Summit girl’s rugby embrace 7s play for state high school championship on Nov. 12 in Denver | SummitDaily.com

Summit girl’s rugby embrace 7s play for state high school championship on Nov. 12 in Denver

On the eve of his team's bid for a ninth consecutive state championship, Summit Rugby head coach Karl Barth is thinking about all the strange energy in the air right now.

"The Cubs just won the World Series, Ireland beat the (New Zealand) All Blacks for the first time in over 100 years, Donald Trump won the presidential election," Barth said near the end of practice on a cool November afternoon at the Summit High School football field. "I'm telling the girls, 'We'd rather not be the (Cleveland) Indians of this state championship.'"

Barth is hardly nervous — he and his girls team have been a dominant force in Colorado high school club rugby for more than a decade — but, strange energy aside, all of the pieces are in place for a potential upset.

It comes down to the style of play. For the first time in the history of the program, Barth's team will play sevens rugby for the state title at Denver's Infinity Park, not the more traditional 15s style. The two styles are the same in spirit, but with only seven athletes on a side playing seven-minute halves, the margin for error is much higher in sevens play.

"They're both awesome versions of the game and we've played both in the past," Barth said. "In 15s, it's rare that the better team doesn't win. In sevens, it's such a short and quick game that things can go either way… When we played 15s a couple of weeks ago, the players were really happy. They got to play together again, as one team, and that's been the hard thing. It's been difficult to have everyone split this season."

But those are coach concerns. Ask one of the 30-plus players Barth is bringing to state this year — every last one of them has been a defending state champ since joining the team — and chances are they've got one thing on their minds: playing Summit's best brand of rough, tough, whip-fast rugby.

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"We're just going to come in and play our best game," junior Erin Scott-Williams said after practice. "We have a lot of people who have played sevens before, but it's a new style of play for us and this is the first time we've had to do it at state."

Two teams, one title

When Summit travels to Denver on Saturday, the program will be split into two teams: the Summit Black team and Summit White team. Barth doesn't consider one varsity and the other JV. It's more like a split squad, he said, and it's the approach he's taken since the beginning of the fall season.

"Instead of having good, young players sitting on the bench, this gets them out there," Barth said of the split squad approach, which puts high-level players like Scott-Williams on the White team while others are on the Black team. "That's one reason. The other is we want to be competitive."

The state sevens championship begins as a round-robin tournament, with two pools of four teams each vying for a spot in the championship and runners-up matches. Summit Black enters the tournament at No. 1 overall after an undefeated season in Colorado, while Summit White comes in ranked No. 3 overall.

Between the two is Denver Swarm of southeast Denver — Summit's biggest threat and the only team with a victory against the Tigers during the regular sevens season. Swarm defeated the Summit White team once, 7-31 at the Legacy 7s Tournament, and then nearly took down the Summit Black team at the Monarch 7s Tournament. The Tigers rebounded there with two tries early in the second half to solidify the win, 14-7, but Barth knows Swarm is still a serious threat on the pitch.

"They have more speed than we have and that's the first time in a while that someone can outpace us," Barth said about the Swarm crew, which is coached by a New Zealand native who undoubtedly watched the historic Ireland vs. All Blacks match — and knows the power of the underdog. "They've built a great program there and sevens is all they play… They have a couple kids where if you give them space — if you give them room and miss tackles — they can score."

Barth's players also know Swarm is a serious opponent, and that's why they've done all they can to adjust their game plan.

"We just have to play our game like we have the entire year," said senior Marin Pennell, co-captain of the Black team with fellow senior Jodi Losch. "They've been shutting down one of our top players, Cassidy (Bargell), so we've had to adjust for them. We can adjust on the fly. I'm just hoping the White team can take them down before we have to play them."

That's the roughest part of the pool play for the state title: the White and Black teams could potentially face each other in the final, but first, the White team has to weather the Swarm.

"We're nervous," Scott-Williams said of her White team. "We have some of our top competitors, like Swarm, who will be really hard. It's going to be a very good and very tight game, but I'm excited."

If the White team and Black team both survive pool play, then two Summit teams will compete for the state title. There might be strange energy in the air, but in the grand scheme of World Series draughts and presidential shockers, this oddity is just fine with Barth and his players.

"We scrimmage the Black team every once in a while and things get heated," Scott-Williams said. "If we play them at state, it will be a very exciting match."

Rugby 7s State Championship

What: The only state high school championships for girls rugby, featuring fast and athletic sevens-style play with seven players per side in 14-minute matches

When: Saturday, Nov. 12, beginning at 10 a.m.

Where: Infinity Park, 4400 E. Kentucky Ave. in Glendale

Cost: Free for spectators

The Summit Black and Summit White teams both play in the state championship. The day begins with pool play split between a total of eight teams, with the Black team in one pool and White team in the other. Overall winners from both pools go on to the championship round. For more info, see summitrugby.com.