Christina McDonald photo/Telegraph Journal

Triple Crown season for Saint John High Greyhound ruggers

by Ron Barry - Wednesday, June 8, 2016

This article is courtesy of Telegraph Journal

Call it a "season of champions" for the rugby program at Saint John High School.

Students wearing the Greyhounds' trademark jerseys accomplished the rarest of feats on the rugby pitch as they brought home not one, not two but three New Brunswick Interscholastic Athletic Association championship banners this spring.

"I think it speaks more about the program than anything else,"said Jeff Warr, head coach of the varsity boys team that posted a 14-10 victory in the AAA final over the Harrison Trimble High Trojans of Moncton on June 3. "The seniors are just as excited at watching the juniors do well as themselves. The teams support each other and cheer each other on. It's one of those years where it all clicked. There's a real sense of Greyhounds pride with these teams."

That victory completed a historic triple crown campaign for Greyhounds rugby as the varsity girls AAA and junior varsity boys teams also celebrated with NBIAA banners - the girls with a hard-fought 26-19 triumph over the Simonds High Seabees on June 2 and the JV boys after a 52-12 win over the Sussex Regional High Sonics.

The varsity boys were 6-0 on the season, following up a 4-0 regular-season won-lost record with a 38-12 semifinal victory over the Miramichi Valley High Pulamoo to give them a shot at repeating as provincial champions.

Harrison Trimble High proved to be a ready-and-able opponent in last Friday's final as the Moncton ruggers jumped to a 10-0 halftime lead on the strength of a try by Brody Fall and five points off the boot of Hazar Hosqual, who converted Fall's try and added a three-point penalty kick on the final play of the half.

The resilient 'Hounds bounced back in the second half as flanker Sam Dumouchel took a pass from scrumhalf Matt White and evaded would-be tacklers during a 50-metre run for a try, which was converted by standoff Jason Gillan to cut the deficit to 10-7. Shortly thereafter, SJHS inside centre Paddy Currie punched in a try following a period of good ball retention and Gillan added the convert to give the visitors their margin of victory. The Trojans pushed hard to regain the lead but the Greyhounds, led by tailup and player of the match Jarred Price, withstood the pressure to secure the victory.

"The hosts played a tremendous game and must be commended for their effort and the success of their program," said Warr, who is assisted on the sidelines by Pat Currie. "The sportsmanship Trimble displayed during, and post match, speaks volumes for the leadership of coaches and faculty involved with their program. It was a high-energy, high-intensity match that could have went either way."

The varsity girls were also up for the challenge against the Seabees, who were the only team to defeat Saint John High this spring. Prior to the title match, the SJHS girls posted a 4-1 record in regular-season play and scrummed their way to the final with a 27-12 semifinal triumph over the Moncton High Purple Knights.

"We were hoping that we would match up against Simonds again - we were really hoping we would have another crack at them," said head coach Amy McClure.

"I'm extremely proud of the girls - they worked very hard over the years. We went from being a last-place team to winning a provincial title. The girls demonstrated their skill and growth as a team. It's an extraordinary experience - it's fantastic to be a part of Saint John High winning three championships in the same year."

McClure, who is assisted in preparing the team for matches by Becky Knox, Tabatha Cormier and Kelsey Forbes, said it's gratifying to see senior players cap their scholastic rugby careers as champions.

"I've been coaching for five years and we had several girls on this team who have been with us since Grade 9," she said, noting that 12 players will graduate later this month.

"Our captains - Brandi Clements and Bronwen Holder - absolutely stood out. So did Shania Graham, who racked up tons of points for us. This was the first year she stepped onto a rugby field. She has an incredible amount of talent and just dominates out there."

Completing the trifecta were the JVs boys under head coach Mark Gillan and assistant coach John Crawford. The lads put together an 8-0 record over the regular season and playoffs as the coaching staff adhered to a philosophy where everybody played.

"We had 29 boys and about half of them had never played before,"said Gillan, whose sons Jonathan and Jason are members of the varsity 'Hounds. "Unless they were injured, our philosophy was to play everybody in every game."

Not lost on Gillan was how the Greyhounds' rugby nation came off as a closely knit unit, from the practice field to the pitch on game days.

"What was really neat was how the senior boys and girls would come out to the JV games," he said."There was a real camaraderie that we were able to create among the teams. We practised many times with the seniors and in our final game the sidelines were packed with senior players. When you're in Grade 9 or 10 and you have students in Grade 12 rooting you on, that's a big deal and bodes well for the program.

"These kids feel part of something and to have three championship teams is just incredible. They all have fun, they are supportive of each other and they really get the rugby culture. You know, some of them are athletes and some of them aren't, but it doesn't matter - they are all rugby players … they are ruggers and the game is now a part of their lives."

jr_boys.jpg - Taken by Christina McDonald pHoto/ Telegraph Journal

sr_boys.jpg - Taken by Christina McDonald pHoto/ Telegraph Journal