Photos: Rebecca Keiser
It’s now the expectation: Divine Savior Holy Angels (DSHA) and Catholic Memorial contest the Wisconsin 15s State Championship and produce one of the best games of the year, anywhere. The teams have split the titles the previous four years, and 2018 went to DSHA after a 29-16 decision.
RELATED: Resource – Wisconsin HS Girls Rugby site
It was a redemptive win for the Dashers, who had a trying 2017-18 season. The Milwaukee team lost the state and Midwest finals to Catholic Memorial, and then lost its National Invitational Tournament (NIT) semifinal by one point to eventual champion Kahuku High School from Hawaii. Across all three losses, it was a difference of nine points. Last year’s team included many players who helped DSHA to an NIT title in 2017.
“For them, last year was frustrating,” Klein said of those ’17 NIT veterans. “We were always so close, but we had a lack of seniors and it probably showed in how we were unable to pull off those wins. To get so close and not get the thing you worked so hard for … ”
Finishing out games became the focus for fall 2018, and DSHA had the personnel to do it. Four senior captains – Julia Basurto, Sadie Brennan, Maggie Leffler, Savannah Peterson – injected great leadership onto the pitch.
“You don’t have 12 returning starters and not think you are a good team. There were high expectations,” Klein said. “But you don’t know what you are until you face a great team. Until then, there’s always a question in the back of your mind: Are we good enough?”
That great team is typically Catholic Memorial, and the two teams have traditionally played each other in a friendly early in the season. That didn’t happen this year.
“To not see Memorial [until the final] made it hard from a mental standpoint,” Klein said. “We were itching to play them earlier in the season because we knew that game would be close and hard fought, and we’d be able to see what we are.”
DSHA fields two teams in the Wisconsin Girls High School League, varsity and B side, and started the fall with 43 healthy players.
“To get through your year, you go through some very physical match-ups, even though the scores don’t show that,” Klein said. “We took our injuries as a result – one captain, Julia Basurto, popped her shoulder in the very first game. Another captain, Savannah Peterson, came out during the first five minutes of the final.”
DSHA had to play two games on finals day – B side in the morning and varsity in the evening.
“It’s hard to manage with only 34 players – as ridiculous as that sounds,” Klein acknowledged that most high school teams would love those numbers. “You don’t want to not have someone to turn to in the varsity game [because they played earlier in the day] and my fear was that we’d lose valuable players in the B side game.”
And especially with the team’s best opponent on the other side of the 50. Catholic Memorial adapted to some key changes as well, notably the graduation of influential halfbacks Allison Koenig and Maddie Donnelly.
“In the past, maybe I thought, ‘Memorial is a little down this year,’ and I’ll never do that again. The way they bounce back – especially on Sunday night in late October, they play so well on those days,” Klein said.
The teams traded points in the first half, and DSHA took a 12-8 lead into the break. The Crusaders scored first in the second half, 12-11, and then the teams traded one more try apiece.
“Last year we lost our way in the middle of that [Wisconsin championship] game. We were up 10-0 and ended up losing 15-10,” Klein said. “This year, at one point in the second half, it was 19-16, and there was the fear that, ‘Oh man, are we going to lose our way again?’”
But then Abby Kayser scored a wonderful 35-meter try off a set piece play. Flyhalf Jackie Jarosz converted and then added a penalty approximately 40 meters out for the 29-16 win.
“Composure is huge,” Klein pointed to key characteristics on display. “To get to the championship, you’ve got to battle and find your way, and stay composed. They showed that and understand how to bring it home.”
Scrumhalf Brennan was named MVP Back and No. 8 Makinzie Youngblood took home MVP Forward honors.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what we can become,” Klein said.
Wisconsin teams will spend the wintry off-season indoors and in the gym, and the next big fixture – the Midwest High School Championship – will bring the region’s top teams together in April. Then it’s the 2019 NIT, the details for which are still being sorted.
1st: DSHA 29-16 Catholic Memorial
3rd: Hamilton 52-5 Stevens Point
5th: Pulaski 27-20 Bruisers
7th: Kettle Moraine 54-15 DSHA B
9th: Oak Creek def Madtown/Oshkosh (fft)