The bus ride back to Pictou County was filled with joyous tears, lots of smiles and even some singing.
The NRHS Nighthawks girls’ rugby team, for years a high school pushover, won a provincial Division 2 championship this past weekend, going 4-0 in the Annapolis Valley.
Abby Hendsbee, a co-captain along with Kaelyn Vint, Haley Ingemansen and Lydia Tobin, endured a lot of losing in her first three years of high school rugby.
Now, Hendsbee and the other veterans will only remember the ending: she who laughs last, laughs the best.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” she said on June 3, less than 48 hours after her team beat the Dartmouth High Spartans 19-15 in the Division 2 championship game, where Gabby Smith, KJ Emery and Jessica Maxner had tries, with Kaelin Vint kicking a pair of conversions in a gutsy effort.
“We were always told we were horrible, we would always lose. But it feels awesome to prove to everybody that we are more than what they thought we are. It still doesn’t feel real.”
The Nighthawks started provincials on May 31 with a 21-10 win over Central Kings, with Jenna Hickey scoring two tries, Jessica Trevors getting a single and Vint booted three conversions.
And they kept going; in an old-fashioned, faces-in-the-dirt battle, they beat Dartmouth 5-0, on a Meaghan MacKenzie try and some dogfight defence.
That put them in a crossover game, where the Nighthawks would outlast Western Kings 17-10, with Hendsbee, Megan Burns and Haley Ingemansen all collecting tries and Vint hitting on two conversions, to set up a rematch with the Spartans in the final.
For NRHS, it was a triumphant ending to a difficult season, one that saw rugby nearly removed from high school sports.
It also may have erased memories of the constant losing, at least for this current group of Nighthawks.
“These girls had been the doormats of high school rugby for 16 years,” said coach Graham Hayden.
“We worked so hard this year, then to have it potentially taken away, then getting it back, and to win a provincial championship – It was tough all around, but they showed a lot of character.”
DIVISION 1 RESULTS
In Division 1 play, the NNEC Gryphons won a silver medal, losing 40-0 in the championship game to the Citadel Phoenix. The Gryphon boys side went 1-0 in the round robin, but lost a 17-14 decision against the Dartmouth Spartans in a crossover game. The boys squad at NRHS, who won a provincial championship in 2018, went 1-1 in the round-robin but were unable to make the crossover round.
Avon View won the N.S. boys banner.