It’s shaping up to be a banner year for senior girls rugby on the Semiahmoo Peninsula.
All three senior AAA teams – the Semiahmoo Totems, Earl Marriott Mariners and Elgin Park Orcas – have qualified for provincials, which are set for later this month. And while having a strong local presence in the B.C. championships isn’t rare – Elgin and Semi were there last year, and in the past, all three have qualified – what is rather noteworthy this time around is that all three sides are ranked inside the provincial top eight.
Four teams from the Fraser Valley earn berths to provincials, and on Thursday afternoon – after Peace Arch News’ press deadline – the Totems squared off against Abbotsford’s Yale Lions for the Valley title, while Earl Marriott and Elgin Park played each other in a third/fourth-place game.
“No matter what happens, we’re all in,” said Semiahmoo coach Frank Ellestad. “It’s pretty awesome.”
While Ellestad chalked up teams’ successes this year to something of a coincidence – with all three schools peaking at the same time – longtime Elgin Park coach Johan Mynhardt also suggested South Surrey’s strong rugby culture played a role.
“To be a good rugby player, you need four or five years experience – stars are not always born, they’re trained,” said Mynhardt, who has coached at Elgin Park since 1997.
“And for all (three) schools, it starts at Grade 8, and we train them and nurture them along. And with the Bayside (club) rugby program, too, by the time they get to the senior level, they’re all very good.”
Elgin Park finished second at provincials last season – losing in the finals to G.P. Vanier after a storybook run that saw the Orcas knock off the tournament’s two top seeds – and though they’ve lost six players off last year’s team, the younger players have stepped up to fill the void, Mynhardt said.
“It’s worked out well so far,” he said.
When it comes to the Totems’ success this season, Ellestad admits his squad is ahead of where he thought they’d be. The team has just one Grade 12 starter, and like Elgin Park, has relied on a talented group of younger players.
“In all honesty, we’re about nine months ahead of where I expected us to be,” he said.
Earl Marriott’s team, meanwhile, is enjoying a resurgence under the coaching of Melissa Seselja, a Semiahmoo alum who lists Ellestad as a key influence.
“It’s really exciting to seee all three schools in the top eight,” she said. “It means that rugby is growing.”
All three teams have helped sharpen each other’s skills, the coaches agreed.
“We have all had some great games against each other this year, and I think it’s making us all better as a result,” Ellestad said.
Mynhardt agreed, and predicted this run of success would be more than a one-year phenomenon – and would help women’s teams beyond the high-school level, too.
“The quality of rugby here has really improved – especially in the last four years. I think in our area here, we could really be a force.”
The senior girls’ AAA provincials are planned for Capilano University from May 21-23.