The metro Edmonton rugby champion Sturgeon Spirits kick off their second trip to provincials in two years as medal contenders for tier I honours.
“After winning premier we’re going to have a lot more momentum and hopefully we’ll have a good shot at medalling,” co-captain Kyle Sheehan said after Sturgeon whipped the Leduc Tigers 43-18 in the premier men’s final.
For the second year in a row Sturgeon and Leduc were headed to the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association tournament regardless of last week’s playoff result. Last year the Spirits didn’t win a match at provincials as the metro tier I (4A schools) rep after losing their first game of the season in the premier final to Leduc, a tier II (3A schools) team.
“We had all the tools to do it last year but we did it to ourselves in the final,” said Sheehan, 18, a Grade 12 inside-centre.
In the eight-team tier I bracket Friday at Ellerslie Rugby Park the Spirits tackle the Ross Sheppard Thunderbirds, the second-ranked Edmonton public team at provincials. Game time is at 11 a.m. The Spirits play again at 2:45 p.m. against the South rep or Bow Valley (South Central). Games are 40 minutes (two 20-minute halves).
On tap Saturday are the 5th/6th and 7th/8th games at 9:30 a.m., the bronze final at 1 p.m. and the gold medal final at 3:15 p.m. Playoff matches are 60 minutes (two 30-minute halves).
The Spirits set the stage for a year to remember by winning the A final at the Strathcona Druids Lynn Davies pre-season tournament in Sherwood Park. Undefeated in metro this season at 5-0-1, they averaged 46.5 points per game as the pool B leaders with three shutout wins and a 19-19 tie against the St. Francis Xavier Rams in the last game before the playoffs. The Rams bowed out to Leduc in the semifinals 32-12. They also qualified for provincials as the second-ranked metro team.
“Provincials are going to be awesome. I can’t wait,” Sheehan said. “This year we have a faster team. We’re a little more competitive and a little more aggressive.”
The Spirits had a score to settle with Leduc after last year’s disappointing finish. They racked up five straight convincing wins en route to the final before getting mauled by the Tigers 29-10.
“About 14 or 15 of us played last year when we lost to them so it was kind of like a revenge thing and it was definitely nice to beat them by as much as we did,” Sheehan said.
Leduc placed first in pool A at 3-0 and outscored teams 121 to 32 in four wins entering the final.
“We hadn’t seen them yet this year but we knew it was going to be hard. They’re a good team and we played them hard.”
The Spirits hung tough against some early Leduc pressure before they opened the scoring in the 10th minute off a ruck near the try line. They completed the rout with seven tries and some impressive kicks for points. Hard runs, tough tackles and a punishing pack paved the way to victory.
“It took a good half to get going and then we took over from there.”
The premier title was the first by the men’s rugby team. Since the formation of the metro league in 1988/89, the Spirits were crowned city conference champs in 1996, 1999 and 2001.
“To make history for our school is awesome.”