Marina Heath (left) and Jamie Longmuir have their game faces on prior to a Vedder Middle School rugby game against AD Rundle. Both Grade 9 girls are also playing for the new girls team at Sardis secondary school.

Marina Heath (left) and Jamie Longmuir have their game faces on prior to a Vedder Middle School rugby game against AD Rundle. Both Grade 9 girls are also playing for the new girls team at Sardis secondary school.

Sardis girls roll in a league of their own

Sardis secondary school is fielding a senior girls rugby team this year, and the squad is off to a 3-1 start.

In a sport traditionally dominated by males, a group of Sardis secondary school girls are making their mark.

For the first time in recent memory, and perhaps for the first time ever, a Chilliwack school has a senior girls rugby team.

The Falcons have started play in a development circuit, going 3-1 in early-season action.

They started their adventure March 13, losing 10-5 to Brookswood.

Since then, they’ve ripped off wins over Walnut Grove (33-17), North Surrey (29-22) and Clayton Heights (19-5).

With no girls rugby history and no middle-school base, it wasn’t easy to put this team together.

But captain Tori Kuhn is all smiles talking about the assembled team.

“The school’s always had a good boys team, so there was interest because of them,” Kuhn said. “It was different, something new to try. Some people said no. Some said maybe, and some couldn’t wait to do it.”

The fence-sitters were mostly concerned about injuries.

Rugby, for those who don’t know, is a touch physical.

Bumps and bruises do happen.

“For the girls in Grade 12, I told them their bruises would be gone by prom,” Kuhn laughed.

Her brother, Davis, plays for Vedder middle school.

Her boyfriend plays as well.

For Kuhn and rugby, no sales job was required.

“I’m not afraid of getting injured, probably because I had cousins who beat me up when I was little,” she said, jokingly serious. “They probably toughened me up a bit.”

Kuhn was one of the few girls who had any kind of clue what they were doing at their very first practice.

Even that first game against Brookswood was a chaotic mess, with the Sardis girls still struggling with the technical nuances of scrums, lineouts and rucking.

“Passing backwards is an interesting thing, especially for me because I usually play field hockey, where it’s all forward, forward, forward,” Kuhn said. “That first game against Brookswood, we lost because we didn’t know what we’re doing. But people on the sidelines kepe telling us we’re getting better. Now, we actually know why the ref is blowing the whistle now, which is nice.”

Most of the girls who expressed reticence about bumps and bruises are now dealing out brumps and bruises to opponents — fully embracing the hard-knocks nature of rugby.

“Tackling is fun and something we don’t get to do in any other sport, and we have lots of aggressive girls who love to do that,” Kuhn said. “The funny thing, though, is that everyone apologizes. If we hurt a girl, we are sincerely sorry and we get upset. But the guys, they’re happy to hurt someone.”

Being part of something from the ground up is special.

And being part of a team that exceeds expectations?

Even better.

“I didn’t think we were going to win games, but we also didn’t know what the other teams would be like,” Kuhn said. “The first two years your school has a team, it plays in this league. We’re not playing girls who’ve been playing for six or seven years. They’re like us.”

Still, wins feel good.

The first win against North Surrey, with Ashley Heisler contributing three tries, was a treat.

“It was rewarding and kept a lot of girls interested in playing,” Kuhn said. “I’m a competitive person, and I didn’t want to go through a season of losing. We have a lot of confidence because we have a lot of natural athletes, and we have a lot of upside as we learn the sport.”

But is this team and program sustainable?

There are 17-20 girls who regularly attend practises, and 20-25 who show up for games. A large number of those girls are due to graduate in June.

“But the younger girls seem to be enjoying themselves and I think the team will be back next year,” Kuhn countered. “They will want another season.”

“With all the Grade 9’s, 10’s and 11’s on this year’s squad I’d say it looks very positive,” coach Terry Puckey added. “Our teacher sponsor, Lisa Ego, commented just last Wednesday how many of the girls are already discussing preparation for 2014. Beyond that we can only guess, but I think as we plant the right seeds the future looks bright.”

The girls are home Wednesday, at the Yarrow Sportsfield, for a 4 p.m. kick-off. Their next three are all at home, as they wind down to the end of the season.

“Our goal is to maintain our unbeaten run and it would be nice to see lots of support over the next three weeks,” Puckey said.

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