Ellerslie Rugby Park – Winning the first women’s rugby championship since 2014 was worth the wait for the Paul Kane Blues.
After four years of playoff losses, including three in a row in the metro Edmonton division two final, Paul Kane’s breakthrough performance was Monday’s 27-5 banner victory against the Harry Ainlay Titans.
“It’s so nice, very satisfying,” said Calleigh-Ann Woodworth, a Grade 12 outside-centre for the undefeated Blues. “For the Grade 12s, we’ve been fighting three years for this and finally we got our win against Ainlay, who we played against last year.
“This year we came back harder and fought together as a team to achieve our goal.”
Paul Kane played with a chip on its shoulder after the 27-12 setback to Ainlay.
“Losing last year was heartbreaking, but winning this year is complete redemption,” said Alena Freeman, a Grade 11 scrumhalf. “It was really, really lovely to see.”
The spotlight shone on the Grade 12s during the post-match ceremony as the seniors accepted the seventh women’s rugby championship trophy in Paul Kane history.
“For a lot of Grade 12s, this was their last game playing rugby so after having lost last year they really wanted to build it up this year and I’m glad we got to finish off strong for them,” said Ainsley Maxwell, a Grade 11 newcomer to the sport playing inside-centre.
Ironically, Ainlay finished second to Paul Kane five years ago for playoff honours and the first win for the Blues against the Titans since the 36-24 championship was during week two of the regular season.
“It helped us prepare for this game,” Woodworth said of the 29-5 result May 7. “It gave us more insight in how they play and how they work and how we work together as a team against them.”
It was now or never for Paul Kane, winner of six in a row after going 5-2 last year and both losses were against 6-0 Ainlay.
“Knowing that for four years we haven't won, it was a crazy feeling to finally do it,” Freeman said. “It’s not because of the players, it’s because of our mentality. Playing rugby is a hard battle, but we pulled through. We played as a team and that’s Paul Kane rugby.”
Maxwell agreed. “It’s all about teamwork. If everybody does their part then there are no heroes and it showed today. Everybody did their part.”
The turning point in the final, according to Freeman, was the opening try by Megan Veldhuis under the posts off a scrum inside the 22-metre line in the fourth minute.
“When Megan scored right down the middle it really raised our morale. It just made it feel like we can do this,” Freeman said.
Paul Kane kept Ainlay on its back foot by crashing the defensive line several times before Mackenzie Robertson ended the first quarter with a try in the corner after Freeman was caught in a spirited maul that moved several metres toward the try area.
Before the five-minute mark in the second quarter, Maxwell wheeled around the corner of Ainlay's defence during a lengthy run from the Paul Kane side of the halfway line and out-sprinted several chasers for the try under the posts to make it 15-0.
“I was just going for it,” Maxwell said of the play of the game. “It feels good to know you gave the team some points.”
The tries by Maxwell and Robertson also extended their scoring streaks to a season-long seven matches.
Tries by Shea McMahon and Hayley Pool and Jane Fussell’s conversion in the third quarter sealed the deal.
A breakaway dash by Ainlay (4-3) broke the shutout with around eight minutes remaining.
“Our defence played really well. We pressured up short, we were flat (as a line) and we were talking to each other so we had good communication,” said Woodworth, 18, noting the score was somewhat deceiving despite Paul Kane’s domination. “It was a tough battle. We were doing pretty good and then they fought back harder.
“It was just a fun game for everybody.”
Maxwell, 17 described the championship season as a “really rewarding” experience.
“This is my first year and it’s just great to see the atmosphere of rugby. The whole team is just a family and it felt so good winning as a family.”
Freeman, 17, echoed the same sentiments.
“Our team is incredible. There are so many personalities and so many amazing people on this team. We are friends first and then we play rugby.”
SCRUM BALLS: The Paul Kane roster included four St. Albert Catholic High School student athletes.
The Blues were presented with their championship medals by Duncan Knoll in one of his final duties as Paul Kane’s principal. The longtime and respected St. Albert educator is retiring at the end of the month.