Summit High girls rugby to take on country’s best 15s teams at Glendale National Championships
2019 Girls High School National Invitational Rugby Championships
Saturday, May 18, Infinity Park, Glendale
Quarterfinals 8 a.m. to noon
Semifinals 1/3 p.m.
Sunday, May 19 Infinity Park, Glendale
Championship 1:30 p.m.
For more information and tickets, visit: InfinityParkAtGlendale.com/Events/
For the first time since 2016, the Summit High School girls rugby team will form a 15s team to compete against the country’s other best public and private single-high school teams at the Girls High School National Invitational Rugby Championships.
For the Tigers, this year’s eight-team, invitation-only, single-elimination tournament will be on home grounds of sorts, at Infinity Park in Glendale. The location of this year’s tournament, 79 miles to the east in the greater Denver metropolitan area, means the Saturday, May 18, and Sunday, May 19, event is within an hour and a half drive for Summit family and fans. It’s also the reason the program and head coach Karl Barth were able to accept their invitation to the tournament this year, as the Tigers have been invited in years past but haven’t been able to make the trip elsewhere. The last time the team competed at nationals, in St. Charles, Missouri, in 2016, Summit advanced to the title game and finished as runner-up.
The spring time frame for the annual nationals event also has made it difficult for the Tigers to compete in past years, considering Summit plays during Colorado’s autumn high school girls rugby season. As such, many Tigers athletes are usually busy with spring sports.
There is also the variable of the nationals tournament being a 15s competition as opposed to a 7s competition, which is the format for the state’s high school season. Rugby 7s is a much shorter game with fewer players (seven on a side) as opposed to 15s, which sees 15 players on a side grinding it out over a longer game clock. For Barth and the Tigers, the nature of 15s effectively means the Summit High School program’s top two 7s sides will combine to take the pitch at Infinity Park. Barth said about 25 of the Tiger program’s players, from the top team through the junior varsity level, have practiced with Barth over the past couple of months specializing on the style of play for 15s.
“For a lot of the girls, 15s is different, brand new,” Barth said. “It emphasizes certain skill sets and tactics, what you’re reading and how to create space. That’s our biggest challenge. We’ve been trying to keep as many of the principles and communication and alignment we can from 7s, but obviously some of it is totally different. But, in the sense we still want to play a wide-open, clear, decision-based game — that doesn’t change. We’ve played that way when we’ve played 15s.”
Among the Colorado high school rugby competition, Barth’s Tigers have long been known as an uber-athletic, fast-paced and confidently decisive 7s side that can quickly put the other team away. In 15s though, more than twice as many players on the same size field means understanding just how to create space is critical. Over the program’s recent practices and one scrimmage in advance of nationals, Barth is confident his team is learning the change-up in style as best they can. Barth said a good amount of the players have played in 15s competitions before. But that’s few and far between. As for nationals, only one Tigers senior played in St. Charles as a freshman. That’d be veteran leader Heidi Anderson, who next weekend will play what Barth described as a “middle linebacker” type position, the No. 8, at the back of the 15s scrum.
It’s the Tigers veteran backline where Barth thinks this nationals team may find its strength, as the backline’s experience and speed should prove pivotal against such elite sides as Capital High School out of Idaho, Broken Arrow out of Oklahoma and Divine Savior of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
That said, more plodding, physical play is advantageous in 15s as opposed to 7s. In theory, that means the Tigers’ opponents at Infinity Park will have the upper hand on speedy Summit than 7s sides have had historically.
In advance of nationals, the team will prep for 15s action with 15 total practices. On top of that, the team scrimmaged their familiar, elite interstate rival, United of Utah, in Grand Junction last month. Though United, a club team, is not eligible to play at the single-school nationals due to their multischool makeup, Barth is confident they presented the Tigers with the kind of top-tier 15s quality they’ll see down in Glendale.
“We did some situational stuff,” Barth said. “There was a scrimmage period for them — we came up on the short end of the scoreboard, but I think we got what we really wanted. We saw where we are at and what we need to work on. The thought is, ‘if it works on the best team in the country (United), it works. But, also, it can expose us.’”
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