While it has been some time since thriving rugby culture has lived and breathed at PECI, the game of hooligans played by gentlemen (and gentlewomen) -to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill- has successfully returned to the local sporting landscape.
PECI narrowly missed out on a clean sweep on Wednesday at home as the Cats did battle with Nicholson and St. Paul’s.
The first place senior boys suffered a rare setback, losing to the Crusaders 18-12. In a hard fought and physical contest, both teams scored two tries and added a convert but penalty kicks were difference for NCC. Panther tries were scored by Hudson Flynn and Liam Rice while Riley Grimmon added a convert.
In the second match, the junior boys Panthers got by the Falcons 17-15. In their best team game of the season, Connor Borton, Cam Billing and Malcom Gregor all crossed the try line while Borton’s boot provided the winning margin.
Finally, the PECI junior Girls busted out in their spring schedule with a big 32-7 win over St. Paul’s. Drew Spencer had four tires while Lainey Van Vlack got a try and a convert and Abi Childerhose added a try for five points.
PECI coach Doug Holt said organizers have been thrilled with the instant success the Panthers have displayed in 2022-23, noting this is the first time the school has had all four teams (Jr. Boys, Sr. Boys, Jr. Girls, Sr. Girls) take the pitch in over a decade.
“Over 130 athletes played rugby for PECI this year. It’s been a learning experience for both (Coach) Brandon MacKinnon and I, but we’ve been impressed with both the dedication of the athletes and the community support,” Holt told the Gazette. “From the Jr. and Sr. girls perspective, Sarah Jaeger has played a major role in establishing our program.”
In addition to staff coaching, Holt pointed to a number of community members including Adam Masson and Eli Verkuyl along with Belleville Bulldogs alums Tristan Cowan, Ayden McLean and Case McFarland and former Team Canada hooker Karl Svoboda have pitched in to quickly ramp up the program .
In terms of the Sr. Boys, this season marks the first in at least 15 years the Cats have been on the prowl for the Bay of Quinte regular season title.
“It’s a physical, tough and dedicated team looking to challenge at Bay of Quinte and COSSA,” Holt said.
The squad is led by Ben Smith at scrumhalf, Riley Grimmon at flanker and scrumhalf, Andrew Cumptsy at 8-man, Austin Stock at flanker, Gerrit Kempers at flyhalf, Liam Rice and Reese Kleinsteuber at centre, and Liam Phillip at centre and wing.
A total of 36 players are playing Jr. boys rugby and honing their skills learning in a very tough circuit that includes provincial favourites Centennial.
Currently, the Grade 9 section will be competing at the Barbarian Cup and Holt is are hopeful to qualify in Jr. as well. The team is led by Borton at scrumhalf, Griffin Lavender at flyhalf and Kieran Craig at prop.
On the girls side of the ball, the Panthers swelled in numbers from the fall to the spring season. PECI managed to make the COSSA semifinals in the fall, qualifying for he Barbarian Cup June 11 and 12 in Belleville.
PECI gets their scoring prowess from Team Ontario’s Spencer as inside centre and Holt points to Izzy Bailas at scrumhalf, Lainey VanVlack at flyhalf, and Abby Stock and Karter Barnes at flanker as Panthers that have led this season.
While the Senior girls didn’t climb up the standings in their first season back since the COVID pandemic interrupted secondary school sports, the Panthers can take pride in seeing a number of players invited to play post-secondary rugby next fall including: Alisha Bilodeau – University of Ottawa, Bethany Foster – University of Ottawa, Kayde Channell – Algonquin College.
“We couldn’t have seen this success without the support from volunteer coaches, families and the athletes themselves,” Holt added. “We look forward to building PECI rugby for years to come, beginning with two teams at the provincial championships this year in JR and looking forward to seeing the potential our SR boys have finishing their season.”
PECI hosts Centennial on Tuesday with the seniors kicking off at 3 p.m.
On Wednesday, Napanee will be at PECI to play the Jr. Girls in a Barbarian Cup tune up.
On Thursday, the PECI boys teams will be playing in the Bay of Quinte quarterfinals with times and locations to be determined.