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Spirits good as gold in rugby

Sturgeon Spirits win second consecutive Tier 2 championship in provincial high school women's rugby
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QUEENS OF THE PITCH – The Sturgeon Spirits repeated as Tier 2 women's provincial gold medallists at the Alberta Schools' Athletic Association rugby championship. Sturgeon overcame a 17-7 halftime deficit to defeat the F.P. Walshe Flyers of Fort MacLeod 24-17 in Saturday's final in Lethbridge. Sturgeon's roster included 14 returnees after graduating 11 from the first provincial rugby championship team in school history in 2018. Two years ago, Sturgeon won bronze at provincials as the metro Edmonton division two champion. Sturgeon was the division one finalist this year and in 2018. Photo supplied

Repeating as provincial champions was a golden moment for the resilient Sturgeon Spirits.

Saturday's come-from-behind thriller for the women’s rugby team in the Tier 2 final, 24-17 against the F.P. Walshe Flyers, after trailing 17-7 at halftime in the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association tournament at Lethbridge, was identical to the 2018 breakthough performance as the Spirits fell behind 15-10 before rallying to defeat the Foothills Falcons 22-15 in Calgary for the first provincial rugby banner in school history.

“Last year the final game was similar in that we were trailing going into the second half and had to fight our way back to win so knowing how hard it was to win last year and the amount of work both physically and mentally needed to win really helped prepare us for this year’s repeat,” said head coach Stacie Becker, a Sturgeon Composite High School alumnus.

“As a player and coach of this wonderful game, I know how hard it is to come back from a deficit and I’m just so proud at how tough these girls are. To be part of a provincial win twice is amazing and for the wins to be back to back is definitely sweet.”

Visit for Sturgeon's provincial championship picture.

The Tier 2 draw kicked off with Friday’s decisive outcomes of 24-5 against the Joanne-Cardinal Schubert Ravens of Calgary in the round of eight and 36-5 against the Falcons of Okotoks in the semifinals.

The Flyers advanced to the final with results of 31-10 against the Charles Spencer Mavericks of Grande Prairie and 17-0 against the Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs of Calgary.

Friday’s matches were two 20-minute halves and the final was two halves of 30 minutes.

In the opening half against the Flyers, Sturgeon was on its back foot as the Fort MacLeod squad controlled play well within the opposition’s side of the halfway line.

After a lot of individually orientated play, Sturgeon managed to maintain possession long enough to score as Ashley Holden, a Grade 12 eight-man, pulled off a great individual line break by busting through at least three tackles for the try.

“During the halftime huddle (the coaching staff) could tell some of the players were disappointed in their performance. A lot of them knew that we could do so much better so we talked about our game plan and reminded them that 30 minutes is still a lot of time and we reminded them that we were in a similar position last year,” Becker said.

After the break, Sturgeon held its defence and kept applying pressure, resulting in three tries spread throughout the half.

Early in the second half, Grade 11 standoff Brooke Hedstrom was unstoppable during a 60-metre run around the defence for the try.

Sturgeon then had a try held up and knocked a ball on in the try zone, but after the knock on the Spirits were able to steal the ball back in the scrum and following a few phases Grade 11 prop Ashley Rosychuk sprinted into the try area.

The final was deadlocked at 17 until Hedstrom rattled off another spirited run and was able to offload to Samantha Watts and the first-year Grade 11 winger turned on the jets for the winning try with 10 minutes remaining.

Sturgeon's roster consisted of 14 returnees with pressure-packed championship experience. 

“Last year’s win was a big historical win for us," said Becker, a former player with the St. Albert Rugby Football Club and Alberta Pandas, who has international experience at prop. "We ended up graduating 11 players so we knew we had to have some players step up and fill new roles on the team. We had some great new additions to the team and had a few girls come up from our junior team."

As Tier 2 champions, Sturgeon was the metro Edmonton division one finalist with losses to Tier 1 teams - 29-20 to the Bev Facey Falcons (5-3) in 2018 and 53-24 to the Jasper Place Rebels (8-0) June 3 – and in 2017 the Spirits won the division two championship. Sturgeon was 5-3 both years in division one after going 7-1 in 2017 and the team’s lone loss in 10 matches that season was 36-17 in the provincial semifinals.

“I’m really happy for the Grade 12 girls that have been involved in the program for three years. To get a provincial bronze and two golds makes for a great high school rugby career," Becker said.

SCRUM BALLS: The Sturgeon men returned home as Tier 2 consolation winners after losing the provincial opener in the round of eight 19-12 to F.P. Walshe, the eventual silver medallist.

In the consolation bracket, Sturgeon defeated the Lloydminster Barons 19-5 and Notre Dame Cougars of Red Deer 24-10.

At the 2018 provincials, Sturgeon placed fourth for the second year in a row.

In the metro Edmonton division two league, Sturgeon finished 6-1 after dropping a 26-19 decision to the Archbishop Jordan Scots (6-1) in the final after winning the regular-season match 40-2 against the Sherwood Park team.

Last year Sturgeon was 0-4 after going 7-0 as the 2017 division two champion.


Jeff Hansen

About the Author: Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.
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