Summit Rugby wins 9th (yes, 9th) straight state title, 10-5 against Swarm in Glendale | SummitDaily.com

Summit Rugby wins 9th (yes, 9th) straight state title, 10-5 against Swarm in Glendale

For a few heartbeats in the state final, it looked liked the girls of Swarm might hand the eight-time defending champs with Summit Rugby a loss.

And then four-year senior Marin Pennell had the stop of her high school career.

On a crystal-clear Saturday afternoon at Infinity Park in Glendale, Summit Black faced Swarm in front of a healthy home crowd for 14 minutes of winner-takes-all play. At stake: the Colorado High School Girls Rugby Sevens State Championship. It was the Tigers' first time playing the pared-down sevens format for a state championship — the past eight titles have been more traditional 15s, with 15 players per side as opposed to seven players — and both teams had weathered three games to reach the final.

"A lot of this was about managing the day: just making sure you stay hydrated and intense, even with four games," Summit head coach Karl Barth said. "They had to keep it going strong through that final. It was a barnburner. Both of the teams possess the ball for a long time, and when we've played them in the past it's been a close game."

Barth sent two teams to state: the undefeated Summit Black team, filled with a bunch of seniors and a few All-Americans, and the nearly undefeated Summit White team, filled with veteran juniors and promising sophomores who lost just twice this season — including once to the fast and fit Swarm team.

Back to Pennell. Late in the second half of the sevens final, Summit Black was up, 10-5, when Swarm managed to sneak a player past Meghan Sockett and Cassidy Bargell. The Tigers were already down a player or two — Bargell's fellow All-Stater, Jodi Losch, was injured in the previous game, and the senior was playing more minutes than she'd been used to — and the game was achingly close, especially for a team known for thrashing opponents. Pennell was the lone player between Swarm and a ninth-consecutive state championship.

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"It really came down to Marin Pennell," Barth said. "Meghan and Cassidy were getting to the end, with almost nothing in the tank. Cassidy even had the flu the night before. You could see she was on empty, and then Marin had this go-go-gadget arm reach to bring their player down."

Pennell had the clutch stop with less than a minute to go, stalling the solo Swarm player just long enough for her teammates to collapse on the ruck and wait out the clock for the victory, 10-5.

Chances are good Swarm would have won with the score — a try is worth five and the kick after is good for two, or 12-10 — but Pennell wasn't about to let it happen. The team had come too far and played too well, Barth said. There was Cassidy Bargell's younger sister, Delanie, who played twice as hard when Cassidy felt sick, and then there was Sockett, who scored both of Summit's trys in the final thanks to smart, perceptive play: When Swarm played double and even triple coverage on Cassidy Bargell, Sockett was right there to take the ball.

"We were a little thin going into the final, but Natalie really stepped up and played a lot of minutes," Barth said. "Delanie Bargell was a counter-rucking beast. It really showed us that it takes a squad, a team, to win a championship."

Bookends at state

The Summit White team lost just once at the state tournament, 0-15 to Swarm during pool play, and earned a spot in the consolation game against Chaparral. There, the Tigers "thrashed a disheartened Chaparral," Barth said, running the score up to 31-5 in 14 minutes. The finals standings: Summit Black in first, Swarm in second and Summit White in third.

So. With a ninth-consecutive state championship, Summit Rugby has proven they can dominate at 15s and out-pace at sevens. This team is deep, and players like the Bargell sisters aren't even seniors. Does Barth think his program can keep cleaning house, even if an unpredictable and fast-paced game like sevens becomes the championship standard?

"After watching the level of play this weekend — the intensity of the day in the final — it was great to see," said Barth, who, despite those stressful final seconds, had a blast just being there. "I'd imagine it will be more sevens play for state. It was just fun rugby to watch, very close games, and that was worth it."