Ballenas Secondary ballcarrier Lara Staudt, centre, tries to fight her way through a swarm of Cowichan tacklers during the season-opening girls rugby game at Ballenas Wednesday, March 29, 2017. — J.R. Rardon photo

Whalers debut girls rugby program with draw

New Ballenas sports program plays to 17-17 tie with Cowichan in first game

None of the 22 players who took the field for last week’s girls rugby season opener at Ballenas Secondary School had ever played the game before.

Yet, they walked off that field unbeaten.

A try by visiting Cowichan Secondary on the final play of the game, followed by a successful conversion kick, lifted the T-birds to a 17-17 draw with Ballenas, which is playing girls rugby for the first time in nearly a decade.

“Ballenas hasn’t had rugby for seven or eight years,” said Olivia Hill, a first-year teacher and coach who played the game for 10 years while living in Nanaimo. “The finish was a little tough, but they played hard. It was a great start.”

The veteran Cowichan program played with its junior team. But that created a competitive, see-saw match with a first-year Ballenas team with players from Grades 9 to 12. Some of whom were recruited by Hill.

“I didn’t know anything about (rugby) said Mercedes Virs, a Grade 12 rookie. “I just played because Miss Hill is my teacher.”

Hallie Scollon scored the first try in the latest edition of the program, followed by a successful conversion that kept the Whalers close as Cowichan scored twice to take a 10-7 lead.

But Kristina Jannsen plucked an errant Cowichan pass from mid-air and raced 70 yards for a try that pushed Ballenas in front 12-10 midway through the second half. And, as Cowichan was driving down the field on its next possession, Joanna Waite pulled off a mirror-image interception and long run down the opposite sideline to score on a try that pushed the Whalers ahead 17-10.

“I was so nervous at the beginning,” said Waite, who said she knew the basics of the sport thanks to an uncle who organized the Rugby 7s in Vancouver. “But it was amazing. I think I’m in love with this sport.”

Even after the T-birds marched down to score on a short plunge at game’s end, the Ballenas newcomers were almost giddy with their debut.

“I think we thought we were going to get destroyed, because Cowichan is known as such a strong program,” said Virs. “When we first walked out, I don’t think anyone was sure on the rules.”

The Whalers will get right back into action with another home game Wednesday, April 5, when they welcome the Carihi Tyees of Campbell River beginning a 3:30 p.m. at Ballenas.