Prince Albert rugby players grateful for experience representing Saskatchewan at western championships

Sarah Murphy (left) and Josephine Tolentino (right) represented Saskatchewan at the Western Canadian Rugby Championships. -- Submitted photos.

The Western Canadian Rugby Championships were a great experience for two Prince Albert rugby players who represented Saskatchewan at the event.

Sarah Murphy (U16 Girls) and Josephine Tolentino (U18 Girls) both made the trip to Calgary as members of Team Saskatchewan. This was the third year Murphy has played for Team Saskatchewan, and the first for Tolentino.

“It was awesome,” Murphy said. “It was fun getting to go out and play with different people from Saskatchewan.”

“I learned a lot and experienced a lot on the team,” Tolentino added. “I grew closer with my team, and I feel like that bond made us compete better.”

The U18 Girls started off with their most difficult test, taking on the eventual champions from B.C. in their opening game. The B.C. squad jumped out to an early lead, and cruised to a 43-0 victory.

It was a baptism by fire for Tolentino, who said the experience made Saskatchewan a better unit.

“We played B.C. our first game, so it was pretty scary, especially being my very first tournament and my very first year playing rugby for Team Sask.,” Tolentino explained. “I’d say it was pretty terrifying, but it was a really good experience.”

B.C. would go on to beat Ontario 14-10 in the final. Team Saskatchewan went winless in the tournament, falling 15-12 to Manitoba, 50-0 to Alberta, and 24-7 to the Pacific Northwest, an American team made up of players from the northwestern states.

Despite the losses, Tolentino excelled, and was named Team Saskatchewan’s MVP for their last two matches against Manitoba and the Pacific Northwest.

“From the first game to the last game we really improved as a team,” she said. “I feel like all of us from the start could easily get along with each other. We all got along really well really fast. The team was really accepting to me this year. It felt like a family.”

Tolentino said she had a lot of help and fundraising support from friends, family, and coaches in Prince Albert that helped her get to the event. She’s heading into Grade 12 this fall, but plans to keep playing rugby once she graduates.

Murphy and the U16 Girls squad also opened the tournament with a tough test, losing 43-0 to the eventual silver medalists from Ontario in their first game. They then fell 31-7 to Alberta, 42-5 to B.C., and 28-0 to the Pacific Northwest.

Murphy said Team Saskatchewan faced tough completion, but steadily improved the more they played together.

“I was kind of nervous, but after the first half it was really good,” she said.

“I think we did really well for not getting together and practicing as much as some of the other teams. Most teams practice together, but we had only ever been together, I think, four times.”

At age 16, Murphy still has a couple years of eligibility left. She plans to keep playing rugby for Team Saskatchewan in the future.

On the boys side, Saskatchewan sent only one team, a U18 Boys squad that featured two Prince Albert players: Matthew Tysiaczny and Cameron Neudorf.

Team Saskatchewan opened the tournament with a 38-0 loss to Ontario, followed by a 55-0 loss to Alberta.

On day two, the squad lost 55-0 to B.C. and 27-7 to Team Atlantic. They then suffered a close 5-0 loss to the Pacific Northwest in their final game.

B.C. defeated Ontario 15-0 in the gold medal game.

The Western Canadian Rugby Championships ran from Aug. 4-6.