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Maple Ridge girl chosen for B.C. sevens rugby team

Soleil Brooks will play in Las Vegas and BC Place
Maple Ridge secondary and Ridge Meadows Bruins rugby player Soleil Brooks has been chosen to play for the under-16 B.C. Elite Sevens rugby team. (Contributed)

Maple Ridge secondary rugby player and Ridge Meadows Bruins junior team captain Soleil Brooks has been chosen to play for the under-16 B.C. Elite Sevens rugby team.

Brooks will be playing in Las Vegas on March 1-3, and then in Vancouver on March 8-9. The Vancouver competition will be at UBC, and runs in conjunction with the HSBC Canada Sevens event at BC Place Stadium.

She was shocked to be selected. There were 80 athletes, both under-18 and under-16, at St. George’s school’s pitch in Vancouver on Jan. 12 and 13 for a program of tackling, ball handling and agility.

“That are lots of strong backs from Abbotsford and the Island,” she said, and Brooks expected the selectors to be impressed by the faster girls than a power runner like herself. She is a terror in the more crowded 15s game, but has limited experience in sevens.

The selectors had a lot of tough decisions.

“Coaches were blown away with the skills of the under-16 group in particular. The growth of numbers in girl’s rugby is clear, but what is just as evident is the increase in the level of play,” said a press release from BC Rugby. “This has come about by the coaching these players are receiving through high school and club rugby, coupled with the age-appropriate game experience through the BC Rugby club system.

“It is amazing to see the system working so well and the volume of talented athletes that are coming through.”

Her Bruins Rugby Club coach, Josh Ladd, said Brooks will stand out in any game, and she led his team in scoring last season.

“Soleil is a tank, but she’s a lot more than that,” Ladd said. “She’s one of our most passionate players. Not only is she a powerhouse on the field, but she’s also a leader off the field.

“She doesn’t get the ball without going for a run and knocking a few girls over,” he said. “And she’s one of the most devastating tacklers. It was cringe worthy watching her hit some girls last year.”

“She’s more of a 15s player in my opinion, but she’s got the skill that she can play sevens.”

Brooks started out in the sport as a prop, and enjoyed it.

“You’re the big meathead out there,” she laughed.

But as her relative speed and high skill level started to show, she has moved to eighth man where she gets to handle the ball more. She is also determined to make first contact after the opposing team collects the ball from a scrum.

Brooks was highlighted after being chosen to play in the 2018 BC Rugby junior girls’ club finals in December.

“Soleil Brooks is a strong forward notching several tries a game in both sevens and XVs formats. She is a dominant player, hard to take down, with skills to go with it. Her size, strength and skills make her a threat anywhere on the field and an asset to her teammates. An emerging leader in the team, both on and off the field, this Ridge Meadows player will be one to watch in the coming years.”

Although selected for the game, she was not able to compete that weekend.

Brooks is a multi-sport athlete, and has played goaltender in hockey on boys teams. She was with the bantam A4 team last season, but moving up to midget she is playing at the C level, as she focuses more on rugby. She is also on the MRSS wrestling team, and plays girls lacrosse.

“I wasn’t expecting to be a rugby player. I was hockey, hockey, hockey,” she said.

But she loves the spirit in rugby, “the camaraderie and sisterly love you have with your teammates,” and has found teammates become fast friends. She also appreciates the tradition to socialize with opponents right after you stop “pounding on each other.”

“There’s a lot more opportunity in rugby,” she said. “Rugby is growing in Canada and all around the world. It’s a great sport.”

According to the Telegraph in the UK, worldwide rugby has seen 60 per cent increase in participation since 2013, and females now make up a quarter of all players. Canada is one of the top-ranked countries in the world for female participation in the sport.

Ladd agrees with her assessment, saying the fast-growing sport will offer opportunities for the top female players to travel and even play overseas.

“She’s just an athlete. She’s got the passion, skill and aggression you need,” he said. “She just keeps getting better and better.”

Neil Corbett

About the Author: Neil Corbett

I have been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past decade with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.
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