Summit girl’s rugby takes 2nd at High School National Championship May 21-22
Special to the Daily
With their incredible second-place performance at the Girl’s High School National Invitational Championship in Missouri from May 21-22, the latest chapter for the Summit Rugby girl’s team is now officially closed.
What a journey it’s been. With eight straight state championship titles under their belts, along with numerous successful appearances at Nationals, many college coaches have started to take notice of the Summit program. Over the past 10 years, a handful of former Summit players have pushed their rugby careers to the next step at the collegiate level, and this year is no different: three Tigers seniors will be hitting the scrum at a Division I level next year, including powerhouse East Coast programs like Dartmouth.
The Summit rugby girls are proof that putting in the extra time pays off in all walks of life.
“I had just start playing rugby like three years ago,” graduating senior Ally Pothier said. “(The) second year I was like, ‘OK I like this,’ and this year I’ve gone to every practice I could… . I do so much for this, and so I just got really devoted to it, wanting to get better at it and learn the game more.”
Putting in that extra effort will now pay dividends for Pothier, as she is receiving a combination of scholarships — academic and athletic — to play at American International College in Massachusetts, one of the top college women’s programs.
Playing at AIC certainly isn’t a given her freshman year, but Pothier earned it this past fall, notching her 200th conversion point to become only the 12th Tiger to reach the double-century mark in her high school career.
“I just feel like I gained so much confidence by having someone believe in you,” Pothier said.
Family on the pitch
Part of that belief comes from the tight-knit Tigers rugby squad, a team that stays together whether on the field or off. The team runs a number of fundraisers every year and team members are rarely seen apart in their spare time.
Senior captain Meg Rose cherished this culture so much that she decided to lace up her spikes for Quinnipiac University in Connecticut next fall when she discovered a similar atmosphere.
“All my family’s back there,” Rose explained. “It seems kind of like this (Summit rugby) — just one big family.”
Rose is looking forward to mentorship (and that good ol’ Summit feel) from two former Tigers players: Hailey Wyatt, Class of 2013, and Lillian Weldon, Class of 2014, both of whom play there now.
Last, but certainly not least, Becca Jane Rosko will play for Ivy League powerhouse Dartmouth next season.
“The gaps we have to fill next year are going to be big ones,” junior Jodi Losch said. “They’re not a lot because there’s only six seniors this year, but the roles they played made such an impact that’ll be hard.”
Big cleats to fill
With the departure of these senior leaders, the Summit girls will have some big cleats to fill come fall. Do remember, however, that Summit rugby is a dynasty by now, and dynasties don’t tend to fade overnight.
“Next year… we’ve got a lot of young backs (defense) who are looking forward to stepping up,” head coach Karl Barth said before talking about his graduating seniors. “Hopefully, if they’ve done their job, they’ll be ready to step into that role.”
Stepping into that role has, in fact, started to take form. In addition to the high school Nationals, the team has traveled to Atlanta and Las Vegas for spring tournaments. In those first two tournaments, the Tigers experienced mixed results on paper, but what didn’t show on the stat line was great development for the younger players. In the Atlanta 7s Rugby Festival, only one senior played, and yet Summit still won around half of its games.
“We’ve got a group of juniors that have been doing this, a group of sophomores that have been running that, and that’s the whole point: If you’re a freshman you can still learn to lead,” Barth said after the tournament. “That’s where sports has to do with how you play the game you play — the value of teamwork, all the things we say about team sports that we sometimes forget because we focus on the score.”
Nearly National champs
At high school Nationals, younger players once again had an important role — only this time it showed on the scoreboard. Summit faced off against a stacked field of the best teams in the country. In their first two games, Summit took out state champions State College (Pennsylvania) and Catholic Memorial (Wisconsin), before meeting St. Joseph Academy (Ohio) in the National Championship bout.
“They did great,” junior Natalie Gray said of her team. “Subs coming in played up to the same level and we just kept going, and the energy was the same throughout.”
Even with senior leader Rosko out with an injury, the Tigers were still able to take a 14-12 lead into halftime. The team could nearly smell a national title.
However, the second half couldn’t have started any worse, as an early yellow card forced the Tigers to play down by one man for 10 minutes. During that fateful sin-bin stretch, St. Joe’s scored two tries and the Tigers couldn’t claw out this hole against a stellar St. Joe’s defense, losing the championship 29-14.
OK, so it’s not quite the result the Tigers were looking for — or the result Tigers fans are used to — but let’s pause for a second and remember that the team still took second in the nation, better than hundreds of other programs in nearly all 50 states.
“It’s just things didn’t go our way a couple times, but the other team played very well,” said Gray. “We were very proud of ourselves and we played very well.”
Barth, who has built the Summit program from the ground up, was pleased with the result.
“Obviously when you get that far you want to win, but it was still a performance to be very happy about,” Barth said.
A culture of success
It’s easy to focus on impressive achievements like these, but it’s important to remember that it all connects back to the family-like culture and strong leadership values that run through all levels of the Summit girl’s program.
In addition to three spring tournaments, members of the team have been hosting youth rugby clinics at local elementary schools this spring.
“The nice thing is it’s really been run by our juniors,” Barth said. “A couple of them (seniors) have helped here and there, but for the most part they’ve stepped aside as far as the transition to developing their leadership.”
Barth has let his players dictate the clinics — the drills, the format, the lessons — and he’s been impressed by what he’s seen.
“They really had to adapt on the fly, but by the time I got there, they kind of took everything we did and rearranged it for younger kids,” Barth said. “So, I think that’s just a valuable learning experience… It’s a really fun challenge.”
Even parents have started to take notice of the lifelong skills learned through scrums on the pitch.
“Anytime you get put in the position of teaching others something you’re passionate about, you also learn things about what you’re teaching,” explained Dana Bargell, father of sophomore star Cassidy Bargell. “I think she’s learning more about why she loves the sport, and, unusual as it sounds, with these little ones you still can discover stuff like that.”
It won’t happen overnight, nor even before the high school team’s first game in the fall, but new leadership will take root for the Summit Tigers. The same question — can a new batch of seniors lead the team to another state title? — has been posed each of the last eight years, and, each year, those seniors have responded emphatically.
“It’s in very safe hands,” Rose said. “They know what they’re doing.”
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