Summit girls rugby embrace 7s and 15s play with introduction of Olympic rugby
September 23, 2016
In the span of one season, Summit girls rugby has lost half of their players on the pitch.
No, it wasn't due to district resizing or a scandal — it was because of a change in the rules of the game. In an effort to make play more competitive this fall, Colorado Rugby (the club league the Tigers team plays under) changed all league play to sevens, in contrast to the traditional 15s competition that was played last year.
Sevens is as it sounds, played with seven players on the field at a time, with a shorter game clock and slightly different rules. This creates for a lower scoring yet more competitive atmosphere.
New style, new play
Sevens is new to Colorado high school rugby and was just introduced as a first-year Olympic sport, but it's hardly new for starters on the Tigers team. Summit rugby girls have played sevens before (the Utah Sevens Tournament last fall) and will play a few unofficial 15s matches this fall, like a brutal 71-0 win against Palmer at home on Sept. 17.
Nevertheless, the difference in the two styles of play is real and has been a noticeable adjustment for these dominant players, especially since they still have a few 15s games mixed in. Imagine a basketball team that sporadically fluctuated from five to nine players on the court from game to game, and you have an idea of Summit Rugby's current predicament.
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"It was kind of hard when we played sevens two weekends ago, and then last Saturday we played 15s, and now we're back to sevens," senior Natalie Gray said. "It's kind of a weird back and forth."
One of the biggest differences with sevens rugby is the spacing of play. Fewer players means bunches and scrums are less likely to occur, which puts more emphasis on speed.
"Switching back and forth can be a little difficult," senior Marin Pennell said. "Like with the sevens you're spread out, and with the 15s you're really tight. Definitely transitioning back to sevens from 15s takes us a second to get our depth back."
Pennell was rudely acquainted with the change while playing scrum half at practice earlier this fall.
"Someone made a break and I realized, like, 'Oh geez, that's my job,'" Pennell said. "I'm not supposed to just follow the ball. I have to go back and be the support player."
With the loss of quick-footed Tigers Becca Jane Rosko and Bridget Corson — both graduated last year and went on to play collegiate rugby — the change doesn't exactly coincide with Summit's current skillset.
"We have some speed," Gray admitted. "(But) not as much as last year obviously."
Adding to the challenge is the team makeup. Head coach Karl Barth has split the varsity team into two squads — black and green — in order to afford playing time for enough members of the team.
"You have to think a lot faster in sevens because there's a lot more pressure," said junior Cassidy Bargell, one of the current team's speediest players. "As far as thinking faster we're still working on that."
Past dominance paves the way
With the exception of a few minor rules changes, the sevens game is structured the same as 15s. Summit relies on past success to guide the team through the transition — past success to the tune of eight straight state championships and a second-place performance at high school 15s nationals last spring. For every moment of frustration there are still twice as many instances of success, and the team has drawn sevens fundamentals from recent campaigns.
"When we played 15s, our style was more of the faster game because we're the smaller team, so I think it's been an easier transition because we tend to play more sevens style anyway," Bargell explained. "I like sevens, yeah, a lot better."
To welcome the new style, Summit hosted a sevens tournament on Sept. 10 to start the regular season. The two varsity teams competed against three other varsity teams from around the state.
The two Summit teams still faced off in the championships round, but the games in between were closer than usual. The Summit black team beat the Lumberjackies 21-0 in one game — the lowest score for any of Summit's in-state games in the past year.
After that first tournament, the Tigers realized they had to work on sevens strategy and fundamentals. Their sevens play is still a work in progress, but Gray is optimistic about the way the team has been coming along.
"There were times that we played really well, and there was (sic) times that there was definitely a lot that we needed to work on, but I think that just getting into the groove of it is what we need the most," she explained.
Summit sevens, round 2
Summit returns to sevens this weekend, with games split between Denver and Summit High Saturday. The following few weeks of play will show how much they've developed as a revamped side.
"The next week we're in Evergreen and Glendale, and then the next week we're in Utah," Barth said. "The nice thing is we can kind of focus on playing sevens."
In Utah, Summit will play in a Pink Sevens tournament that features an elite field of national teams. The high-level tournament could either legitimize their sevens training, or be an eye-opening wake-up call. Summit won the tournament last year and many on the team still think they have a good shot at a repeat.
"We definitely are going to try to win," Gray said. "We are going to be challenged and it's going to be fun to see what we can be like."
Summit's biggest scoring threat is just as committed.
"It's definitely different than last year because we don't have the same speed on the team, but I think that if we play to our strengths anything can happen," Bargell said. "It's anyone's game, any day."
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