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Sparta-Rock Rises in Michigan

  • 14 Nov 2018

Photos: Lisa Budd

Grandville has set the standard in Michigan high school rugby, winning four-straight 15s titles since 2014. Last year, Sparta-Rock emerged as a true contender and pushed the Bulldogs during the season and in the final. That relationship renewed itself in fall 2018, and last Sunday, Sparta-Rock surged to a 27-15 state championship win.

Michigan is one of two states – Wisconsin is the other – that contests its 15s season and championship in the fall. When the teams met in September, Grandville maintained its edge with a 14-0 win, and by the time hundreds of spectators lined the Davenport University pitch for the state final, the Bulldogs were riding a 44-game winning streak. Sparta-Rock knew it had to establish itself early in the final, playing with intensity and urgency.

A minute after kickoff, junior wing Grace Gohl tore 70 meters down the touchline for the game-opening try. Grandville responded quickly through senior captain Addy Ochoa, 5-5.

Sparta-Rock then put down the next three tries and took a 22-5 lead, which ended up being the winning margin. Fullback Valencia Goldsmith connected with Gohl out wide, and the wing scored a second try. Senior captain and No. 8 Ashleigh DeWitt followed with a bruising run across the try line, and then senior co-captain Darby Eck broke through the middle for the first try of the second half.

Despite a yellow card disadvantage. Grandville kept pushing and put captain Gina Pollice into the try zone. Sparta-Rock answered with a fifth try from Katie Gale, and the Bulldogs scored once more with approximately five minutes remaining, 27-15 the final.

“The state championship is just a tangible display of all the hard work we’ve put in this season,” Eck reflected on the team’s first title. “We have an insane amount of skill on the team that the coaches have worked hard to polish into the well oiled machine that presented itself in the state finals. I’m so proud of how the girls presented themselves with both athleticism and sportsmanship.”

“I think our team played well but we didn’t play like us the entire game,” Grandville’s Ochoa reflected. “We definitely could have done things differently and didn’t start playing our game until part way through the second half, but it was a hard fight against Sparta. Even though the game didn’t turn out how we wanted, I’m very proud of this team for putting all their hard work and dedication into the game and this great sport. It was a great season and we have more work to do this upcoming year.”

Gohl took home MVP honors, a nice cap on the finisher’s first year of rugby.

“I’ve never met a better bunch of girls that can kick my butt, pick me back up, and show me what being a team as a whole is really about,” the wing enthused. “I love this sport, I love my coaches, and I love my ladies most of all! I’m really looking forward to next year.”

Sparta-Rock coach Andy Dauser is also the Rugby Michigan president and was in the middle of it all when the team’s numbers doubled last year.

“It’s clubs like Grandville with their great success that push the rest of us to become greater,” Dauser credited the opposition. “Our team motto is to ‘Always Be Improving.’ Even though we face an opponent on the field we are only competing with ourselves to play the best that we can play.”

Grand Haven finished third with a 25-5 win over Berkley, and celebrated the season-ending victory by having two players – Emily VanDyke and Makayla Hitsman – sign commitment letters to Davenport University for 2019.

While Michigan will go dormant for the next few months, the spring will see teams play friendlies, try 7s, and test themselves outside of the state at regional events and the National Invitational Tournament.

#SpartaRockford #RugbyMichigan Grandville

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