By Garrett Simmons
Westwind Weekly News
High school rugby is back.
After a two-year, pandemic-related absence, players across southern Alberta are back on the pitch, and for the Raymond Comets program, it almost seems like they never left.
Friday night in Raymond, the girls program hit the ground running, as the Comets hosted junior and senior varsity matches against their archrival from Calgary – Notre Dame.
It’s the same program Raymond met in the 2018 and 2019 provincial finals, and judging by the first match of the season, it could be a one-sided rivalry in 2022.
Raymond ran away with a 55-0 win in the senior match and scored an equally impressive 54-0 victory in the junior contest.
Senior coach Dan Bikman was thrilled with the fact his team finally had an opportunity to hit the field and scored a decisive win to boot.
“It was kind of back and forth for 10 minutes, and then we got a breakthrough wide run, and that started the scoring for us,” he said.
Raymond kept the pressure on and soon raced out a large lead at the half, as the depth of the Comets roster wore down the visitors from Calgary.
“We had 15 really strong players, and they maybe had 10 really strong players,” said Bikman.
Another factor in Raymond’s favour is the fact eight starters for the Comets are seniors.
“Unless you are in Grade 12, you haven’t played any rugby before,” said Bikman, who noted the last two COVID-cancelled years meant current Grade 10 and Grade 11s did not have an opportunity to play the sport. “Everyone is going to be a lot better as the year goes on.”
Raymond’s program has attracted upwards of 70 players again this season, with athletes from Raymond, Magrath, Stirling and one more from Cardston.
“The legacy of our program is to preach unity,” said Bikman, who added many rugby athletes compete in basketball and volleyball, for example, but come together as Comets on the pitch. “That culture, combined with the success of the program means a lot of kids want to be involved in rugby.”
Every type of athlete is needed on the rugby pitch, added Bikman, who mentioned often, players with the aggression level required for rugby might not be suited for other sports.
The coach added he has a stable of athletes who are aggressive, confident in contact and willing to make a tackle.
“We’ve got a wide range of kids and the kids that play always say to their friends, ‘Hey, you really have to come out and try this.’ They recruit each other.”
There are competitive and recreational branches of the rugby program, as the coach added the real goal is getting kids outside by promoting physical activity and an opportunity to challenge themselves.
And for the players that do get to compete against some of the top rugby programs in Alberta, and against some softer competition closer to home in league play, the message is always the same.
“I have talked to the kids that every moment you’re out there you want to do your best as a team, whether the other teams are in their level of development or if they’re lower. You have to do your best as a team. Every minute matters.”
Certainly, there may be a few league games where Raymond’s depth and overall athleticism will simply overwhelm the competition.
“I just kind of promote not making it about us versus them but this is our opportunity to oil our machinery as a team,” said Bikman, of the approach the Comets need to have for league. “We’re definitely as strong as we’ve ever been.”
Raymond’s first league games were last night, as the seniors took on F.P. Walshe/Medicine Hat, and the Comets junior teams split into two squads for matches against Matthew Halton and F.P. Walshe (scores were not available at press time).
Raymond is back in league action on April 27 for junior and senior games against Winston Churchill High School, at 5 p.m. (senior game) and 6:15 p.m. (junior game) at the Lethbridge Rugby Club.
And if Friday night’s season opener in Raymond is any indication, it’s going to be an exciting season for Raymond’s players and its fans.
“The main message of the day was it was just good to be back,” said Bikman. “The stands were packed and families were so glad to see their kids back playing again. It was just a fun day.”