History was made Sunday at the Williams Lake Stampede Rugby Tournament when Williams Lake teams, for the first time in the event’s 33-year existence, swept all of the tournament’s divisions.
For the Williams Lake Rustlers men’s side the tournament win signalled the end of a 30-year drought — they first won it in 1983 — and also the club’s second championship buckle in its storied history.
The Williams Lake Hustlers ladies’ squad also etched its name on the division’s championship trophy for the fourth consecutive time — a feat never before accomplished at the tournament.
And, in the 40-plus Old Boys Division, Williams Lake survived a brutally physical matchup against Abbotsford to win 10-5 and take the championship.
The Williams Lake Rustlers men’s team battled through two days of gruelling play to remain undefeated heading into Sunday’s playoff matches, setting up a meeting with Vancouver’s Meralomas Rugby Club in the final.
After Williams Lake went up 14-0 in the first half, the Meralomas gave the Rustlers just about everything they could handle in the second frame, scoring three consecutive times to go up 19-14 with time winding down. The two clubs then traded tries — Williams Lake scored its final two tries off of kick returns — to tie it 24-24 in the dying seconds of regulation.
In overtime, a better ending couldn’t have been written when the Rustlers’ Anthony Faggiani pounded the ball to the Meralomas’ line and through a sea of bodies on the final play of the game to score and give the Rustlers a 29-24 win.
Rustlers player Riley Ilnicki said it was one of the toughest and most special games he’s been a part of.
“We started really well then full credit to the Meralomas,” Ilnicki said. “They had a really good side and they came back well and pushed us to the limits.”
Rustlers captain Nathan Stewart said the Meralomas got back in the game by switching up its defense in the second half to open up the pitch.
“They really stepped it up there and they started flooding one side, then our defense was going in the opposite direction, so that’s how they scored,” he said.
Rodger Stewart, president of the Rustlers, said the final sequence of play was a beautiful thing to witness.
“We asked the guys to be able to focus on the discipline and structure, to be able to keep their minds going on defense and use all the strategies on offense and it worked to a tee,” he said. “We drove it up to the line through a series of phases, got it setup and then Anthony manages to make the roll around the end to put it on the ground. Phenomenal.”
Men’s most valuable player went to the Rustlers’ Kane Wyatt — a University of Victoria Vikings rugby player here working for the summer. Wyatt scored once in the final for the Rustlers.
“Kane Wyatt — I don’t know what that guy is built out of,” Rodger said following the final.
Ilnicki added the Rustlers wouldn’t have been successful if it weren’t for everyone who came out to play for the team on the weekend.
“We wouldn’t have got here without our full squad,” he said. “We had lots of subs and lots of local guys come out.”
“It was a full team effort,” added longtime Rustlers player and coach, Todd Pritchard. “Everybody had to be at their best for us to succeed and they were.”
The Rustlers beat Capilano (26-10), Grand Prairie (35-12), Burnaby (20-5) and Abbotsford (57-0) en route to the final.
In the ladies’ final the Hustlers used speed to overcome a strong Capilano side, 10-5, to win the buckle.
The Hustlers said this year’s final was one of the most competitive in recent history. Capilano cut a 10-0 Hustlers lead in half and continued to pressure in Williams Lake’s end when the final whistle sounded to end the game. Sheridan Davis scored the winning try for Williams Lake.
Paul Carnes, head coach of the Hustlers, said the key to the win was getting on the scoreboard early.
“They out muscled us and everything but the girls had grit and I think by scoring a couple of tries early they were able to cement the victory,” Carnes said. “The game started to slow down there toward the end with the scrums and it was favouring them so we had to try to keep the ball moving. It was close.”
He said winning the championships four years in a row is no small feat and one the team is proud of.
“It’s well deserved,” he said. “We had some smaller numbers this year but four in a row is quite an accomplishment. They’re a special group of girls.”
Women’s most valuable player went to the Rustlers’ Kelsey Bisaro.
The Hustlers path to the final consisted of wins over the Vixens (46-0), the Scrumbags (19-0) and United (46-0).