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Downingtown Rises to 7s Title

  • 06 Nov 2018

Photos courtesy Downingtown RFC (see more)

Downingtown won its first-ever Rugby PA Fall 7s Championship, going undefeated in the final tournament, and besting West Pitt in the semifinals and Doylestown in the title match. The state will now go dormant and recoup for the spring 15s season.

For Downingtown, it wasn’t a straight line to the state championship. The began the 7s season with a strong showing at Marywood and then followed with four shutouts at the Penn Legacy leg. But then a couple of injuries and a sick captain sent a weakened team to North Bay, Md., and the team went from undefeated to 0-4 on the day.

“We just got down and were in a funk that we couldn’t shake. We ended the day with eight [healthy] people,” Downingtown 7s head coach Andrew Fell said.

“It was a little bit of a mix,” the coach considered whether the team let that experience go or held on it. “You’re trying not to forget what happened because that’s not the team we are. We got beat up and were missing some players, but we’re going to roll into the other tournaments a better team. We just need to work harder, eat right, sleep right – do all the things to make sure we’re ready to go for the next competition.”

The Rugby PA 7s Series doesn’t affect seeding or qualification for the final championship event. Any team, regardless of whether it’s participated in the series, can enter and compete, so long as it resides in Pennsylvania.

The championship tournament was divided into three pools of three teams. Everyone played their two pool games and then the field was reseeded. The bottom two-ranked teams had to contest a play-in game for that final quarterfinal spot, and Chambersburg beat Bishop Shanahan for the berth. But that meant Chambersburg would have to face #1 seeded and better rested Downingtown for the second time that day and opted instead to end its season on a high note. So Downingtown took a bye to the semifinals, while West Pitt (beating 2017 champion PA United), Doylestown and Penn Legacy won their respective quarterfinals.

Over the course of the Rugby PA 7s Fall Series, West Pitt served as Downingtown’s most frequent and toughest opponent. Entering the championship semifinals, they were 1-1-1 against each other, with a point differential of one.

“That was our toughest game of the day,” Fell said of the semifinal against West Pitt. “They’re a really physical team, and they’re good at getting in my players’ heads. We were losing 10-0 at halftime and the players were really frustrated with what was going on. West Pitt was aggressive at every tackle and ruck; they were keeping the ball away from us and really skilled.”

Fell described an emotional halftime huddle as players attempted to regroup.

“They trusted that we could take care of it because all of our other games [against West Pitt] had been so close,” Fell said. “And then they got two red cards.”

West Pitt committed a dangerous tackle and a kick off the ground that landed in a player’s midsection, but Fell explained that there was no malicious intent. The two-player advantage showed itself on the scoreboard, as Downingtown won 22-10.

“Rocky [Nurss] immediately apologized that the game went that way, and I’m certain he’s not promoting that type of play on his team,” Fell said of the West Pitt coach. “I was just impressed with how the team approached the second half, because we had two girls in tears at halftime and I was debating taking them out. But they got in the right mentality and the calls started to fall in their favor.”

Meanwhile, Doylestown beat Penn Legacy in its semifinal and readied for the title match.

“For the final, one of our players asked if we could change our style against Doylestown, because they’re smaller, and running a more 15s-style game would be better. ‘No, we’ll play our way,’” Fell responded. “Playing a smaller team after West Pitt – it was like in baseball when you take the weight off your bat. You swing so easily. Doylestown had played one more game than us, and they were gassed. Nina Mason had an amazing game and was trying to take the game back for them, but everything was clicking for us.”

Downingtown won the state 7s title 29-7, and that trophy rested on a full-team effort. An up-and-down season drew many admirable performances out of the team, but a couple of individuals did stand out.

“Kat Storey just had an incredible season; one of those speed demons who is a risk every time,’” the coach praised the junior from Unionville. “As a coach, you cringe when you see someone backtracking with the ball but she beats them to the edge. She had a bunch of games where she scored three tries.

“April Pagel, one of our captains, may have outscored Kat for our final tournament,” the coach continued. “She’s been playing since fifth grade and her older brother played, so she’s always been around the sport. When our other captain, Natalie Hiller, was out for the two tournaments before states, April shouldered that load and did her best to take everything on her back. She was sick during the West Chester tournament but played through it because the team needed that leadership out there.”

Downingtown has won the state 15s title before, but this marked the first 7s trophy.

“One of our coaches, Cassie Stockhausen, said she saw our players happier than they’ve ever been, even more than the 15s championship,” Fell said. “This season was a lot for them, and they really enjoyed it. They’re a tighter group.”

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