The word dynasty is becoming almost an understatement these days for the Carson Graham girls rugby team.
On Saturday the Eagles won an incredible seventh straight provincial championship and eighth of the past nine years, defeating G.P. Vanier secondary 10-5 in a tense final at Klahanie Park.
There are a lot of reasons Carson keeps winning at rugby, said co-coach Brad Baker, and at the top of the list is the fact that girls in the school really buy into the program. Rugby is cool at Carson, demonstrated by the fact that more than 50 girls came out for the team this season.
“Our team is from Grade 8 to 12,” said Baker. “We kind of gel together as a group and girls learn how to compete and work hard. And also it helps that we have a strong boys program at our school so we kind of work hand-in-hand with them to do what’s best for the kids.”
The Eagles came into this year’s tournament ranked No. 1 but that was mostly on reputation — the girls rugby premier league was scrapped this season, meaning the top teams in the province didn’t get a chance to play each other on a consistent basis. Carson scraped together a schedule of Lower Mainland teams with a couple of out-or-province visitors thrown in and spent the rest of the season practising hard.
In Game 1 of the provincial tournament Thursday Carson proved their worth with a 50-5 win over Walnut Grove, setting up a semifinal against the highly regarded Cowichan Thunderbirds Friday. With a spot in the final on the line the Eagles soared once more, claiming a 46-0 victory.
“That was the best game our girls have played all year,” said co-coach Rick Pimlott. “They got really fired up to get ready to play those girls.”
Carson has had more than their fair share of blowout wins during their title-winning streak but there have also been a lot of close calls as well and Saturday was no exception. Going into the final the Eagles knew they were in for a tough test against Vanier.
“We had watched them all week, they were a big team made up of a majority of Grade 12s,” said Baker. “They didn’t necessarily play an exciting brand of rugby but they were just a big, athletic team. Our girls were a little bit smaller, obviously a lot younger — we only had three Grade 12s starting out of 15 girls. . . . We looked very young and small compared to Vanier.”
Within 10 minutes Carson was on the board with Grade 11 fly half Jessica Nielson taking a blindside pass from Sam Spooner and completing a 30-yard sprint to the endzone. Nielson added the convert on her own try to make it 7-0.
The score stayed that way until early in the second half when Vanier produced a try of their own, missing the convert to make it 7-5 for Carson. From there it was full-out attack mode for Vanier as the Eagles defended furiously.
“We were on our heels for the next 10 or 12 minutes,” said Baker. “Our girls tackled unbelievable. They way they competed — just getting run over, beaten up and getting back on their feet to compete — shows a lot of character.”
A late breakout gave Carson the final points of the game as Nielson knocked in a penalty kick to make it 10-5. The streak still hung in the balance until the final whistle but the Eagles held firm to add another year to the dynasty.
“We always try to preach at Carson Graham athletics to play with a lot of pride and heart and our girls on that day definitely did,” said Baker. “Vanier probably had 70 per cent of the possession but we were able to play some good defence.”
Nielson ended up scoring all of Carson’s points.
“Jessica is definitely a key player for us, she’s been with us since Grade 8,” said Baker. “She definitely could be one of the best rugby players in the province right now in high school girls.”
Grade 12 centre Cheyenne Conrad was named to the President’s 15, the tournament all-star team, while fellow Grade 12 starters Gayle Fearnley and Ciara McDaniel helped provide leadership, said Baker.
“They’ve been with us since Grade 8 and they’ve always competed hard.”
Whether they’re blowing teams out or squeaking out championships, Carson’s success has certainly helped breed even more success, said Baker.
“One advantage we have is our girls get to compete year after year at a high level and when they do finally reach their Grade 12 year they’ve played in bigger games and they’re more well-tuned to compete,” he said. And with a young squad this season there’s not much reason to think they won’t be battling for lucky number eight in a row next year.
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While the girls tournament is on ice, the boys event is just heating up. Opening round games were played last weekend and saw five North Shore teams advance to the provincial quarterfinals which will be played May 30 in Abbotsford.
At the AAA level No. 3-ranked Carson Graham and No. 11-ranked Handsworth both scored victories and will now meet in an all-North Shore matchup. The Eagles are coming off a win over St. George’s in the Lower Mainland championship final. Carson topped North Shore rivals Argyle 52-5 in their opening provincial playoff game.
Handsworth, meanwhile, booked their ticket to the quarterfinals with a 17-15 upset over No. 6-ranked Robert Bateman from Abbotsford to continue their strong season. During Lower Mainland play earlier this year Handsworth defeated St. George’s 12-7, the only regular season loss for the Saints this season.
In AA action No. 1-ranked Collingwod beat Caledonia 53-6, No. 3-ranked Rockridge topped Alpha 46-19 and No. 8-ranked Mulgrave beat Kelowna Christian 39-12 to put a trio of North Shore teams into Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
Collingwood and Mulgrave will square off in an all-West Van battle while Rockridge will meet No. 6 Okanagan Mission.
The championship finals are scheduled for Saturday, June 2 at Abbotsford’s Rotary Stadium. For more information and updated results and schedules visit www.bcssru.com.