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Experience as important as victory for Souris Sabres – Brandon Sun

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“Those who support each other win.”

Wise words from Souris Sabres head coach Brian Yon as he addressed his small group of women's rugby players after their unexpected 34-26 victory over the Crocus Plainsmen at John Reilly Field.

Having support from their teammates carrying the ball forward against the Plainsmen defenders allowed the Sabres to find gaps and score long points. In addition, having support on the defensive side of the ball allowed the Sabres to stifle the Plainsmen's strong attacking attempts, which they rely on to go on offense.

“Now you get another chance [to play] against Dauphin [today]and I want to move it forward.”

Play begins at 12:00 p.m. in Dauphin, while the Crocus Plainsmen host the Dauphin Clippers in the boys final at 5:00 p.m.

Even though the Sabres were underdogs against the strong and undefeated Dauphin Clippers – they outscored their opponents 300-0 in the short regular season, including a 69-0 win in Souris – that didn't stop them from defeating the equally strong Plainsmen team in the semifinals.

“In the second half we were the better team … that was huge, tremendous, what I saw on the pitch. [pitch]”, said Yon, who prefers the 15-game to the 7-game.

Crocus coach Heather Bruederlin agreed with Yon’s assessment of the second half.

“I moved Beth from position nine to position ten. That change changed the game. We had a lot more opportunities in positions nine and ten and were also able to use positions twelve and thirteen… our passing game wasn't working in the first half and with Beth in position we were able to get the ball to Emery Kozak and Aubrey Skelton more often.”– Brian Yon

“We didn’t fight back in the second,” she explained.[Souris] We definitely won the game. They definitely put pressure on Faith [Burtnick] to stop them from scoring goals… but to win a game, it takes more than belief.”

She added: “Souris worked for their win…I would say this team has developed the most this season. They definitely showed that in our first game of the season when we won. [29-0].”

Yon said his team worked on Burtnick's defense in practice before the semifinals, knowing they would have to stop her if the Sabres wanted a chance to travel to Dauphin for the finals and a berth in the two-day provincial championships that begin May 31.

“We wanted to put Faith under pressure early and not give her the space she needs for her long runs,” he explained.

Souris captain Beth Couling shared her thoughts after the game on what she saw from her teammates.

“We started at the bottom and climbed out [with this win]” she said to her attentive teammates as they began to relax after the match's final whistle erupted into jubilation on the pitch.

When the Plainsmen left the field, the feeling was different. Seniors Ocean Kominshin-Glass and Charli Merckx fought back tears. Kominshin-Glass led the Crocus offense with her two attempts, the most on her team.

Burtnick, an offensive lineman and fellow senior, sat dejected for the entire second half after sustaining an injury caused by tight calf muscles.

She had scored a try and converted two in the first half, but was unable to capitalize on her outstanding tackling skills as her team failed to stop players such as Souris ball carrier Emery Kozak, who ran in three long tries. Gracelyn Schroeder, Couling and Aubrey Skelton each scored a try. Couling added two converted.

With his small 16-player roster featuring only four seniors, Yon said the game experience will only benefit his team after this season, win or lose.

He is especially happy to have Couling's leadership and rugby experience in his squad. Adapting to the game, especially when it rained in the first half, allowed Yon to make adjustments for the start of the second half. These changes made a big difference as Souris overcame an early deficit and won the game, especially with Burtnick no longer playing a role.

“I moved Beth from position nine to position ten,” he said. “That move changed the game. We now had a lot more options in positions nine and ten and in positions 12 and 13… our passing game wasn't working in the first half, so with Beth in position we were able to pass the ball more often to Emery Kozak and Aubrey Skelton.”

These two speedy players scored four of Souris' six tries, so Yon's adjustments throughout the game resulted in more points.

“These two are dangerous [offensively] players when given space to run.”

Yon is not pretending that his adjustments to the Crocus game will suddenly see his young side scoring tries at will, but he is not worried, knowing that Dauphin will struggle to find space to score given what teams in the league have experienced this month.

“I'm looking forward to the girls playing against Dauphin again so they can gain some valuable experience. We're not going there thinking it's going to be a pressure cooker knowing what team we're playing against.

“Instead, we need to get off the line and not look at the game in a way that lets Dauphin run the ball. We've improved a lot since we lost to them. It's just about how we compete.

“We're taking a step forward with our next game. We're going into this game to compete and win against Dauphin. We're going into the finals to compete and the girls can use this win against Crocus as the next step…for me as a coach, it's a good experience for them.”

With the final being just one game, Yon knows his players will be a little nervous as they face the top seed in WHSR. But with a semifinal win under their belt, he wants them to use this as extra motivation to prepare for the provincial championships, where every team will be strong.

“As I said, I would like [Dauphin] and for the girls to gain experience in games that are important, outside of what we do in the [short] regular season. Let's build on this experience for the young players next season.”

WHSR Notes: The last time the Souris Sabres advanced to the league finals was 2016… when it comes to raising the provincial flag, the Souris girls rugby program won in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010… The Dauphin Clippers are reigning girls champions… The St. Paul's Crusaders have won the boys' provincial title the last two years.

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