Title ends team’s rollercoaster campaign
STRATFORD Ladies capped a rollercoaster season by being crowned NE Midlands Touch Rugy league champions, reports Hollie Fletcher.
Over the course of the campaign there had been a constant battle for top spot with Camp Hill and Five Ways Old Eds, but the real strength of the team came through as Stratford supported their gorgeous teammate Katie Pritchard who was battling cancer.
As the seasons changed and summer started to show a glimpse of sunshine, the devastating news came that although Katie found the strength to watch us in our home tournament just the week before, her battle with cancer had been lost. There have been many tears this season from the whole team, but we continued to show up and play for Katie who we knew was still with us.
This awful news bought the whole team closer; Stratford were determined to continue playing just as Katie did when she first found out how unwell she was. Stratford continued to get in the top spots each tournament showing up every week with passion, fire and face paint.
As the weeks continued, Stratford and Camp Hill were both playing well resulting in a very close race for top of the league.
The final league tournament was played at Five Ways which pulled out a lot of emotions from the team. Just the year before, this was the tournament where Katie turned up late, played a phenomenal game scoring try after try, and where she had first found out she had cancer and was in terrible pain. Katie loved touch and was determined to play – and play she did.
Stratford arrived ready and the mood was full of love and good energy. This was not just about winning the league; this was about winning for all the loved ones who couldn’t be there on the day. The conditions were perfect for a mud bath which gave Stratford no excuse other than to dive for the try line when it would undoubtedly come in reach.
The first half started with a strong Stratford defence, which has been proven all season, running Camp Hill out of touches and turning the ball over quickly. Stratford ploughed up the pitch with quick hands and nimble feet putting the pressure on their opponents.
Once they arrived at their line, calm play and direction from Delphine Vialan with a quick draw and pass (that even Marcus Smith would be impressed with) landed safely in the hands of captain Bec Charles – Kate’s sister – who was the perfect player to score the opening try.
Camphill attempted to make their way through the fierce wall of Stratford defenders only to lose the ball and have it fall into Stratford’s adrenaline-fuelled hands. As the ball was moved at speed towards the try line, a shocking intercept come from a speedy Camp Hill player to ensure it was 1-1 at half-time.
Stratford started the second half with a tequila. No, not the drink, a move which consists of a fast three touches, dummy runners, a loop, and a long ball which landed once again with captain Charles who read the game and passed to Lily Flanagan who flew down the left wing to give Stratford their second try.
Stratford held off Camp Hill until full time giving them the NE League title. The team of 18 players (some playing for their first time) was then split into two sides to compete in the Super Sunday tournament against 11 other teams. Players of the tournament included Edith Ledbury, who took the reins with some brilliant runs in the Under-30s team, and Bethan Cook, who was relentless in defence and made some great yards all day. The Over-30s team finished in seventh and earned them the ‘Ball’ level trophy for the day.
Stratford Ladies would like to say a huge ‘thank you’ the all the supporters over the season, their amazing, talented and patient coach Elliot Smith, their speedy, agile and resilient captain Bec Charles and of course the amazing Katie who we know was with them every time they played.