Family feel as Summit High girls rugby practices with U.S. Olympic team
BRECKENRIDGE — Saturday at the U.S. Olympic Women’s Rugby Team clinic at the Breckenridge Recreation Center, the family and community element of the sport of rugby was displayed as well as you could ever see it.
Before the stars of the U.S. Women’s Senior National Team bonded with wide-eyed Summit High rugby players during Sunday’s practice, a member of the Summit rugby family joined them all. Summit High alum and Lindenwood University national champion Taylor Bohlender broke out the rugby boots from the back of her car.
“Like all good rugby players,” Summit Head Coach Karl Barth said. “You never know when there’s a game.”
“Yeah,” Bohlender said, “I don’t really leave the house without them.”
Bohlender then joined the Tigers in taking part in the drills and games that Team USA coached Summit through. Before she did, Barth introduced her to current Summit star Brielle Quigley. The current and former Summit player bonded about mutual friends and connections, as Sunday was a story about how the prideful Summit rugby community members from past and present got the once-in-a-lifetime chance to practice with Team USA at the start of an Olympic year.
Sunday was about rekindling old rugby relationships while also forging new ones. A longtime esteemed member of the U.S. rugby community, Barth got the chance to catch up with Ilonha Maher, who’s father Barth once played with. Barth also chatted with the national team’s trainer Nicole Titmas, who he’s known for a long time, among other national team personnel.
Then there are the national team players Barth has coached before. As for the one’s he hadn’t, the Team USA players whom Barth had coached told them all about him.
“Most of them were like, ‘we’ve heard things about you,'” Barth said with a laugh.
It all wrapped into a one-of-a-kind practice session on Sunday where former and current Tigers played with Team USA stars. To Barth, there is nothing much cooler for a coach than seeing someone like Maher — who he’s seen grow from childhood to the highest levels of rugby — pulling aside one of his young players to work with them one-on-one. Just that happened when freshman Sofia Brown was pulled aside by Maher.
In a way, it was kind of a passing of a torch of Barth’s rugby family and relationships.
“How often do you get to work with an Olympian?” Barth said.
Brown was far from the only Tiger to get the chance to learn directly from the country’s best players. The practice was set up in a fashion where the Tigers rotated between three stations, each coached by a different group of Team USA players. At the first station, Team USA players created a game-like situation where an offensive team of Tigers attempted to make a try against a defense with one fewer player. The idea was to help Summit players work on their back-and-forth decision making. At the second station, Team USA players set up a kind of “rugby basketball,” where they passed the ball a minimum number of times before attempting to touch down for a point. The third station was specific to passing.
After the rotations, the Team USA players broke the Summit girls up into different groups based on their positions. The young players then got the chance, in a more one-on-one setting, to be coached by the best players in the county at their specific positions.
For Summit senior prop PK Vincze, that meant the chance to learn more about kicking from the U.S.’s top kicker, Leyla Elev Kelter. Barth said Sunday was interesting because some of the more experienced Tigers players, like Vincze, were actually the ones with more nerves about meeting the Team USA players, as they’ve followed and watched them through their careers.
“She helped me to fine tune where I drop the ball,” Vincze said of Kelter, “so I can get more underneath the ball, and then just make sure my follow through is exactly where I want to go.”
Summit flyhalf Bryton Ferrari got the chance to learn more about tracking skills and tackling from Team USA stars like Naya Elena Tapper, Abby Gustaitis and Kristi Kirshe. And the Summit flyhalf Quigley got to work on the fundamentals of her throw-ins with Team USA’s flyhalves.
After about 90 minutes of practice, the Tigers family and the Team USA family came together to end with a USA chant in unison.
Reflecting on the afternoon, Vincze summed its meaning up perfectly for the young Tigers girls: These Team USA stars are, in a way, the equivalent role models for these young girls to look up to as NFL stars like Von Miller or Peyton Manning.
It’s always good to have a hero. It’s even better to have them instill confidence in you.
“For young players to see, ‘Oh, this is the kind of person that is really great in our sport,’” Vincze said, “and be able to work toward that goal, then they are able to grow. Boys have football players to look up to, and there aren’t as many in rugby. So it was cool for them to meet their idols.”
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