Blue was the dominant colour on a nice cool and sunny day at the Ballenas Secondary playing field last week.
That’s because the Ballenas Whalers girls rugby team, with its more than 40 eager and excited members, played its first home games of the season, 15-a-side against Nanaimo District Secondary and 7-a-side against Dover Bay.
Head coach Olivia Hill said she was very surprised to see a huge turnout of students from Grade 8 to 12 wanting to play rugby this year.
“I have 46 players and only five players from last year have played the game,” said Hill. “The rest are virtually newcomers to the game but they are learning fast in each game.”
The Whalers lost both matches against the more experienced Nanaimo teams but Hill said the results were not important. What delighted Hill was the improvement in the way the team is playing.
It was not the first outing for the Whalers. They played their inaugural game of the season in Campbell River two weeks ago against Carihi. The tries in that game were scored by Tyrsha Ribo, Shanian Andaya and Shiane Wilson.
“It was a really even game and we ended up with a tie, which was the perfect start for the girls who were all excited,” said Hill. “It was a come-from-behind tie, so it was a good first game for us. But today, despite playing against a tougher team, I really saw the girls improving on their tackling, committing to the tackling so they’re building confidence. They’re still a little confused as to where they should be standing on the field.”
The only try the Whalers scored in the 15-a-side game was scored by Olivia Bau, who weaved around a sea of Nanaimo defenders, sprinted 30 yards to the goal line and grounded the ball between the uprights. Her conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
Hill said it’s challenge to teach the team this year due to the high volume of inexperienced players, all of whom, she added, have demonstrated their willingness to learn the game.
“It’s unusual to have so many come out to join the team but it’s very encouraging,” said Hill. “What was funny was the first game we were in Carihi in Campbell River and we got on the bus. The driver just couldn’t believe it. He knew he was picking up a rugby team but he said he has never seen the bus that full. We were almost out of seats. The whole hour and a half ride, the girls were singing, the whole way going there and back. It’s incredible to see them making new friends. They’re having fun. I am happy to see a big number this year.”
Hill has two other coaches helping her out, former player and Ballenas student Blaiyre Paddock, who now plays for the Nanaimo Hornets, and former rugby player Lane Franklin.
I coudn’t handle this big numbers without their help so I am really greatful for that,” said Hill.
This spring break, the Whalers do not have any games planned, but Hill is hoping the players would use the break to heal a few bumps and bruises. When school reopens, the Whalers will be preparing for five games that will be played in Nanaimo and Port Alberni.
“They’re all eager to play,” said Hill. “It’s a fun sport to play and it’s also empowering to them as young women. They learn to be tough. They learn to get back up when they’re tackled. They learn to be happy win or lose. I just think there’s a lot of emotional benefits for them to be part of this team.”