The Souris Sabres may have swept the boys’ and girls’ titles in the Westman High School Rugby League last season, but they feel they’ll be in tough to repeat this year.
Both Sabre squads lost a lot of players and Brian Yon, who coaches both teams, knows it will be tough to top the league for a second straight year.
“I don’t want to call it a rebuilding year, but we lost a lot of key players last year due to graduation,” he said. “We’ve got about five or six returning players who have quite a bit of experience but for the most part we’re going to be a young, inexperienced team.
“For the girls team, we’re going to be very young this year. We only have four Grade 12s and with the loss of the Tuttosi twins, those are two players you don’t easily replace. But we’re really excited about our girls’ team and we think we have a lot of good athletes that, with a little bit of experience, will become pretty good rugby players.”
Amy and Emily Tuttosi graduated last season and spent the fall playing rugby in Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
Without them, Yon will be looking for players like Emma Boisvert, Kaylee Butterfield and Kendra Roberts to step up and lead the Souris girls. Yon is also quite high on some Grade 9 students who played in Brandon’s youth rugby program and he hopes they’ll be able to crack the roster and play like veterans.
For the boys’ team, Yon is looking at Michael Fortin, Nathan Greig and Sebastien Gohl to help lead the squad, but he knows both the boys’ and girls’ leagues will be pretty tight.
“I think it will be a tough field,” Yon said. “Minnedosa is always strong and well coached up there. I think the boys will be very good this year. They had a younger team last year and we met them in the final and the provincial final as well. Their girls’ team has quite a bit of experience as well. Swan Valley is another school that produces good teams. I’m looking for some good competition from those schools.
“… Overall, I think there’s going to be quite a bit of parity in the league and I’m excited for it.”
The league will have a bit of a different look this season. Birtle has left the WHSRL due to a shortage of players, but the Elton Sabres have stepped up to replace the Falcons on the boys’ side, keeping it at seven teams, while the girls’ division has fallen to six squads.
This year’s top two teams also get the chance to play at provincials close to home this season as the event will be held in Brandon. However, Yon doesn’t want to think that far ahead.
He’s just trying to get ready for a season that has been difficult to prepare for with cold weather limiting outdoor practices and causing the cancellation of the John Keogh Festival, a tournament used as a warmup for the season.
“It’s been quite a process,” said Yon, whose teams both start their season on Friday by hosting Dauphin. “I’m not going to say it was as bad as last year when we had to physically remove snow to actually train. We held a few practices outdoors. It’s one of those things about living in Manitoba and you have to deal with the weather that you get. Some years the weather is nice and the last two years winter has just hung around.
“It’s frustrating, but we’re getting through it.”
The Vincent Massey Vikings will open their season by playing the Crocus Plainsmen today with the girls’ game set for 5:30 p.m., and the boys’ game to follow. Both of those were shifted from Crocus to John Reilly Field due to field conditions. Elton will host Minnedosa in a boys’ game at Reilly Field today at 5:30 p.m.