Playing in different format, Summit High girls rugby wins third place at nationals
For the Summit High School girls rugby team and head coach Karl Barth, success at this past weekend’s National High School Rugby Championships at Infinity Park in Glendale was defined in a specific way.
Considering the Tigers, who typically play in the Rugby 7s seven-on-seven format, competed in the 15-on-15 rugby union format, Barth and the team’s definition of success was “to be perfectly who we are right now.”
The Tigers entered the single-elimination, invitation-only, eight-team tournament with confidence in the union — or 15s — format, though. Summit had spent weeks prepping for it, including scrimmaging their elite, friendly rival United of Utah in the 15s format.
“The quality of play was unbelievable,” Barth said of the nationals tournament.
Confident they could compete with any of the other top squads at Infinity Park, the Tigers won their first game and lost their second game on Saturday before they sewed up third place on Sunday.
Summit began the tournament Saturday morning with a 19-12 victory over Capital High School of Boise, Idaho. Summit got on the board quickly and led 7-0 thanks to an inside ball from one veteran, Nicole Kimball, to another, Clara Copley. A lightning delay followed and, once the half-hour break passed, Barth said Summit struggled with discipline. As such, they had to play a man-down through the majority of the rest of the game due to yellow and red cards.
Having the advantage, Capital stormed back to tie the game at 12-12 before Summit’s Abby Daugherty effectively won the game when she scored with seconds remaining after she faked a pass and carried the ball right under the post. After CeCe Pennell converted her kick for a 19-12 lead, the referees blew the whistle to signify the end of the match and the Tigers’ advancement to the semifinals Saturday afternoon.
“Right off the bat it was, ‘You are playing a game you can win or lose,’” Barth said of the opener versus Capital. “‘And, if you lose, you’re done.’ It’s championship caliber. Obviously we made some big mistakes in terms of our discipline and a few others with regards to our decision making. But we played well enough to survive. It was exactly what we defined our success as. It was a great team effort, definitely maximum effort by everybody.”
In the semifinals versus Catholic Memorial High School of Wisconsin, the Tigers fell behind early before they took a 7-3 lead on a Heidi Anderson pick off the back of the Summit scrum. The game remained knotted for a while after that, both teams holding the opposition in check from a defensive standpoint. Then, a Summit turnover deep in Crusader territory resulted in a game-breaking 95-yard score for Catholic Memorial. The Crusaders would eventually win 30-7.
“Mentally, that was a tough one,” Barth said. “And, at that point, playing in our second super physical game, it’s a different kind of fitness, 7s to 15s. It’s much more wear and tear on your body. And then we got a yellow card. That kind of ended our run at that. So they put in a couple of tries and then a couple of more at the end. The girls played really well, but right at the end it got away a little bit.”
Barth was proud of how this Tigers team, a mix of outgoing veterans and budding youngsters, rebounded Sunday morning. Taking on Grandville Rugby of Michigan, Barth said Summit made some tactical adjustments to take into account the size of Grandville’s forwards and the skill of their backs. Once again, though, Summit was forced to play man-down — and 13-on-15 during a portion of the game — due to lingering discipline issues which were penalized by referees. The veteran Pennell kept the Tigers in it with what Barth described as “one of the best try-saving tackles” he’d ever seen. Summit’s Jasmine Peralta also made a clutch play when she knocked Grandville’s critical No. 8 position out of bounds before she could complete a score. Dodging that bullet, Summit led 7-5 at halftime.
Summit then focused on switching up some things tactically in the second half, in which Barth credited Pennell with standout organization and control of the game.
“She kicked a little more to help relieve pressure for us,” Barth said. “And then we still relied on some great play from our forwards, which still blows me away that’s what we were led by. Because that’s as 15s-y as you can get. Liz Thoma, Jordan Elam and Alice Porter were immense.”
Barth described that trio’s physical, accountable play to that of old school fullbacks in American football, the kind who would keep control of a game via a “two yards, and a cloud of dust” march forward, as Barth put it.
In helping to lead the Tigers to their eventual 19-12 victory in the third-place game, Kimball scored a try earlier in the contest before Summit’s Kenzie Ricardi executed a textbook off-load to Copley to give the Tigers some breathing room. Then, after Grandville responded with a quick score to draw closer, Summit relied on a critical defensive play by Pennell to knock a Grandville player out of bounds, effectively ending the game as time expired.
Looking ahead, Barth viewed the weekend as a positive experience for the Tigers, especially their forwards, who dictated most of the physical play in the scrums. There was also the revelatory play of young freshman Jenna Sheldon, who is an accomplished skier for Summit High.
As for more 15s, Barth said though the program’s focus remains on 7s, he hopes there could be some more 15s play in Colorado come fall.
“Hopefully we can build off of this,” Barth said.
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