Summit girls rugby team says sacrifice, commitment led to second at nationals

Cody Jones
Summit Daily
Summit Tigers junior Joselin Roque streaks down the field for a try during Summit's victory at their home Summit 7s tournament at Tiger Stadium in Breckenridge.
John Hanson/For the Summit Daily News

FRISCO — Excelling to the highest level in sports often requires not only an immense amount of hard work but also requires a good amount of sacrifices to be made.

Look at any successful athlete who has gone on to win a national championship. They are usually the first to wake up in the morning and the first to lay their heads on their pillow in order to recover from the day.

The Summit High School girls rugby team made this type of sacrifice in the team’s preparation for the 22nd annual High School Girls Rugby Tournament in Cleveland, Ohio, from May 20-22.

The high school regular season occurs in the fall, so preparing for the tournament meant members of the team had to wake up early before school — most of the time with snow blanketing the ground — in order to train for the tournament.

What made the sacrifice even more impressive was that many members also participate in spring sports, which made for extremely long days. Those players would attend after-school practices and games after a day that would typically start with 6:30 a.m. rugby training.

Every girl on the Tigers’ team made a commitment, and it paid off. The Summit girls rugby team placed second in the tournament against challenging opponents. What made this feat even more impressive is that the Tigers had to learn a whole new style of play.

During the fall season, the Tigers play with seven players on the field at one time. For the tournament in Ohio, the girls played in the “15s” division, which means the field had more than twice as many girls on it at one time.

In the preparation leading up to the tournament, a lot of time was spent getting used to this new style of play.

Longtime head coach Karl Barth compared the switch from seven players to 15 like switching from seven-man football to 11-man football.

“It was something different,” incoming senior Citlali Licea said. “It was an experience trying to learn and adapt and figure out the game we play now in comparison to the game we play in 15s, which is a lot more aggressive and physical.”

“The biggest challenge was the communication piece and keeping 15 players on the same page during a whole 45-minute game,” recent graduate Olyvia Snyder said of the challenges while learning to play 15s.

Prior to preparing for the rugby tournament, the Summit girls rugby team had close to zero experience playing rugby with 15 players on the field, so the players scrimmaged two other teams from Fort Collins and Glendale, who came together to form a 15s team.

With the scrimmage occurring the morning after prom, many juniors and seniors made another sacrifice by getting up early for the event in order to be prepared for the tournament.

Though the scrimmage did not portray the caliber of teams Summit would face in the national tournament, a lot was gained from the scrimmage.

“It was very difficult at the beginning because we had a lot of sessions inside with backs by themselves and forwards by themselves,” incoming senior Paola Arredondo said. “Once we came together, it was tricky to see it all come together, but once we started playing against Denver, we definitely clicked a little bit more.”

The sacrifices that were made by Summit were repaid with how the team played in Ohio. The Tigers faced Hamilton in the quarterfinal match. Snyder, Arredondo and Larissa Mero led the team to a 20-0 shutout win, according to Barth.

The quarterfinal win by the Tigers led the team to the semifinal match, where the team took on the No. 2 ranked Catholic Memorial. The Tigers played as a complete unit in the semifinals with many players touching the ball and contributing to the Tigers’ second shutout of the weekend, beating Catholic Memorial, 29-0.

Arrendondo, Pelham Wagenseil, Brooke Kaspryzk and Ashley Misch all scored tries while Joselin Roque and Ella Snyder successfully made conversions.

Summit faced the No. 1 seed, Divine Savior Holy Angels, in the finals. Divine Savior Holy Angels’s team was the returning champion from 2019 after the tournament was not held the last two years due to the pandemic.

In the championship match, Divine Savior Holy Angels, whose mascot is the Dashers, got off to a strong start and made it hard for Summit to see any strong offensive opportunities.

The Dashers scored two tries to go up 15-0 before Summit started to control the game by maintaining possession in its own offensive zone. The two teams battled in the second half with the Dashers slowing down the Tigers’ offense, but Summit was able to put points on the board before the final whistle. Summit lost to the Dashers, 15-5, to take home the second place trophy from the tournament.

“After the first game, we gained a lot of confidence. We realized that we could win if we really tried,” Licea said, “and we did for the most part. Other than winning that title, I think we won.”

Bringing back the second-place trophy to Summit made the commitment and effort worthwhile.

For Snyder, a graduating senior and Harvard commit, the second place finish felt especially sweet since her weekdays were full of activity between rugby, school, soccer and track — all while trying to enjoy her last few weeks at Summit High School.

“It was definitely a huge commitment that a lot of people made,” Snyder said. “What really drew us in was that we love the community that the sport gives us and our team is so tight.”

The Summit girls rugby team is already looking forward to the next challenge in its path: a 15th consecutive state title in the fall.

The close-knit team has already spent some time forming relationships with incoming ninth graders who are interested in joining the program.

“Honestly I don’t think our team chemistry can get any better,” Arredondo said. “We just played how we always play, and I think that’s how we got so far. I always trust my team, and I love them because we have such strong connections.”