Campbell River’s girls’ rugby team is getting ready for another season on the pitch.
The school features players from both Carihi Secondary and Timberline Secondary, and has returning players, along with some new faces in the lineup.
“This is a combined high school team, and it’s been five years,” says coach Erin Young. “We may split off and do sevens rugby – a Carihi team and a Timberline team – but we may still combine and do fifteens.”
The program, she adds, has grown every year after starting with only seven players. Now there are more than 20 coming out from Grade 9 through Grade 12. The league lets the community combine players from the two schools, although there are limits on the team for the provincials.
A couple of local players, Kaitlyn Jinda and Valery Williams, are even on the long lists for national U18 team or the B.C. Elite Sevens, respectively.
“The opportunities are there, it’s amazing,” Young says.
As well, six of the local girls are also playing in the Vancouver 7s for the Thunder Aboriginal Rugby team on March 7 and 8, which is played alongside the World Rugby 7s Series stop in Vancouver.
The combined Campbell River team started practising in January and has been stepping up preparation in time for the season this spring.
Timberline teacher James Lewis is helping Young coach the group.
Kayla Christensen is one of the returning players. She says she got into the sport at the urging of her dad, who played rugby. She also two brothers that play the sport and encourage her. She admits it was a bit intimidating at first, but she got over it quickly.
“Some players will look like they’re like super-scary and strong, but a lot of the time, they’re really not,” she says with a laugh. “It’s not as intimidating after you get past your first game.”
Young, herself, only took up the sport during university, playing for the University of Alberta before her coaching days.
“I discovered rugby quite late,” she says. “I didn’t have a high school program where I grew up. Now, I just wish to coach and give back that way…. We’ve got a bunch of great coaches in Campbell River.”
Young says the combined team has been attracting lots of interest from new players. The fact that Canadian women won bronze at the last Olympics and train on Vancouver Island only adds to the increased exposure.
“It’s such a great sport for girls,” she says, adding that the sport has opportunities for players of every body type. “It’s very inclusive.”
She adds that it is a sport kids don’t have to start playing when they are very young. The sport can be quite technical but does not have to be when they begin.
The players, she says, often find out they are more adept at the sport than they expect and they “really come out of their shell.”
Some that might not touch the ball often in their first season can often become the playmakers in year two, as they learn the game.
“I think they’re surprised at the resilience that they actually have inside of them,” she says. “It’s a tough sport. Some people might balk at it, and then they play their first game…. It gives them lots of confidence.”
The boys’ rugby program, Young adds, is also looking for anyone who can lend a hand. They are hoping to start a sevens program at Carihi.
“It would be great to have some coaches there too,” she says.