Graham and BC Banshees place second
Merritt’s Emma Graham returned from Las Vegas late Sunday, Feb. 12th – a wee bit tanned and a whole lot fitter.
The 17-year-old, grade 12 student at Merritt Secondary School was one of only eleven female provincial high school rugby players chosen to participate in the Las Vegas Invitational, an elite seven-aside rugby festival that ran from February 9-12 in the famous Nevada city.
With close to 200 amateur teams in attendance, along with over 20 national sides from around the world, the LVI is one of the largest annual rugby gatherings on the globe.
Graham’s B.C. Banshees team finished second in the women’s high school division after losing 25-7 in the final to another Canadian squad, the Notre Dame Hounds from Wilcox, Saskatchewan.
“They live together and play together all the time,” stated Graham in reference to the Hounds. “They were all big, muscular girls. They hit hard and they were fast. They had the whole package.”
The Banshees made it to the championship game in their division thanks to a 4-1 record in round robin play. On Thursday, they handily beat a trio of American high school teams from Utah and Washington State by a combined score of 81-0.
Friday morning, they won their fourth game by default as their opposition from Armstrong, Minnesota forfeited the game.
The Banshees’ final outing in the preliminaries was also against Notre Dame. Their first meeting was a close one as the Hounds edged the B.C. girls 10-7.
In the gold-medal rematch a few hours later, the Hounds capitalized on some early turnovers, and maintained strong defensive pressure, to take the championship title from their fellow Canucks.
Far from being disappointed in the loss to Notre Dame, Graham relished the opportunity to play such a high-calibre side.
“When you play a team that is very skilled and better than you, you get to work on a lot of techniques that you learn in practice but don’t always get to use in a game,” she said. “It makes you a better player.”
Following their own competition on the Thursday and Friday, Graham and her teammates got to take in some of the pomp and ceremony happening off-field, as well as some of the action taking place in the international division of the LVI event.
“Friday night, we went down to Old Vegas where they have the light shows,” described Graham. “They had something called the Parade of Nations. A red carpet was laid out, and all of the  men’s national teams on hand for the seven’s competition walked the length of it and high-fived us. It was pretty neat to see them up close. Their biceps are bigger than my head!”
Saturday morning, Graham and three of her Banshee mates took part in a combine workout in front of dozens of U.S. college and university rugby coaches and scouts.
“We did all sorts of sprints, and passing and tackling drills, as well as an obstacle course,” she explained. “It was one of the first rugby combines that they’ve ever done. It was sponsored by adidas. We were trying to convince the sponsors to have one up in Canada.”
Saturday afternoon saw the B.C. Banshees on hand at magnificent Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas for some of the final matches in the international competition. They were able to watch Canada’s women’s team defeat France, and Samoa upset New Zealand to take the men’s title.
“I was cheering for Samoa,” said Graham. “When we [the MSS girls’ rugby team] went to Fiji in the spring, we met a Samoan team.”
The young Merritt rugby star, who is only one of four grade 12s on this year’s MSS Panther squad, won’t soon forget the wonderful trip to Las Vegas.
“It was definitely a neat experience all-around.”