Mariners and Spartans end seasons with rivalry clash

Kate Scott/Courier

St. George – By all accounts, last Tuesday was a great day for rugby.

The pitch at Fundy Middle and High School was soft, but not saturated after short periods of rain; the cooler temperature was an ally to all those on the field.

Those factors worked in the favour of the friendly county rivalry between the Fundy Mariners and St. Stephen Spartans varsity girls’ teams; both are teams which leave everything on the pitch at each meeting.

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The game was the last of the regular season for both teams – however, in this particular meeting, the Mariners had much more to lose. A Spartans win (heading into the game with a 0-3 record) would dash Mariner hopes of a postseason.

The Mariners finished with a 30-7 victory, but the game remained in reach for the Spartans until the second half.

Mariners senior Ana Puscasu put her team on the scoreboard midway through the first half with back to back tries for a 10-0 lead. Brenna Kelson missed both conversions.

The Spartans stayed alive with a try from Rayleen Brisley approximately three minutes before the half. Nelleka Atkinson successfully kicked for a conversion, to bring the score within three points. But the second half, a fiery Mariners team, hungry for the win, kicked into another gear. The squad put up four more tries, scored by Madeline Hanley, Julianna Weaire, Hannah Moore, and Brenna Kelson.

“We knew they were gonna bring it.”

Rucks. Rucks were the difference, and Mariners coach Tyler Drost said this was his message to the team prior to kickoff to help solidify the victory.

“We knew coming into this that St. Stephen are our rivals, so they were gonna bring it. Which they did, the first half, they played very well.

“We had talked about pushing through our rucks. The first half was a little iffy; St. Stephen dominated us and the rucks the first half, but then everybody caught on what was going on and then we stepped-up the pace, and it showed in the end.”

Seniors Puscasu and Weaire both agreed “there was a drastic difference between the first and second half” and said they carried the words of coach Melana Drost-Murdock with them to the pitch for the second half.

“During half she really, really pumped us up and reminded us it could be our last game, and to get out there and play hard,” said Weaire, and Puscasu expanded on the thought.

“When halftime hit, she just kept saying ‘hit those rucks, this could be your last game’, and during the entire game I just kept thinking ‘hit those rucks’,” Puscasu said with a laugh.

“So you know you see somebody going down, you just jump on top of them and get in there,” she added, again laughing.

And when the final whistle sounded?

“Oh God,” said Puscasu, as the two laughed simultaneously and Weaire explained it was a welcome sound.

“There was a sigh of relief almost through all of us, but it was an exciting sigh of relief,” Weaire said. “We were all like, ‘oh my gosh, yes. Finally’.”

The Mariners regular season has ended with a victory, but as Drost explained, the beginning – the first two games to be specific – “were a little iffy” as injuries (the Tuesday game was the first of the season with the full roster of 17) and two back to back losses plagued the team.

“We’ve come quite a long way to be honest. It’s not that the skill wasn’t there; it’s that we didn’t come together as a team then,” Drost said.

“We knew coming into this that St. Stephen are our rivals, so they were gonna bring it. Which they did, the first half, they played very well.” – Tyler Drost, Mariners coach

“Our last game is when we started connecting with each other, and then once you start connecting with each other, everything falls into place.”

The Mariners were tied with three different teams (Saint John High, Harbour View High, and St. Malachy’s) for second place.

The squad played a waiting game on the result of a match-up between Harbour View and St. Malachy’s with hopes a post-season would be possible. St. Malachy’s defeated Harbour View pushing the Mariners out of contention for the playoffs. Only the top two teams in each the South West and North East advance to the post-season.

Spartans reflect on learning season

Fielding a roster of 31, the Spartans experienced a steep learning curve with 17 first-year rugby players.

The season record tells one story, but coach Jeff Sode explained there’s more to the team than meets the eye – a story the season record doesn’t tell.

“When we came into the season, we knew that we were very inexperienced because we had so many graduates last year.

“There was a lot to learn and that actually showed in our early games. We struggled to tackle, we struggled to ruck, we pretty much struggled with everything, but our seniors really led by example and the girls really learned a lot from them as the season went on,” Sode said, and added he was “really proud” of how the team played against their hard-nosed rivals.

“Fundy’s always a tough match for us, but our girls tackled very well (Tuesday), they committed to their tackles, and tackled very strongly, so I’m very positive about the future for the team.”

Senior Gabrielle Richard echoed her coach’s sentiments, and said the “never give up” attitude of the team exhibited on the field against the Mariners shows a promising future for the Spartans.

“I think knowing that it was our last game, everyone was a little more relaxed knowing we didn’t have to go again, but at the same time, everyone gave it their all.

“Fundy’s always a tough match for us, but our girls tackled very well (Tuesday), they committed to their tackles and tackled very strongly, so I’m very positive about the future for the team.” – Jeff Sode, Spartans coach

“I’m really excited for next year to see what the team is going to be like, because we were so inexperienced, I feel like this season kind of prepped the team for next year, I’m looking forward to it.”

Sode attributed the team’s growth throughout the season to a tight knit group, and said a turning point came during an earlier game against the St. Malachy’s Saints. At the end of the first half, the Saints held a substantial lead over the Spartans.

“The girls were still positive and in the second half we actually scored 27 points; we played fantastic in the second half. At the end of that game we had just felt like we had come together really well as a team.”

Fundy Mariners seniors:

Julianna Weaire

Ana Puscasu

Brenna Kelson

Jessica Schwarze

Madison Watson

Madeline Hanley

St. Stephen Spartans seniors

Gabrielle Richard

Ally Caldwell

Elizabeth Scott

Dakota MacDonald