By Karlene Skretting
Westwind Weekly News
Over the weekend the Raymond Comets rugby team continued their winning ways and captured their seventh consecutive ASAA provincial high school girls Tier 1 rugby title by defeating the Bev Facey Falcons 32-14 in the gold medal game Saturday at Ellerslie Rugby Park in Edmonton.
This year’s win was no easy feat as the Comets were injury riddled throughout the whole season, and provincials were no exception, with two key starters unable to lace up and join their teammates on the field. Off the field many of the girls on the roster were dealing with distracting personal and emotional stressors.
“If there was a year we had excuses not to do it, this was the year,” said head coach Dan Bikman who has lead the Comets rugby program since its inception as an ASAA sport 10 years ago.
“We have been more injured and faced more on and off field stress than I’ve ever seen,” he added. “It rips my heart out to think of the things that some of these girls have had to deal with this year off the field.”
Despite the obstacles the Comets opened up the championship game strong and scored early to take the initial lead, but the Falcons quickly answered back with a try of their own to even things out.
What happened next, to put the Comets up 17-7 at the half, will long be an example of a Comet giving it their all and leaving everything on the field. Videos of the play have been circulating on player’s and parent’s Facebook pages since Saturday.
Grade 12 captain Nevada (Nevi) Bartsoff was given the ball 85-yards out from the try line, broke away from the group and carried the ball wide as she sprinted along the right side line. Realizing she was in danger of getting pushed out of bounds and losing possession of the ball she cut hard left through a gap in the defense, ran and dove across the try line just steps ahead of the Falcons’ outside center. Seconds later Bartsoff collapsed from a lack of oxygen.
Because of the way Bartsoff plays, few would guess that she was born with a condition called tetralogy of fallot that refers to a combination of four related heart defects.
“It was the first time in the middle of a play that I actually had tears in my eyes because I just knew how hard she was working,” credited Bikman. “It was an amazing thing to watch.”
“As soon as I got the ball, as I was running for the try line I was thinking I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. I was so tired the whole time, but I wanted it so bad for the team,” recalls Nevada Bartsoff of her last high school career rugby game. “As a team we have this thing where every time we run for the try line, we run for the team. Every try is for the team. I was thinking I needed to do this. As soon as I hit the try line, I just fell, my body was exhausted.”
While incredibly fast, Bartsoff only has limited time to run and then she literally gases out, collapses and is given oxygen on the side lines, explained Bikman pointing out that she usually carries the ball in shorter sprint plays as opposed to long runs down the field.
“When I was first born the doctors were going to let me die because they thought I was just going to be a vegetable, unable to walk, talk, learn or communicate,” shared Bartsoff. The 18-year-old has undergone four heart surgeries to date.
“It is hard when I am playing sports because I can’t do as much as I’d like to. I give it my all, but there is always more I would have liked to do for the team,” said Bartsoff admitting that she does not have the same strength or endurance as her teammates.
Instead of being discouraged, she has used her health condition to drive her to be the best that she can in everything that she does, to inspire others and prove doctors wrong.
“My doctors always call me the miracle baby because I am suppose to be in a wheel chair, but here I am … People don’t ever look at me and say ‘she is different.’”
Bartsoff is quick to credit her family, coaches and teammates for pushing her like everyone else and having faith in her on the field. Bartsoff comes from a big sports family and had the privilege to learn the sport she loves from her older sisters, Oshana and Mataya.
Bartsoff’s inspiration has touched her teammates. Their love for her was evident when they rushed to her side following her 85-yard run, picked her up and carried her off the field.
That moment was bittersweet for Bartsoff, admitting it was hard being physically unable to walk off the field because she likes to do things on her own. But she also admitted how special it was to have such a close team that would do that for her.
Following Bartsoff’s try the Edmonton coaches complained and the head refs prevented her from being given oxygen, even though Bev Facey had agreed to let her use it before the game.
“We had been giving her oxygen when the other players got water,” said Bikman.“They think we are getting a competitive advantage by doing that, but she is just maintaining general health.”
In true Nevi fashion, she remained in the game, giving it her all until the last seconds of the clock ticked away.
The excitement didn’t stop there either. Early in the second half the Falcons scared the Comets and intercepted a pass on their own five-yard line and ran it all the way down for a try and scored seven points.
“So we were only up by three points and they had the momentum because of that exciting play. As a coach I was really nervous.”
The Comets responded by pressing, pressing, and pressing but they just couldn’t score. The ref kept calling the try held up, meaning that the Comets weren’t putting the ball on the ground properly.
“If a team is crafty in defense, because in rugby you have to get the ball on the ground, so teams will get crafty and literally get on the ground and try to hold the ball up. That happened to us at least three times.”
Finally, the Comets scored and the Falcons defense loosened up as they shifted to an offense mentality hoping to remain in the game. The Comets capitalized and scored a few more times late in the game.
“It was a hard fought game. The score doesn’t tell you the story because it was close right till the end and then we went on a run.”
The Comerts’ trys were scored by Kassi Bogden, Taylor Maynes, Nevada Bartsoff, Teyah Weir, Kipty Terry and Megan Anderson.
“The whole team did their work. It was a whole team winning effort.”
The Comets will be graduating 10 players including: Megan Anderson, Nevada Bartsoff, Kassi Bogdan, Amy Mendenhall, Calli Orr, Karah Orr, Destiny Rewers, Presley Thomson, Taylor Maynes and Tanna Stewart.
“If I was ever to write a book, or make a movie, about my whole experience coaching the Comets rugby team many of the themes would include things that happened this year.”