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ARPTC Empowers Utah State Success

  • 17 Sep 2018

Utah State won its second-straight game of the DI Rocky Mountain season, and the success has some interesting roots that track across the country. Four current players were summer residents at the American Rugby Pro Training Center (ARPTC) in Little Rock, and they’re leading a revitalized Utah State on the pitch.

“I think if you talked to Julie [McCoy], we’re doing exactly what she’d want: Bringing all that experience back to our club,” Utah State coach Theresa Pitts-Singer said. “It really boosted [the residents’] rugby IQ and their fitness and ability to read and see the game – which is great to see when they perform with the team. But the plan was to elevate our entire team. Players who once struggled with that inner confidence have been lifted, because they have those [ARPTC] players on the field and they’re so kind and patient in helping their teammates.”

The relationship with ARPTC first started with Pitts-Singer, who returned to Utah State after coaching the squad from 2004-08. Hallie Taufoou stood out, and the coach began to wonder how this natural, hard-working athlete could get seen by the right people. Pitts-Singer contacted former teammate Julie McCoy, and after a thorough catch-up and introduction to ARPTC, the organization sent coaches Laura Cabrera and Kate Turpin to Utah for a full-day camp. No one, Pitts-Singer included, had experienced an assembly like that.

“That was the catalyst,” Pitts-Singer reflected on that ARPTC-led player camp. “Myself and two other coaches took notes and video, and conceptually I learned more that day than I had my whole life coaching. I was enamored with the whole concept and the level of quality you can get out of your players – but also the confirmation that it’s all about mastering the basics. Don’t over-coach, don’t introduce fancy plays when the players get bored. Give them the tool kit they need, and then step back and let them make their own decisions.”

That was 2017, when Taufoou took the maiden voyage to Little Rock as a summer resident. The flyhalf distinguished herself on ARPTC’s club 7s national championship team and recruited teammates Meghan Nelson, Kristina Casos and sister Jaynee for summer 2018. The Taufoou sisters played on ARPTC’s top side at nationals, while Nelson and Casos represented the second side in New York City.

The ARPTC quartet has been leading the squad and aided a 71-28 win over Utah Valley in the Rocky Mountain opener. Last weekend, Montana State came to town.

“Montana State is our arch rival. Either they beat us handily or we squeak by them,” Pitts-Singer said. “The last time we played them at home, we scored in the last second to beat them. It was an amazing feeling … but the girls who knew Montana State from last year were a little nervous for the rematch.”

The Bobcats took an early lead, getting tries from Ashton Daniels and Brooke Nichols, and a conversion from Maria Michelotti. Daniels scored again in the second stanza, while wing Carlene Rennick dotted down twice.

Once the home side launched into an action, a 57-27 scoreline evolved. The home side sent inside center Jaynee Taufoou into the try zone three times, while outside center Nelson and wing Allison Stassel scored two tries apiece. Flyhalf Hallie Taufoou and fullback Kielee Kinghorn scored once apiece. Jaynee (5) and Hallie Taufoou handled the conversions.

“It honestly could have gone either way. We had some amazing saves by our fullback,” the coach said. “Montana State rucks like crazy and is so fast over the ball. We need to improve on that.”

No one’s ready to assert that this year could be a special one for Utah State, but Pitts-Singer did admit an eagerness to play BYU at the end of the regular season. There isn’t this looming feeling of dread in facing a behemoth but a genuine curiosity in gauging talent.

“Hallie, who’s our captain and president, was nearly in tears, saying, ‘This feels so different this year and I just love it,’” Pitts-Singer said of the change. “That’s what’s happening here.”

But the coach wasn’t just referencing on-field performance and the positivity that comes with confident leaders. After summer 2017, Taufoou talked to Pitts-Singer about the rugby community in and around ARPTC, where people are invested in each other’s lives, socialize after games, and everyone owns a dog.

“I’m from the Southeast, and when I first came here, I felt isolated. … Typically, when the game’s over, it’s, ‘See you next week.’ There’s no hanging out or the community that I had been used to,” the coach said. “When Hallie came back after her first year at ARPTC, she experienced that community and saw what this sport could be to her. And now the other girls see it. We’ve had two very good socials that we hadn’t had in a while.”

The Rocky Mountain conference is divided into two pools, and Utah State will face Utah Valley and Montana State again, and then BYU. The top-two teams in each pool will then advance to conference playoffs the final weekend in October.

Meanwhile, Pitts-Singer is going to keep arming the players with the tools they need to make smart rugby decisions, and further empower leaders like the ARPTC quartet to lead sections of practice. The goal is for the players to own and shape their club, and let the on-field performance speak for itself.

In other Rocky Mountain news, Air Force bested Wyoming, which has returned to DI, 64-5. Flankers Jessica Beyer (4) and Devin Doyle (2) accounted for six of nine tries, while flyhalf Sara Cook (2) and Haeley Deeney also dotted down. No. 8 Sierra DeHart kicked eight conversions and a penalty. Wyoming got its points from flanker Steffany Stephenson.

#UtahState #RockyMountain ARPTC

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