For as strong as the Axemen Rugby Club was in the BC Rugby Union's Mainland Division 3 regular season, the club kicked it up a notch in the playoffs.
Featuring players from all over the Sea to Sky, the Axemen capped an incredible 2018-19 campaign with its first title on May 4, downing Richmond 33-3. The local side lost just once this season, finishing the regular season 13-1 and outscoring opponents 481-82 while boasting easily the best offensive and defensive numbers in the league.
Not that they needed it, but the Axemen caught a break with a first-round bye after their opponent from Langley couldn't field a team. The squad then rolled Chilliwack 57-0 before topping Richmond.
Head coach Blake Mahovic noted the club has enjoyed success in its first five seasons, reaching two semifinals and a final before this campaign.
"It was nice to go out there and win—and win pretty convincingly, too," he said.
Given the team's dominance throughout the season, Mahovic said there wasn't more instruction to give in the lead-up to the final. Rather, it was a matter of getting everyone into the right state of mind.
"We knew we could do it, but it's always a case of people getting too anxious and trying to do a bit too much when we have a structure in place," he said. "In that week of preparation, we were just keeping players calm, making sure that they trust in the system and we're doing what we know we have to do.
"There's not really much coaching to be done."
The championship game got off to perhaps a bit of a slow start for a team that had run wild on its challengers all season, as the Axemen held just a 5-3 advantage at halftime. However, the Axemen reeled off four tries in the second half to cruise to the win. Mahovic scored two of those, with Matthew Jolley, Jack Couzens and Stephen List scoring singles. Neil Irwin added four conversions.
Mahovic sensed some nerves at the break, but the coaching staff helped the players reset to come out strong in the second half.
"We went back out, straight back to the game plan and it was just like the start of the game," he said. "We actually came out a lot stronger in the second half than we did in the first, and it was a testament to the boys."
Richmond, which scored at a rate trailing only the Axemen, couldn't get anything going against a defence that bent, but never broke.
"They were five metres from our try line for a solid 10 minutes of the first half and we managed to keep them out," Mahovic recalled.
President and co-founder Al Macaulay said in an email that the victory provides a gratifying feeling after rebooting the club a half-decade ago.
"I am not sure I have words for just how much this means to myself and the club, and all those who have been involved from the restart 5 years ago. I am incredibly thankful for all the players, the coaching staff, the fans and the sponsors who have all contributed to getting us where we are today," he wrote. "It's such an incredible feeling."
Macaulay noted that Mahovic coming in as coach three years ago helped elevate the team from one that struggled at times to field 15 players to a real contender.
"Once that was in place it all took off from there. Players bought into the club and the direction it was going. Over the past few seasons the club has grown to become more than just a rugby club, and if you ask any member they will tell you that we are all a family, and this is one of the biggest reasons for our success," he wrote.
Looking ahead, the Axemen will seek promotion to Division 2 with an eye on fielding a second team in Division 3. As well, the club is hoping to field a women's team in 2019-20.
"We'll be fielding two more teams in September, hopefully," Mahovic said, noting recruitment will be a major focus for the club this year.
The club, which held a youth jamboree in Squamish on the weekend, is also looking to boost its programming for kids in seasons to come.
A major part of the expansion involves finding and building a permanent home for the club, as it currently rents its practice fields.
"It would be nice to have something that we could call our clubhouse, and then a field that we could have a centralized location where we would have the youth programs, the men's and women's programs, and we would open it up to the community over the weekend," he said.
Those interested in more information on the program can visit www.facebook.com/AxemenRugbyClub.