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Success of Gleneagle Secondary girls’ rugby team more than just wins on the pitch

All but four of the players on the school's senior girls' team had never played rugby before
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The Gleneagle Talons senior girls rugby team practises prior to the AAA provincial finals that will be played in Abbotsford beginning June 1.

More than its big 39-7 victory over rival Dr. Charles Best Blue Devils to win the Coquitlam district championship, more than its berth in the B.C. AAA championships that begin Wednesday (June 1), the senior girls’ rugby season for Gleneagle Secondary has been all about community.

The results have been an unexpected bonus, says Talons head coach Simon Quinto.

Coming off two seasons lost to COVID-19, during which players were able to practice in limited ways but not participate in competitive games, the Talons girded for a long learning curve.

All but four of the girls who reported for tryouts had never played rugby before, and the pandemic pause meant there were no battle-hardened seniors to show them the ropes.

It would all come down to hard work, Quinto said.

That meant practices would emphasize conditioning and repetitive drills to infuse the players with rugby’s fundamental skills of passing and catching the ball and tackling opponents.

It also meant giving the girls the fortitude to embrace the sport’s physicality.

“The mental aspect is a big piece,” Quinto said. “The most important part is being able to take away the ‘I can’t.’”

Nicole Miller didn’t think she could.

When she signed up in Grade Nine to join the rugby team for a tour of New Brunswick in fall 2018, she went for the travel experience and stayed on the sidelines.

But, Miller explained she liked hanging out with the tight-knit group of players.

So, when the call-out came to sign up for the spring season, she joined her new friends on the team.

“I’d always thought I wouldn’t be successful at sports,” the now Grade 12 student said, who will continue her rugby journey at the University of Calgary in the fall.

Quinto credits the development of players like Miller with the support everyone on the team gives each other.

“The team picks you up and moves you along,” he said.

That spirit of all-for-one-and-one-for-all was especially important as the Talons endured injuries and lineup shortages through the season that required players to stretch their comfort zones.

“There was definitely a lot of shuffling around,” Quinto said. “The girls were playing above their weight class.”

Angelina Alexander, a Grade 12 scrum half, said the side’s camaraderie grew as they all learned the game together.

“You realize you’re capable of so much more,” she said.

Hailey Mynott, a Grade 11 fly-half, agreed.

“Everyone is so supportive,” she said. “They help bump you up.”

Quinto said the eagerness of the girls to learn the game has been especially gratifying, as they commit hours to reviewing video of matches and more time on the pitch and in the gym to improve their fitness.

“It’s pretty awesome when they realize success is within their grasp,” he said. “They’re really committed.”