In return to rugby, Summit girls win 2 of 3 at Denver East
Tigers elated to get back on the pitch
DENVER — It was the first time in years Karl Barth had been back to this Colorado rugby relic.
And what a memory it’ll be for the prolific Summit rugby head coach.
With his team at Cook Park playing under the towering blue and red rugby uprights from his playing days of yesteryear with the Denver Harlequins, Barth did whatever he had to do to ensure Saturday’s chance for the Tigers girls teams to play the game they love was not lost.
When it turned out one referee was injured and another was unable to attend due to a virus quarantine, Barth refereed Tigers junior-varsity and varsity games. Even Tigers 2020 grad and Harvard freshman-to-be and USA Rugby developmental player PK Vincze stepped up and refereed some action. Ultimately, no circumstance could have dampened the elation of the proud Tigers program Saturday in the program’s first real competition against an outside program in 18 months.
“Everybody is happy just to play,” Barth said. “You know (you love the sport), but when it’s taken away from you, you really (understand).”
As the action wrapped up on a warm, bluebird day, the Tigers’ top “Green” team won two games before losing in the final moments of the final affair against Denver East’s best. The overall best 2-out-of-3 result meant Summit won the day in the standings in the new Colorado Interscholastic Rugby Association, a first-year league of high schools that is in operation for the first time this spring.
Summit is hoping to win a 13th-straight state championship after winning 12 in a row in the Rugby Colorado league, which also featured some non-scholastic club sides. Despite the league change, the girls were well aware of the improving competition Summit will have to face across the state, starting with Denver East.
East is a program run by Rachel Ryan — an all-star player-turned-coach who Barth coached in national team settings. Ryan had the athletic East team challenging Summit down the sidelines in the wide-open 7-players-per-side Olympic style.
Tigers senior leader Bryton Ferrari was recognized by the association after the game for her 19-point performance from both the outfield and kicking. Ferrari was one of several veteran and rookie contributing players for the Tigers, who scrapped back from a 5-0 deficit to defeat East 17-5 in the first match of the day.
“Bryton did for the most part what she always does, which is lead from the front and try to attack and create, and I think early on we struggled with that a little bit,” said Barth, who had the players self-coach the opener as he refereed. “I think they were just trying to be a little too perfect early.”
Ferrari and Lillie Carleton scored in the second half to win the opener before Ferrari, veteran leader Maleena Mero and varsity newcomers Danna Rodriguez and Regan Jackson also scored en route to a 26-7 win to clinch the day. Barth also highlighted Rila Long, Brielle Quigley, Mackenna Orr and Crystal Gomez’s contributions on a day the Tigers were without speedy veteran playmaker Olyvia Snyder down the wing.
“In past years we’ve had a lot of shine-out stars, but right now everyone is shining,” Mero said.
For Barth and the Tigers players, the victories were the first steps forward in a season where they are continuing to find their “blue-collar” identity and use depth as a strength early in a season that will stretch into early May.
“It’s a little more of a blue collar team in terms of everyone having to do their thing,” Barth said. “Mackenna had some good runs on it. Regan Jackson was amazing, freshman who came up and played, Olyvia quarantined, few through school quarantined, youngsters we played in second half a lot whole last game.
As for the 19-17 loss in the final game, Barth said to credit the persistent East players for never giving up. He said the loss is a teaching moment after East won the game down the sideline after the Tigers missed some kick conversions early and gave up a score wide down the sideline in the final seconds.
Summit was also able to provide a senior moment for injured star Lily Hess. The top-tackler Hess will play rugby next year at Coastal Carolina, but is out all of this season with a wrist injury. Hess ran out onto the pitch to kick conversions to give the Tigers a comeback lead in the final game despite being sidelined. It’s a good-sportsmanship nod toward the importance of just giving the girls a chance to play the game in some capacity amid the pandemic uncertainty that is forcing other Tigers teams into quarantine and threatening chunks of an already-short season.
“Let’s face it,” Barth said, “the most important thing is to play.”
Photo by Jason Connolly / Jason Connolly Photography
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