If you have been a follower of B.C. senior girls high school rugby over the last quarter of a century, then Saturday’s championship Triple A finale was drenched in symbolism and brimming with questions.
Was host Shawnigan Lake’s 20-7 victory over North Vancouver’s Carson Graham Eagles the start of a dynasty for head coach Shannon Atkins’ side, who repeated as top-tiered champs for the first time ever?
And was this result a passing of the torch between two programs as one of the most successful coaching tandems in the history of B.C. high school sports announced their retirement in a post-game interview session with Varsity Letters?
Probably a little of both, as Eagles’ hugely popular coach Brad Baker, to many the face of girls high school rugby in this province, announced after the loss that he was ending a 24-year coaching career.
“We are passing the reigns off, and this whole week has been super-emotional for both me and (co-coach) Rick (Pimlott),” said Baker of the pair, who have won 10 top-tiered B.C. titles over the past 16 years and taken the Eagles to championship final game in 21 0f the past 24 years.
On Saturday, however, Shawnigan was the side which made the fewer mistakes and better thrived in the physical going.
“It was our tenacity,” Atkins said of the key to winning it all. “It was just hard fought. Our game plan was defence and attack, and hopefully force errors. Our girls were tenacious and we held them off the goal line.
“(On offence) it was crashing, then moving it wide, and we’re good at that,” she added. “It showed in how our wings scored three tries.”
No. 8 Mikayla Brennan-McCann opened the game’s scoring off Shawnigan’s first possession, but it was Carson Graham who took a 7-5 lead into halftime, Savannah Bauder making a deep run and being credited with a penalty try after a high hit near the goal line.
Emily Findlay scored the first try of the second half to put Shawnigan Lake ahead to stay at 10-7, before Gracie MacAllister added two more to round out the scoring.
Atkins acknowledged that the final game of Pimlott’s and Baker’s coaching careers cast an almost palpable bubble over the proceedings.
“I have to admit it was very emotional,” she said in homage. “Obviously we wanted to win, but we would have loved for them to win as well. It’s a choice to give it up, but it’s a hard one. I felt compassion for them.”
It’s hard to imagine any program in B.C. high school history having the same championship pedigree as Carson Graham’s in girls rugby. But the pair decided to go out on top.
“It’s time to pass it on to some younger players who have gone through our program and have been assistant coaches over the last few years,” added Baker. “It’s time for us to ride out into the sunset, as they say.
“I think the most satisfying thing have been able to teach the life lessons of being a good person,” he added. “For us, rugby was the key component in that. The culture of Carson Graham rugby is to help the players become good, well-rounded individuals.”
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