After a close but harrowing loss against Chestermere, the OHS Spartans senior girls rugby team is looking back at a season full of highlights and tragedies, a twisting series of events with all the makings of good cinema.
“We lost a very tight one. Ten-five was the final score. We played well, but they played just a little bit better,” says Coach George Grant.
“I told them, ‘After this game, make sure that you walk around with your head up high. I know this hurts, but you're tough. You worked hard all season.'”
The entire team had high hopes of playing on Monday, which would have earned them a spot at provincial playoffs.
“But you know, we had seven injuries this season that didn't help us. You lose seven players like that, and something's got to give.”
Grant says the majority of the goalless first half against Chestermere was played in the opposing team's end of the field.
“With probably the exception of maybe a minute, we played in their end, but we just couldn't punch it in.”
“I don't know if it was because of the cold and the wet, maybe that affected us. We were nervous going in. It was a case that we just didn't finish what we'd intended to do.”
If they could have had two of the seven injured players back on the field with them, Grant believes it would have made a difference in how the Chestermere game played out.
“But all season, whenever we got an injury, we just went, ‘OK, we lost this person. We'll just move on.'”
But the OHS Spartans senior girls rugby team has never seen this many injuries in a season before, says Grant.
The team's recent league game against Notre Dame saw three key players being seriously injured.
Sage Aitken rolled her ankle, and only recently got off her crutches, while Chantelle Baril suffered a high-ankle sprain.
“Truth be known it would have been better if she'd broke her leg than getting one of these. It's the same amount of time, just without a cast.”
But Karli Coombes incurred the worst injury, said Grant, when she shattered her tailbone.
“It's one of the most excruciating injuries I have ever seen. We have to wait for it to heal on its own. Otherwise she'll have to go in for some pretty major surgery.”
“I think we had all these injuries because we were playing at such a high level this year in comparison to other years.”
“Luckily the rest of the team really stepped up and carried the load from that moment on.”
Grant says many of the girls, especially those who have been around for four years, feel hollow because of the loss.
“It's like they're missing something. I run that game through my head a thousand times, and at no time would I say ‘OK, I would have changed this here or that there.'”
“We've never been done before grad. Ever. That's the hollow feeling that everyone's feeling. I can't believe it's over.”
“What's really sickening for me is we were the second-best team in Central Alberta. We knocked off all of the Red Deer teams. The only team we lost to outside of the tournament was Rimbey, and they look very good.”
“I'm very proud of how my girls played. I look at it as we were the second-best team in the province.”
One highlight from the team's recent games was one against Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School from Red Deer.
“We took on Lindsay Thurber, a team that we have never, ever beat, and we managed to beat them. It wasn't even a close score.”
Grant says their 55-5 score was likely due to some luck, because none of Lindsay Thurber's Grade 12 players were on the field.
“At one point I even went out and told the referee to call us on everything, because it looked like we were running up the score. He could tell we weren't trying to though.”
“We've been on the other side of the 55-5 butt-smackings from them before. If we don't beat them for another 10 years, that's OK. We'll still live off the 2011 season.”
Of the 23 girls he had this season, Grant says eight members won't be returning next season, with six of those having been with him for at least three years.
“Sport is the perfect classroom in which to take a student and watch them develop into an outstanding contributor to society,” says Grant.
“The teamwork, sportsmanship, dedication, responsibility and accountability are so important in sports because you're in a fishbowl. If I couldn't coach, I don't think I would teach.”
“It's been a special season. Hats off to Chestermere.