Conventional sports wisdom holds that it’s tougher to defend a championship than to win it in the first place.
The Abbotsford Senior Panthers girls rugby team certainly found that maxim to be true, but nevertheless managed to claw their way to back-to-back provincial AA titles on the weekend.
The top-seeded Panthers opened the tournament at UBC’s Wolfson Fields with a 80-5 drubbing of Lillooet – a performance reminiscent of their dominant run to the 2012 championship, during which they out-scored their opponents by a cumulative total of 192-3.
But it was tougher sledding from there.
In the semifinals, Brentwood College of Mill Bay gave Abby Senior quite a scare, taking a 10-5 lead into halftime and extending it to 15-5 just after the break.
But the Panthers dug in and dominated from that point, scoring 17 unanswered points en route to a 22-15 victory.
“Brentwood came out blowing smoke out of their ears,” marveled Peter Cannon, who coaches the Panthers with Stephanie Doan and Matt Myers. “They played extremely well, with a whole lot of enthusiasm and a whole lot of effort, and they put us back on our heels.
“Nobody had put us under that kind of pressure, and it was a new experience for the girls. Once they figured out they could withstand that pressure, the whole momentum of the game changed.”
In the final, the Panthers met Heritage Park of Mission in a rematch of the Fraser Valley title game. Abby Senior had won that game 37-12, but the Highlanders came charging out of the gates and opened an early 5-0 lead.
The Panthers, though, absorbed their opponent’s best shot and dished out a few of their own, ultimately cruising to a 41-10 triumph.
“Just like we did with Brentwood, we wore them down,” Cannon said. “Our style of play, we call it tight-tight-wide, which is run the forwards at them, pull the defence in, and then take it wide and they’re chasing. We saw some wonderful support and communication between the backs.”
Nakisa Lavele and Junnaya Murphy notched two tries apiece in the title game, while Melody Algera, Tiffany Picketts and Shelby Pihl added singles. Picketts, who also booted three conversions, was named to the President’s 15 all-star team.
“I think it would be fair to say the competition was better this year (at provincials),” Cannon said, comparing his team’s 2012 championship run to 2013. “The teams were ready for us, and they wanted to beat the champion. They get themselves psyched up to play us.
“But we’re saying to ourselves, ‘We’re the champions, and we’re not going to give it away. You’re going to have to take it from us.’ Our goal was to repeat as champions, and we accomplished that goal.”
YOUTHFUL T-WOLVES FINISH FIFTH
The Robert Bateman Timberwolves, the other Abbotsford team in the AA girls field, were a youthful side to begin with, and they were riddled with injuries heading into the tourney.
But after dropping their opener to eventual silver medallist Brentwood College 25-5, the T-Wolves maximized their placing, beating Lillooet (67-5) and D.W. Poppy of Langley (22-10) to land in fifth place overall.
“I have to say, the girls impressed – they grew over the course of the tournament,” Bateman coach Jen Ross enthused. “The younger girls stepped up and embraced everything we worked on over the last couple weeks.
“We didn’t have a lot of experience (at the start of the season), and we didn’t have that many games to get into a rhythm. Mixed with injuries, it was a tough haul. But they came to play (at provincials), and it was awesome.”
Jolene Schubert, the T-Wolves’ senior lock, was named to the President’s 15.