NANAIMO – The rugby program at Nanaimo District Secondary School is making huge strides.
In 2017 NDSS made it to provincials for the first time, and they're again competing at the BC championship in Abbotsford this week.
There are nearly 60 student athletes playing rugby between the junior and senior sides.
The junior program has 23 players while the senior team, mostly Grade 11-12 students, has 27.
Rugby season at NDSS started in late January and the students have gotten about ten games in on their journey to provincials.
Last week the Islanders played Claremont out of Victoria for the Island Championship and lost 61-17.
One of the challenges for NDSS is that their competition has a large disparity.
Manager Adam Laforest says generally the private schools they play are very good, while the public school programs lag behind.
He says NDSS is somewhere in the middle.
Laforest says although other sports at the high school level have tried using the academy system he believes having a free mostly after school based program is the most inclusive way to run a team.
“We have a lot of lower income kids on our team. I worry about if it were to be an academy where they had to pay, maybe some of those kids can't participate and can't be involved. I'd love to see a class eventually.”
Coach Patrick Milford is in his first year as head coach of the NDSS rugby program.
He's been a member of the Nanaimo Hornets men's team and came on last season just to help out.
Milford says he fell in love with the program and now a year later he's taken over the coaching reins.
Some players on the squad have three to five years of playing rugby but Milford says there's a wide range of experience within the group.
“We really do rely on a lot of guys who are athletes, football players, maybe hockey players who have a year or two under their belts. There's a lot of guys here with less than ten games (experience) going into a provincial championship,” said Milford.
NDSS went in to provincials as the seventh seed in AAA Tier 2 and lost their first match to the second ranked team from WJ Mouat 40-14.
The Islanders will keep battling in the consolation bracket and Coach Milford says their conditioning will be put to the test as they advance through the weekend.
“The provincial championship is a tough one. Sometimes it's more of a war of attrition than a war of skill. By that last day it's more of who can still play more that who your best players are,” said Milford.
Through the efforts of the managers, coaches, and players the NDSS Islanders have put themselves on the map when it comes to high school rugby in BC.
You can follow their journey through the provincials at the BC High School Rugby website.
On twitter: @danmarshall77
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