Vaunted Summit High girls rugby hopes for more elite results with faster, younger team
BRECKENRIDGE — Despite the fact that they’ll start the season returning only two starters from last year’s top team, the Summit High School girls rugby program expects to contend with the state and country’s best teams again this season.
Of the program’s 52 players this season, only nine are seniors. It’s one of those years, Tigers head coach Karl Barth said, when a small class finally rises up in the ranks to senior status. On the other end of the spectrum, twice as many freshmen, 18, are a part of the program this year.
After losing such accomplished players as Jordan Elam, CeCe Pennell and Clara Copley, among others, the Tigers will start their campaign for a 12th consecutive state title with just two of last year’s starters in their sevens lineup: PK Vincze and Nicole Kimball. A third starter from last season, senior Logan Simson, should return from rehabbing a shoulder injury sometime in September. But another injured player, senior Abby Daugherty, won’t be back this season after undergoing surgery for a torn ACL this offseason.
The injury was a tough one for Daugherty after she got hurt playing for the Colorado all-state team at the Rocky Mountain Challenge club tournament at Glendale’s Infinity Park earlier this summer. But during preseason practice the past two weeks, Daugherty has settled into a half-captain, half-coach role. It’s one her and Barth have termed “ca-pooch.”
“I realized I had to change my idea of what rugby is and change my role as part of the team,” Daugherty said. “And now, I am more of a mentor. I’m there for the JV girls to show them the ropes and build them up higher.”
When 35% of your program is made up of freshmen and 60% are freshmen or sophomores, it’s a tough time to lose a veteran player the caliber of Daugherty. But Barth said the first couple of weeks of practice have been fun to watch several young Tigers step out of the shadows of departed players.
“They’ve brought good energy so far,” the coach said. “ I think we’ll have a little slower start than probably last year’s team, but I don’t have any doubt that we’ll finish any less. They’ll finish strong. It might take them a little longer to find those pieces to the puzzle. Last year’s team already had that experience at the top level. There’s some young kids, some sophomores, who are going to be on that first team, pushing to play. But it’s just about getting them comfortable, playing off of each other, using their strengths.”
Barth said he expects to field three teams for sure this year and likely a fourth if underclassmen are able to stay healthy. The Tigers’ top side will play a faster, more wide-open style of rugby this year after last season’s team preferred a more direct, physical style. Summit’s second side, which will play varsity-level competition at some tournaments, is actually physically bigger than the Tigers’ top team.
The top side will be led by Vincze and Kimball’s extensive confidence and experience, but other players, such as four-year Tiger Natalie Anderson will also play a big leadership role.
“It was really helpful to be on the second team last year competing against the same level of teams, but maybe with a less experienced group,” Anderson said. “That forced us to step up, and that definitely helped make it easier this year for that group to be the new leaders.”
Aug. 29: Green, 40, vs. White, 37
Sept. 7: First at Summit 7’s, Tiger Stadium
Sept. 14: First at Terror 7’s, Colorado Springs
Sept. 21: First at Valkyrie 7’s, Glenwood Springs
Sept. 25: Win at Glenwood Springs
Sept. 28: Second at Lumberjackie 7’s
Oct. 8: Win vs. Glenwood Springs (Homecoming), Summit High School
Oct. 11-12: Second at Pink 7’s, Regional Athletic Complex, Salt Lake City
Oct. 19: First at Falcon Bluffs
Oct. 26: Colorado State 7’s Tournament, Boulder High School, 9 a.m. start
Nov. 2: Glendale 15’s, Glendale, TBD
Nov. 9: Palmer 15’s, Palmer, TBD
Nov. 16: Glendale 15’s, Glendale, TBD
Juniors Brielle Quigley, Maleena Mero, Elena Francis and Bryton Ferrari are expected to step into larger roles this autumn, with some of them playing their first year with the Tigers’ top team. Barth also said sophomore Millie Carlton has provided the team with the kind of physical presence reminiscent of last year’s team.
“And there’s a ton of the younger kids,” Barth said. “It’s a ‘how fast will they rise’ kind of thing because they’ve been coming on.”
The Tigers also will benefit from the addition of two athletic seniors and a sophomore: twins Jenna and Jordan McMurtry and Olyvia Snyder. Barth said all three talented Alpine skiers have taken to rugby quickly, namely the sophomore Snyder, who has been running the top side a lot through camp.
Beginning with their Summit 7s tournament at home at Tiger Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 7, the Tigers will face the top competition in the state and country. That includes a trip to the Pink 7s in Salt Lake City in October and visits from elite sides such as United of Utah and Wasatch for the Summit 7s tournament.
No matter who they play, this year’s iteration of Summit Rugby is eager to live and play up to the program’s sky-high standard and level of intensity.
“I think we are all super competitive,” Ferrari said. “I think it’s a very competitive drive we have this year.”
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