1st-time Michigan state champion Sparta-Rock / Photo: Lisa Budd
High schools that contest their full seasons and state championships in the fall can sometimes be overlooked, as the country tends to name high school champions in the spring. Spring-oriented states might keep their athletes in motion with fall 7s seasons, but Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin begin their school years with league play and name champions by November.
Colorado holds one season and championship for its girls’ high schools, and the state title is for 7s. Summit High School is the long-time reigning champion here, but perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Tigers’ 11th-straight trophy is the fact that the top side didn’t concede a single point all fall. Not in the regular-season round robins, not in the playoffs, and not in the final – a 34-0 win over Monarch. Read the Summit Daily’s reportage of the championship victory and season, and view footage of the final below (kickoff is at 1:28).
TRB checked in with Summit midway through its season, and PK Vincze, who spent the summer in New Zealand, indicated that, “Our team is strong this season. In the past we maybe only had a few playmakers. Now we have more people stepping up and taking those roles. Everyone touches the ball and contributes. Our development around sevens over the last three years is paying off.”
The Iowa Youth Rugby Association contests the longest-running 7s season and championship for girls’ high schools. Again, this is the only season the state holds for girls, and thus it’s the official championship season.
“We talked about discipline, that it’s not enough to run a team off emotion, because it doesn’t necessarily translate on the field,” said Clark, who explained that playing for the love of the game, alone, isn’t enough to sustain a team.
Also interesting, the championship finalists featured head coaches who also serve on staff for the state all-star program, the Iowa Hawkettes, which play in the summer.
Grandville High School is a state power and began its championship title run in fall 2014. While racking up four-straight state 15s championships, the Bulldogs continued to push themselves at the regional (Midwest High School Championships) and national (National Invitational Tournament) levels. Grandville set the bar, and in 2017, Sparta-Rock attempted to end the Bulldogs’ impressive record, but fell two tries short.
Photo: Lisa Budd
Grandville maintained that two-try differential when the squads met in the 2018 regular season, and it soon became clear that the 2017 finalists would reunite in this year’s title match. This time, however, Sparta-Rock got ahead early, 22-5, and held on for the 27-15 championship win. The victory snapped Grandville’s 44-game win streak against in-state competition.
“It’s clubs like Grandville with their great success that push the rest of us to become greater,” Sparta-Rock head coach Andy 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.”
Is there any in-state relationship that rivals Divine Savior Holy Angels (DSHA) and Catholic Memorial? The teams have contested the Wisconsin State 15s Championship against each other since 2011, and since 2015 have exchanged the trophy. In November 2018, the Dashers reclaimed the title with a 29-16 win over the Crusaders.
It was a redemptive with for DSHA, which lost three crucial games last year by a total of nine points.
“There were high expectations,” DSHA head coach John Klein said of team mentality heading into fall 2018. “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?”
Photo: Rebecca Keiser
DSHA and Catholic Memorial rely on each other, and there is a ton of respect between the two programs. The league as a whole is stellar and celebrating its 20th year in fall 2019. Engaged administrators do many of the important things well, from running the most consistent and up-to-date high school league website, to actively recruiting former players into coaching roles, to democratically naming an all-state team and providing all-star opportunities. Catholic Memorial head coach John Waliszewski wrote a series for the US Women’s Rugby Foundation titled, “How We Got Here,” (Part 1 and Part 2) and it’s a good read.