Highlanders show grit but fall to strong St. Albert side

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Rugby was on display in Airdrie Aug. 25, as the Airdrie Highlanders U17 women’s squad hosted the St. Albert Rugby Football Club at the George McDougall High School field.

Though the teams were tied 5-5 in the early minutes, St. Albert showed its offensive strength for most of the contest to win 68-10.

A one-sided score line aside, Highlanders coach and youth development officer Jillian Young said she was proud of the girls for their performance against an experienced team.

“St. Albert is a very established and good club – many years, all ages, huge club house and multiple fields. They’re well-established and a great team to play,” she said.

While the Highlanders had suited up for an inter-squad scrimmage with the Calgary Rams two weeks prior, Aug. 25 marked the squad’s first official exhibition game of the summer – and its only home fixture.

“I think we showed a lot of heart in the end zones,” Young said. “I think we showed a lot of our speed and running skills, and I think we showed a lot of great tackles.”

Ruqaia Jutt of the Airdrie Highlanders seeks to score a try against the St. Albert defence.

St. Albert earned the first try of the game early into the first half through Taylor Borschneck, but the Highlanders answered back quickly through Nakia Prescod. She pounced on a loose ball in the visitors’ try zone after Ruqaia Jutt had made a lengthy advance up the field for Airdrie.

The first of four 10-minute intervals ended 5-5, with each team scoring one try.

St. Albert came to life on offence in the second and third intervals to take a commanding lead. Autumn Butlin and Lilyah Richardson both picked up multiple tries as St. Albert scored seemingly at will.

While Airdrie threatened St. Albert’s try zone a few times, the home team struggled to get past the visitors’ last line of defence.

“I thought we had really good motivation,” said Airdrie winger Maya Hand. “We just had a lot of turnovers and our rucks kind of fell.”

A highlight for the Highlanders came in the third interval, when team captain Madison Turley made a last-ditch chase down and flying tackle on the Highlanders goal line. Even though the St. Albert forward scored on the play, Turley’s dive through the air showed her desire to keep the visitors from scoring.

With 10 minutes left, St. Albert led 49-5.

The Airdrie and St. Albert players posed for inter-squad photos after the game, before enjoying a barbecue along the field sidelines.

After conceding nine tries in a row, Airdrie woke up for the last interval, passing the ball better and showing grit and determination on offence. As the clock ticked towards the last few minutes, Hand picked up the ball on the right side of the field and took it past three St. Albert defenders into the try zone, bringing the score to 56-10.

“Our one girl – Hadia [Jutt] – was about to get tackled, and then she passed me the ball and I ran up the sideline and towards the middle,” Hand said.

St. Albert managed two more tries in the final minutes to come away with a 58-point win.

Airdrie player Damola Hodonu said the game was exhilarating, but tiring.

“Me and my girls, we know we pushed to the very end and I think we did very great, even though we lost and in the past two years we won,” said the 15-year-old Bert Church High School student.

“I’m just super proud of them and super proud of the work we did and the effort we put into this game.”

Following the match, the two sides congratulated one another, took photos by one of the goals and finished the afternoon off with a barbecue along the sidelines.

“I think it was great – lots of fun, great tackles, beautiful weather. A friendly St. Albert club, and that’s what rugby is all about,” Young said.

The Highlanders played its final game of its exhibition season Aug. 28 against the Calgary Irish, after press time.

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