Summit girls rugby opens season with win versus storied United of Utah
By inviting the very best competition from Colorado and Utah to the Summit 7’s tournament on Saturday, the powerful and proud Summit Tigers girls rugby program essentially scheduled themselves the high school rugby equivalent of the Daytona 500.
To open their season, 20 of the best teams from in state and two of the nation’s best teams from out of state faced off in dozens of games on the Tigers’ home turf at Summit High.
On paper, it was all supposed to lead to a mano-a-mano matchup in the tournament’s championship game between the best team from Utah, United Rugby Club, and the best team from Colorado, Summit.
Saturday’s action did just that, leading up to a highly anticipated rekindling of a friendly inter-state rivalry game between United and Summit. However, this was anything but a friendly face-off. Physicality, passion and perseverance were at the core of the contest between two of the nation’s best teams, culminating in a 21-12 win for the Tigers.
“The final was one of the best games I’ve ever seen,” said Tigers head coach Karl Barth. “The crowd energy was superb from both sides, trying to drown each other out.”
The Tigers rallied twice versus United, down 7-0 to start the game and down 12-7 later in the first half, to secure the victory.
Summit had the goal of getting out in front early and avoiding chasing United through the game. The 10-time defending state champions here in Colorado, Summit is used to being the team that jumps on the opposition early, racking up points and forcing the other squad to play stylistically to come back.
It was United that put Summit in that position, however, taking that early 7-0 lead on a try and conversion a few minutes into the match.
The Tigers responded immediately led by senior front hooker Clara Copley, whom Barth described as having a “woman of the match” type-day on Saturday.
The veteran leader burst an inside run to the edge of United’s defense to score the Tigers’ first try of the day. She did so by outrunning a United defender, jetting under the goalpost to knot the game up at 7-7 after the ensuing Summit conversion.
Barth credited Copley’s score and her verbal message to her teammates afterward for reminding her fellow Tigers troops that they could go toe-to-toe and defeat United. It was a message of “Hey, we’re not going anywhere,” the coach said of his senior leader.
It was the exclamation point for Copley. The day began hours earlier, when she took back the opening kickoff of the Tigers’ first game to the house for a score. It concluded with her dogged defensive effort later versus United in the final game.
With the energy back on Summit’s side after Copley’s score in the title game, the two elite teams settled into the middle part of the first half. Barth described the game as having “no quarter asked and none given.”
Then right before halftime, United scored again, taking a 12-7 lead after a failed conversion.
At this critical juncture in the game, with momentum in the balance leading into halftime, Barth was proud of his side for staying composed. With the time ticking down, the Tigers moved the ball up to the other side of the field before junior P.K. Vincze sidestepped a United player and raced down half of the field for a score. Tthe Tigers took a 14-12 lead with the ensuing conversion, along with all of the momentum, into halftime.
Summit then put the game away in the second half by using their trademark speedy play out wide in space to counter United’s centrally positioned physicality. After United knocked the Tigers back about 20 yards with physical defense, Summit found a way through by stringing together consecutive wide passes. It all led up to Summit junior Nicole Kimball beating two United players from her wing position on a 60-yard run.
“I thought for sure she’d get knocked into the sideline,” Barth said, “but somehow, she made it.”
The victory was an uproarious one for the large contingent of Summit fans in attendance at Tiger Stadium. It was a special atmosphere for girls high school rugby on Saturday, as sizeable partisan crowds cheered on both the Tigers and United, trading applause for each side. The highlight of it all came when someone from the stands expressed their admiration for Copley by yelling out “Clara for Mayor!”
“It was a real team effort,” Barth said. “And some of Clara’s stuff stood out a little bit — the timing of it, when we needed it.”
Barth added that he felt his top Tigers side showed that it’s in mid-season form already. The sense of urgency in getting ready over the summer to open the season versus Wasatch and United may have played a role in that, he said. Whatever the case, he’s glad his program rose to the occasion so soon.
The Tiger program’s top side won the tournament versus United after winning their pool with victories over Glendale and Denver’s East High School before defeating Utah’s Wasatch High School in the semifinal, 33-5.
As for the three Summit Tigers junior rugby squads, Barth said it was fun to watch the teams gel throughout the tournament day. The Tigers’ second squad competed in the varsity division, losing to talented A-level teams in Arapahoe High School — formerly “Swarm” — and United.
With regards to possible redemption for United, Summit will travel out to Utah Youth Rugby’s annual Pink 7’s tournament next month. While in the neighboring state, many fans will hope United and Summit will trudge through tournament play to match up for a second time this season.
“The intensity was unbelievable,” Barth said. “It’s so cool to see both programs raise their level, especially this early in the year.”
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