As underdogs in 2010, the Kelowna Owls knocked off Earl Marriott in the opening round of the B.C. high school boys AAA rugby playoffs.
A year later the No. 10-ranked KSS squad will seek another upset as they battle the seventh-ranked Yale Lions Saturday afternoon in Kamloops in the round of 16.
The Owls know they’ll need to be much better than the team that lost to Yale 42-12 in an exhibition game just five weeks ago in Kelowna.
KSS head coach Dave Marfleet said his team has taken some big strides since that defeat on Easter weekend.
“(Yale) beat us pretty good last time and we know we’re in for a challenge,” said Marfleet, whose team lost just twice this season. “But we’ve come a ways since then, we’re playing a lot better and the guys are peaking at the right time. The guys are tackling and rucking better than they have all year, and their line-outs have been exceptional. We’re playing well right now.”
The Owls, who claimed the Okanagan Valley title last week with a 15-8 win over Kamloops, finished an unexpected sixth at provincials last year, their best showing since 1992.
With about half of the current team returning from last year, Marfleet said experience could come into play for the Owls as the provincial tournament progresses.
KSS is led by captain Bryce Stirling, fellow Grade 12s Dane Peterson and Marty Wallace, and Grade 11 player Cole Mosychuk.
The Owls will be without another key leader in Kyle Patchell who is sidelined with a broken collarbone. Marfleet commended Hayden Miller’s strong play in Patchell’s absence, while Grade 11 scrum half Joey Wallick has also stepped up at key times late in the season.
With the players’ commitment to the program, their work ethic and attention to detail, Marfleet said anything is possible over the next week of competition.
“This is a really great group of guys that come with a great attitude. All the hard work and commitment has really been impressive. We go four and five days a week, and we have a 90 to 95 per cent attendance rate. There’s a work ethic and dedication to the program that these guys deserve credit for.”
The Owls battle Yale at 4 p.m. on Saturday in Kamloops. A win would send KSS to the top half of the championship draw and a top-eight finish, while a loss would relegate the Owls to ninth or lower.
Round 2 of the provincials is set for Wednesday, June 1 in Abbotsford, with the semifinals on June 2, and the final on Saturday, June 4.