By Matt Gutsch, Alberta Communications
EDMONTON – There will be a new Canada West rugby championship after the three-time defending champion University of Alberta Pandas were defeated 26-20 by the Victoria Vikes during the second semi-final Friday afternoon at Ellerslie Rugby Park. The win also secures the Vikes a spot at the CIS Championship, hosted Nov. 4-8 in Kingston, Ont., alongside Lethbridge. This will be Victoria’s second-ever appearance at a CIS Championship, following their appearance in 2005.
It was also Victoria’s first-ever win over Alberta, and it advances the Vikes to the Canada West championship final for the just the second time in program history. The Vikes previously played in the conference final in 2001 when they lost 19-0 to Alberta. On Sunday, they will meet the No.4 seeded Lethbridge Pronghorns for conference gold on Sunday, October 25 at 1:00 p.m. MST and live on canadawest.tv. The Horns upset the No.1 seed Calgary Dinos earlier in the day which means the conference No.3 and No.4 seeds will play for the Canada West title and trophy, while No.1 Calgary and No.2 Alberta will battle for bronze.
The Vikes got three tries from rookie Channelle Edwards-Challenger and a fourth from Gabrielle Senft, while sophomore Jessica Neilson connected on three of four convert attempts.
“It was really important for us to start strong today against Alberta,” said second-year Victoria head coach Brittany Waters, who was a CIS All-Canadian for the Vikes in 2005. “We played them last Sunday and although we lost we outplayed them in the second half so we knew if we could continue that momentum here today, we stood a good chance at winning. We started deep in their zone today and got some early points which really helped our confidence as the match wore on.”
Alberta, winners of 10 Canada West banners since 1999, benefitted from a pair of tries from fourth-year Jules Goss and a single from Haley Khatib, while fifth-year Rebecca Fairbairn connected on one convert and one penalty goal.
The Pandas had plenty of opportunities against Victoria but couldn’t convert them into tries. After the Vikes opened the scoring with a converted try in the 10th minute, the Pandas spent the next four minutes in the Victoria zone, including a lengthy spell near the goal line, but ended up settling for a penalty goal to make the score 7-3 for the visitors.
Challenger safely landed another Victoria try in the 24th minute, which was again converted, but Alberta responded with their first try of the match in the 35th minute, but missed the conversion, sending the teams into half-time with the Vikes up 14-8.
Victoria started the second half with a bang as Challenger scored her second try thanks to a lengthy sprint down the left field side line in the 45th minute.
She would score again in extra time when she ripped off another sprint down the left side touch line.
“When we did get possession we really used our speed and athleticism very well,” noted Waters. “We know Alberta is really strong up front, and we didn’t want to get into a battle against their forwards, so we had to use our speed and athleticism to our advantage.”
The Pandas did score a pair of tries in between Challenger’s two second half scores, as Khatib and Goss found the endzone, to make the match a one point game at 21-20 in favour of Victoria in the 70th minute.
Alberta then came tantalizingly close to a third straight try in the 75th minute as they touched the ball down in the endzone, only to see the potential game winning score wiped out by the officials.
Moments later, Challenger raced down the touchline to put the nail in the Pandas coffin, and propel the Vikes into the program’s second championship appearance.
“We have some time to think about Lethbridge and watch some video on them in order to get prepared,” stated Waters. “We played them well in the regular season so we know them a little bit. But tonight, we’ll let the girls celebrate a bit and then tomorrow it’s back to business to prepare for the championship match.”
On Sunday, for the first time in Canada West history, the Pronghorns and Vikes will meet for the conference crown, with match time beginning at 1:00 p.m. MST.
1 2 Final
ALB- 8 12 20
UVIC- 14 12 26
ALB tries: Jules Goss (2) and Haley Khatib
ALB convert: Rebecca Fairbairn
ALB penalty goal: Rebecca Fairbairn
UVIC tries: Chanelle Edwards-Challenger (3) and Gabrielle Senft
UVIC converts: Jessica Neilson (3)