Panthers hunt for another title

Abbotsford Sr. squad has won five out of six possible championships in last three years

Abbotsford Senior Secondary may soon have to renovate its trophy case to add more room.

Over the past three seasons, the Abbotsford Panthers senior girls rugby squad has won three consecutive provincial AA 15s titles and two out of three sevens championships.

This year’s squad are ranked top in the province and has a chance for more on-field glory, and more hardware.

A reporter at one of the Vancouver dailies has referred to the girls rugby program at the school as a dynasty.

So, what’s the secret too all this success?

One of the squad’s coaches, Peter Cannon, says the program’s philosophy can pretty much be summed up in three words.

“We’re successful because we work hard and play as a team. They have bought into our philosophy, [which is] three words:         support, communicate and believe.”

And that has translated into a lot of championship bling.

“I’m so proud of them,” he said.

Cannon – a longtime rugby player who coaches the team along with Matt Myers, Stephanie Doan and former Abby player Lauren Arthur – can often be heard reiterating that three-word mantra. Cannon noted that behind every successful senior programs there’s usually a strong feeder system.

And that’s been the case with Abbotsford Middle preparing young players to excel at the next level.

“Five of the [senior] girls on this team started as Grade 9s,” Cannon said. “They are leaders.”

Despite the fact that there are 12 graduating seniors on the team, there’s lots of talent in the pipeline for the Panthers.

“Lots of good young players who will come up and step in,” said Cannon.

One of those graduating players is star Nakisa Levale.

“She’s in a class by herself,” said Cannon.

Fortunately, she has a younger sister on the team, Tausani.

“Sani is going to be just as good.”

Nakisa, the captain of the Panthers, is excited about the team’s lofty ranking in the province.

She joined the Panthers program in Grade 10 after arriving from a different school.

“It means a lot because we have been working hard since I was in Grade 10. It’s cool to see the development.”

She is one of three sets of sisters on the team, but  you don’t have to be related to feel the sense of camaraderie on the Panthers, which is one the reasons she likes the sport so much.

“The family aspect of it,” she explained. “I’ve never been involved in a sport where all of us are so close.”

The Panthers inaugural season came in 1994, when the team finished second in the province.

Coach Stephanie Doan has been with the Panthers since  1995 – the year the team won the provincials with a roster that included future Olympian Amy Gough.

Doan credits player continuity as part of the recent success the team has had. “We’ve had some high-calibre athletes.”

This Friday and Saturday, the Panthers will be among the teams vying for BC Girls High School Rugby Association Sevens Championship in Victoria.

“Its always exciting going over to the Island,” said Cannon. “The girls look forward to it.”