“It was literally an underdog moment.”
That was how Jenna Elidoros, head coach of Salmon Arm Secondary’s (SAS) sevens rugby team, described the girls’ recent wins versus more experienced teams from Rutland, South Kamloops and Merritt, to become the West Zone Champions on Wednesday, May 25.
“It was a great day for them and we ended up coming first and we thought we were going to be last in the league,” said Elidoros. “Everyone was like, ‘Who is this Salmon Arm team coming out of nowhere?’ A lot of other teams have been playing for a while and they know the game, and 85 per cent of our players had never touched a rugby ball until March of this year.
“They were in tears after the game. It was a very emotional thing for all of them.”
Elidoros knew the feeling, having experienced her own share of success in school rugby. She and her sister Jade started playing in Grade 8.
“We played on the B.C. team for a number of years and then we both stopped playing due to injuries, but have been involved in rugby for the last eight to 10 years,” said Jenna, who is a learning resource teacher at South Canoe.
Jenna said last September she started assisting SAS rugby coach Greg Seed with the girls team. At that time, about four or five girls consistently showed up to play – not enough to form even a sevens team (where each side has seven players playing 14-minute games). Instead, the girls wound up joining teams from neighbouring communities to play games.
In the spring, four of the girls returned to play – again not enough to form a team.
“Then all of a sudden, 13 to 14 new girls showed up who had never played rugby,” said Jenna.
Two or three weeks into the season, there were finally enough players to compete in sevens rugby.
The team would go on to win the occasional game, with the four experienced players leading the charge.
“All of a sudden, all the other girls started to take ownership and learn the sport and learn the positions, and they worked extremely well in practice,” said Jenna who, towards the end of April, became the team’s head coach. “We just started winning more games and more girls started scoring tries, and we were getting this momentum.”
Last week, the Salmon Arm team was in Kamloops for the start of playoffs. There they won all three of their games. Jenna noted the wins came with two of their experienced players sidelined: Eve Maxwell with a broken finger and Aila Norlin with stitches after being injured with a cleat.
“Everyone was like, ‘We can’t do this without them,’ and it’s like, ‘Well yeah, you can, you guys have been working really hard,’” said Jenna. “And they started winning.”
The final top four Okanagan high school girls sevens rugby teams competed for the championship in Rutland on Wednesday. The SAS girls’ first game was against the top-ranked Rutland team. In the first two minutes the host team scored two tries.
“And they didn’t make their conversion so they were already up 10 points,” said Jenna. “So it was like, here we go.”
But the Salmon Arm team made a comeback, pulling ahead 19-17 with 40 seconds left.
“We just ended up winning it,” said Jenna.
A similar pattern played out in the second game, with the South Kamloops team starting off with a strong lead.
“And then we came back and we got two tries and we made one kick and we won 12-10,” said Jenna. “It was crazy. The girls were shaking.”
Despite their injuries, Maxwell and Norlin were determined to be in on the action.
“These girls were just ruthless!” she said.
In the final game, the SAS team handily defeated Merritt 34-5.
The win earned the Salmon Arm team a spot in provincials. Or it would have, if not for a technicality with BC School Sports.
“They claim Jackson and Sullivan are two separate schools,” said Jenna, referring to the two Salmon Arm Secondary campuses; Jackson grades 9-10 and Sullivan 11-12. “I guess they’ve denied other sports but we’ve written a proposal just stating that these girls have never played.
“I guess in the Lower Mainland they made this because before people were pulling the best players from all schools into one school and forming teams. So they deemed us as two separate schools but we’re one of the only school districts that has this weird composition of Jackson 9-10, Sullivan 11-12.”
Jenna said it’s a tough spot to be in as the girls are so dedicated and have worked so hard.
“Now we’re number one in the Okanagan and it’s such a cool title to have, but I’m going to probably have to break the news to all of them that they can’t go to provincials,” said Jenna.
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