The University of Victoria Vikes women’s rugby team got their Canada West season off to a strong start on Sept. 25 with a 40-22 win over the Lethbridge Pronghorns at Wallace Field in Victoria. The victory starts the Vikes’ 2015 campaign off on the right foot at 1-0 record, while the Pronghorns fall to 0-1.

Tries from Vikes Jaiden Parhar, Caitlin Harvey, Gabrielle Senft, Nakisa Levale and a pair from Madeleine Graham led the offensive charge for the home side on Friday, while scrum Jess Neilson added to the tally making five conversions. Lethbridge scored through Nicole Ronsky, Sarah Gordon and a pair of tries from Frederique Tremblay. Gordon added a conversion in the loss.

“It’s a great way for the girls to start,” said Brittany Waters, who logs her first win as official Vikes women’s rugby head coach. “We’re not a big team, so we knew we’d have to be technical in their area and fight from the breakdown, which was our main goal.”

The Vikes struck first when second-year Vike Graham went untouched into the Horns’ end zone down. Graham pushed her way down the sideline after a great transition from the ruck. Neilson made the conversion to open the scoring for the Vikes, 7-0.

The advantage didn’t last long for the Vikes after the Horns stormed back using their size to drive deep into Vikes territory. Ronsky mirrored the Vikes’ first try by charging her way down the sidelines fighting through two Vikes defenders before touching down for the try to and getting the Horns on the board. Lethbridge missed the ensuing conversion to keep the Vikes ahead 7-5.

Right from the restart, the Vikes were offered a dangerous opportunity deep in Horns territory when the kick was knocked on to put the possession back into the hands of the Vikes. However, the Horns defense would stand strong and stop the Vikes offence in its tracks.

From then on for the remainder of the first half, the Vikes began to take control of the game. The Vikes’ second try came from fifth-year lock Harvey after a series of forward pushes near the Horns’ zone. The following conversion was missed, but the Vikes stretched their lead to 12-5 with the five points.

Lovale followed suit only minutes later with a strong individual run that cut through the Horns defence. After faking out two Horns defenders, she ran uncontested to the end zone to touch down the Vikes’ third try eleven minutes from half. The conversion pushed the Vikes ahead 19-5.

Poor turnovers began to catch up to the Horns late in the first half as the Vikes began capitalizing on their mistakes. The Vikes continued their dominance through Parhar, extending the lead to 26-5 after the successful try and conversion to give the Vikes ample breathing room.

Horns’ fourth-year wing Ronsky injected some motivation into the Horns’ side before half time with a 35-yard run through the midfield before being pushed out of bounds by Vikes first-year centre Chanelle Edwards-Challenger.

Parhar received a yellow card late in the first half for impeding offside, reducing the Vikes to 14 players for the rest of the first half. The Vikes subbed in first-year wingFrelen Gorst to help the Vikes keep Lethbridge at bay for the rest of the first half.

The Vikes entered half time leading Lethbridge 26-5 and would continue their offensive push through the break.

Despite the disadvantage in numbers at the beginning of the second half, the Vikes started on the front foot. Starting with a smart run from Edwards-Challenger cutting back through the Horns’ line, Graham finished off a good offensive series by pushing through the middle of the field to touch it down for five points and her second try of the game. The conversion made the score 33-5 for the Vikes.

The Horns battled back off the restart, beginning with an inspired individual run from Ronsey from behind the centre line. A smart tackle from the Vikes would stop the Horns short of the end zone, but it wouldn’t stop the Horns from driving the ball in to make it 33-12 after the conversion.

The Horns continued to make things interesting by scoring their second try in minutes to cut the deficit to 33-17. However, the Vikes would push out wide on the overlap with their next possession, running in uncontested on the wing to make the score 40-17 for the Vikes after the conversion.

The Vikes and Horns traded blocked kicks off the following restart before the Horns would take their first yellow card of the game to reduce them to 14 players.

After returning to full strength, Lethbridge scored on an outside drive late in the game to make the score 40-22 for the Vikes. But it was to no avail as the referee blew for full time to give the Vikes the win in their first taste of Canada West action this season.

“The girls added their own flare and played with a lot of freedom,” added Waters. “Offensively and devensively the girls did exactly what we’ve been doing in training, so from a performance stand point today was excellent.”

“All 22 players that came on the field today did their job from the veterans to the rookies.”

The Vikes defence was resilient, having to deal with Lethbridge’s significant size advantage.

“They’re strong in contact and not afraid to take us on,” said Waters. “We knew we needed to get them down to the ground quickly and strop that drive. Our defence was very strong and stopped their big runners. They had some speed out wide that they utilized but with our great swarm defence we were able to minimize that.”

The Vikes women return to action in two days, Sept. 27, against the Calgary Dinos at 11:30 a.m. and will pay tribute to the late Jenny Vincent. Lethbridge heads to the mainland to wrap up their series on the road against the UBC Thunderbirds.

SCORING SUMMARY
Victoria         26    14   40
Lethbridge     5     17   22

SCORING LEADERS
Victoria Tries: Jaiden Parhar, Caitlin Harvey, Gabrielle Senft, Nakisa Levale, Madeleine Graham (2)
Converts: Jess Neilson (5)
Penalty Goals: /

Lethbridge:
Tries: Nicole Ronsky, Frederique Tremblay (2), Sarah Gordon
Converts: Sarah Gordon
Penalty Goals: /

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