Panthers cruise to provincial sevens rugby title

The Abbotsford Collegiate Panthers left not a shred of doubt as to the identity of B.C.'s best high school girls sevens rugby team.

The Abbotsford Collegiate girls rugby team celebrate after winning the provincial title on Saturday.

The Abbotsford Collegiate girls rugby team celebrate after winning the provincial title on Saturday.

The Abbotsford Collegiate Panthers left not a shred of doubt as to the identity of B.C.’s best high school girls sevens rugby team.

The Panthers claimed the provincial sevens title in dominant fashion, winning all six of their weekend games at UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium while out-scoring their opponents 218-5 along the way.

“What makes it more amazing in my mind is, we only had one sevens practice,” Panthers head coach Peter Cannon noted with a chuckle. “These girls, they really adapted to the style of rugby.

“If I had to say one thing we did better than anybody else, it was our defensive pressure. We scored many points by forcing the opposition into making mistakes and capitalizing on them.”

The Panthers went 3-0 in pool play on Friday, defeating Lord Byng 45-5, Kwantlen Park 44-0 and Semiahmoo 30-0. Their strong play carried over to Saturday, as they downed Lord Tweedsmuir 32-0 in the Cup quarter-final and defeated G.P. Vanier 30-0 in the Cup semifinals.

Abby Collegiate capped their run to the championship by crushing Carson Graham of North Vancouver 37-0 in the final. Lauren Arthur was named MVP of the title game after scoring a trio of tries, while Shelby Pihl, Natalie Teteris, Junnaya Murphy and Tiffany Picketts notched one try apiece. Picketts tacked on a conversion to round out the scoring.

“I’m just so proud of the group,” Cannon enthused. “And they should be proud of themselves, and they are. It’s just so much fun to see the girls when they’ve accomplished something and they’re so happy.”

The Panthers are 3-0 this season in 15s rugby, and they’re considered a top contender for the provincial AA crown. Work-to-rule job action by public school teachers has significantly impacted the senior girls rugby scene, but Cannon – a community coach – said he’s hearing the B.C. championships will go ahead as scheduled.

“We’ve been assured by the president of the B.C. High School Girls Rugby Association that the provincial tournament at Klahanie Park in West Vancouver will go on regardless,” he said. “Who knows what the final format of the provincial tournament is going to be, because who knows which teams will be in a position to want to be there? But it’s going on, whether they consolidate it into a single group of teams or not.”

Cannon believes the sevens title will serve as a major momentum boost as his team continues with its 15s campaign.

“It does so much for the girls,” he said. “You can tell them 100 times that they’re good, they’ve got a chance, just keep working at it. But when they see the results, they start to think, ‘Hey, maybe we do have a chance.'”

Robert Bateman Secondary sent two girls teams to the sevens tourney, and both showed well. Bateman ‘B’ blanked Walnut Grove ‘A’ in the Plate final (essentially the fifth/sixth place game), while Bateman ‘A’ lost 22-5 to Elgin Park in the Bowl final (seventh/eighth).

Junnaya Murphy of the Abbotsford Collegiate Panthers dashes in for a try during the B.C. high school girls rugby sevens championship game on Saturday. (Pamela Smortchevsky / BC Rugby Union photo)