Four rugby players and a coach from Williams Lake are celebrating a silver-medal victory over the Canada Day weekend at the under-16 Provincial Regional Championships.
Held at the UBC Rugby Fields from June 29 to July 1, players Jade Meldrum, Grace Turner, Abby Urquhart and Kaycee Sapp, along with their coach, Lake City Falcons graduate and Acadia University Axewomen alumni Natasha Johnson, helped form the Thompson-Okanagan Rugby Alliance (TORA) team at the tournament over three days in gruelling-hot sun.
Johnson said players started tryouts in May where, after a 25-player roster was chosen, continued with two months of practices in either Kamloops or Kelowna weekly with a strong focus on fitness, tackling and positioning.
At PRCs, TORA played two games each day against select teams from Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island, falling only twice in six games versus the eventual tournament winners, Fraser Valley.
Making up the TORA team were players from Williams Lake, Merritt, Smithers, Penticton, Kamloops, Prince George, Salmon Arm and Lillooet.
“If you think about 25 girls from communities from Kelowna to Smithers and only having two months together it sounds like chaos,” Johnson said. “But they were playing like they’d been together five years.
“By the final, you can imagine after two-and-a-half days of hot sun and in Vancouver on the long weekend the girls were exhausted, but they pushed through it and played their hearts out. They were playing around, making videos, having fun and hit that field with so much love for each other.”
Day one of the tournament saw TORA shutout Vancouver Island 41-0, before edging North Vancouver in a close 10-7 victory.
“That was a rough one,” Johnson said. “But the girls worked hard in that game.”
On day two TORA defeated Vancouver 24-7, before falling to Fraser Valley 31-7 putting them in the semifinal against North Vancouer Island.
There, on day three, they played do a 15-0 shutout where, ultimately, they fell to Fraser Valley 24-0 in the championship.
“They’re aggressive in the ruck, they’re dirty and they’re big girls and we just couldn’t maintain it,” Johnson said. “Our forwards were very big and solid in the centre, but they were able to beat us out wide quite a bit … as a coach you don’t want them to beat you down the middle. You want them to beat you up the sidelines.”
Johnson said she wanted to thank all the players for their commitment and hard work over eight weeks of training and preparation for the tournament.
She added for herself the tournament was a homecoming, of sorts, to be making her provincial coaching debut at PRCs.
“I played in that tournament in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and with the TORA team in 2015 so that was cool to be back as a coach,” she said.
From PRCs, Meldrum and Turner were chosen to compete for Team BC in the under-16 and under-15 Western Nationals, respectively, later this summer.
“Grace would be playing in Western Nationals in Kelowna but she is travelling to Europe with her family so unable to attend and Jane will be going to Regina in the under-16 division,” Johnson said.