of club kids going to Hunting Hills and (Lindsay) Thurber as they tended to do. 

“Previously, we recruited a lot of good athletes coming out of hockey and ringette who were in Grade 12 and weren’t committed beyond high school. Now we’re getting more girls who are committed to the sport.” 

Still they have several of the top multi-sport athletes in the school on their roster, led by Aeva Lott, who is one of the premier ringette goalies in the country and is vying for a spot on Team Canada, and track stars Emersyn Tonery and Cassidy Bouchard. 

The provincial track and field championships are also this weekend in Edmonton. 

“It looks like Emersyn will be able to compete for us then make it to Edmonton for the 4x100,” Rattan said. “Cassidy is in four events so we’re not sure if she can do both … we’ll see.” 

The Cougars were 4-0 in zone league play this season against Rimbey, Lacombe, Hunting Hills and LTCHS, outscoring their opponents 179-22. 

They also defeated LTCHS in the Cougars tournament. 

“Because of the two wins, we decided not to hold the Zone final between the two teams, giving everyone a chance to be healthy for the provincials,” explained Rattan. 

The Cougars were 6-2 on the season, with their two losses coming in their tournament against Raymond and Bert Church out of Airdrie. The Cougars have drawn Bert Church in their provincial opener Friday at 9 a.m. at the Collicutt Centre. 

Raymond is also in the eight-team tournament and will face Edmonton Strathcona at 10 a.m., also at the Collicutt Centre. 

LTCHS Raiders, go in as the second Zone 4 team and meet Calgary Notre Dame 10 a.m. at Notre Dame while LCI of Lethbridge clashes with Calgary All-Saints at 9 a.m. at Notre Dame. 

One of the strengths of the Cougars this season comes in the form of Grade 12 leadership, led by Lott and Tonery. 

“Aeva is a phenomenal athlete and is like an extra coach on the field,” said Rattan. “I’m not sure what I’ll do next year without her. She does such a great job with the younger kids during practices and games. 

“During matches, she’s tough to handle while off the field she’s just a great person. 

“Aeva plays the hooker position and works with our forwards while Emersyn works with our backs. The leadership the two have shown has been absolutely incredible in helping the younger girls in practice and explaining the game.” 

Rattan has 13 girls in Grade 12 with 11 in Grade 11 and four in Grade 10. 

“It’s tough to lose those 13, but we feel we have the athletes in Grade 10 and 11 with as much gusto and who will step up next season and fill that leadership role. What we need now is 10 or 11 new girls to come out next year so we can keep a full roster.” 

Rattan feels several of his players have the talent to play provincially. 

Kiera Andasol is playing with one of the top club programs in the province while Rattan feels the likes of Anna Boyer and Haley Wilkinson have the potential to play for Team Alberta. 

“I could mention our complete list,” he said. “Many of them could play if they have that desire.” 

The provincials were originally slated for Lloydminster, but they had to back out. 

“We were putting in bid so had everything in place, it was a matter of booking the fields and that were smoothly,” said Rattan. 

The Notre Dame boys also won the Tier I Zone 4 title over LTCHS. 

Both teams are in the provincials with the Cougars opening at the Collicutt Cewntre at noon Friday against Archbishop O’Leary of Edmonton while LTCHS clashes with Bowness at 11 a.m. at Notre Dame. 

The girls championship semifinals go Friday at 1 and 2 p.m. at Notre Dame with the consolation semifinals at the Collicutt Centre. Saturday sees the consolation final at 9 a.m., the bronze medal game at 10:30 a.m. and the gold medal game at noon, all the Collicutt. 

The boys semifinals — A-side at Notre Dame and consolation at Collicutt Centre — go at 3 and 4 p.m. Friday. On Saturday at Notre Dame has the consolation final at 9 a.m., the bronze medal game at 10:30 a.m. and final at noon. 

Lacombe and Hunting Hills are competing in the Tier II girls championship with West Central of Rocky Mountain House on the boys side. All games are at the Titans Park. 

Lacombe faces Lloydminster and Hunting Hills takes on Holy Trinity Academy, both at 11 a.m. Friday. The semifinals go at 2 and 3 p.m. while on Saturday the consolation final is at 9 a.m., the bronze medal game at 10:30 a.m. and final at noon. Western Central is one of three teams on the boys side and face Strathmore at 9 a.m. and Winston Churchill at noon Friday. Strathmore and Churchill clash at 3 p.m. while the final is set for 10:30 a.m. Saturday. 

The Tier III girls championship is also a three-team affair and will be held at Annie L. Gaetz. 

Rimbey represents Zone 4 and clashes with Matthew Halton at 10 a.m. and Sexsmith at 1 p.m. Matthew Halton and Sexsmith meet at 4 p.m. while the final goes Saturday at noon. 

Games Friday will be 40 minutes long, while on Saturday, games are 60 minutes. 

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at