The West Vancouver Highlanders scored an epic win in seniors boys rugby over the weekend, claiming the provincial AA title with a 33-28 win over Brentwood College.
It was a stirring victory for a public school program in a division that has long been dominated by private schools like Brentwood and Collingwood School, as well as West Van’s crosstown rivals at Rockridge Secondary. This season, the Highlanders had a hard time scraping together enough players to form a team, but when they hit the field some magic happened, and they battled their way right to the championship final and won it. It was the first-ever provincial rugby title for the Highlanders.
West Van head coach Matt Muselius crafted a fantastic write-up for the North Shore News. I am running it in its entirety here, as it provides awesome insight into the inner workings of the team and their march to a championship. Enjoy!
Coach Muselius on the story behind the Highlanders' win
The year began quite humbly, training on a flooded field and in freezing rain with a small rag-tag collection of multi-sport athletes ranging from grades 9-12, most of whom had not touched a rugby ball in over two years. Things were so humble, in fact, that there were times we thought we’d have to fold the team entirely due to lack of numbers! However, a staunch core of both senior and junior players came together and decided that come hell or high-water, they were going to field a team.
Success and buy-in came slowly but surely after that. With each win, our numbers and commitment to the structure established by the coaching staff, and to one another, grew. After a strong effort against a perennial powerhouse in Collingwood, and an emphatic win vs. arch-rival Rockridge, the boys were flying high and feeling invincible.
This feeling, however, was short-lived, as we showed up to Sir Charles Tupper Secondary the very next week and were beaten soundly and handily. In this loss, while devastating at the time, our boys finally understood something universal and fundamental, something that transcends sport and that is known to all successful people: Talent is useless if it is not paired with supreme effort and work ethic.
They knew that Tupper was less talented, and less physically gifted, but were beaten by them nonetheless for one simple reason – Tupper wanted it more! After that day, never again would they lose on account of effort. In fact, never again would they lose. Period.
From our emotional, blood-and-guts victory in front of a packed stadium vs. Collingwood in the Sea to Sky semis, to our eventual re-match with Tupper in the finals, the team had learned its hard lessons and took the knowledge that comes with such experiences into the provincials.
Our first match in the opening round vs. Langley was a lesson in patience and staying the course. They were a physical and game opponent that played brave defense, but we stuck to our system and waited for our opportunities – when they arose, we struck with precision, quickly putting the game out of reach.
In the semis, we faced a familiar opponent: Sir Charles Tupper. And they had a score to settle with us. Unfortunately though, the game never really found its flow and proved to be a penalty-riddled affair on both sides. Our skill players got creative with the few chances they had and, in the end, we were moving on to the finals for the first time in school history.
In the championship game, we were to face the juggernaut Brentwood. A rugby-mad private school with a legion of well-trained, battle-hardened, and expertly skilled players on both sides of the ball, they hadn’t lost a game all year. And I can assure you, they weren’t planning on making the provincial finals any different.
Bentwood came out like a ruthless and well-oiled machine, chewing up every square inch of the field with brutal physicality and relentless pressure. They got up by two scores early and served notice that if you wanted even a sliver of hope to beat them, it was going to take every ounce of skill, strength, bravery, effort, and desire that you had.
Fortunately for all those Highlanders in attendance and watching from home, West Van was up to the task. And then some.
Like a fighter drawing power from the taste of his own blood, the early barrage from Brentwood seemed only to awaken West Van’s desire to return the favour.
When the second half began with the score tied, the two teams went at each other like impossible beasts going blow for blow in the midst of downtown Tokyo, destroying everything in their path. It was in many ways a game of attrition; who could bend but not break? Who could absorb the most punishment and not drop to the canvas?
Midway through the second half though, West Van delivered a catastrophic blow from which Brentwood would not recover: It was an eleven-phase march from one end of the field to the other, an inspiring demonstration of sheer will that ultimately exhausted Brentwood and put West Van up 33-12.
Brentwood managed to bring the score back to a very close 28-33 but the comeback fell short. In the end, West Van, the team that almost folded in March, had done what no other team in the history of the program had ever done. The Highlanders were provincial champions.
I cannot tell you how proud I am of these guys and what they have accomplished as a public school that only had three weeks of practice before the start of the season. It was not only memorable but historic.