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Barbarians Building Momentum in Texas

  • 05 Jun 2019

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” a proverb to which the North Texas Barbarians can relate. Eight years ago, Mark Kissinger created the Celina-based youth program and then in 2018, there was a need for a girls’ high school team. That evolution worked nicely for now-head coach Katie D’Errico, who at the time was evaluating rugby clubs for her own rugby player.

RELATED: Rugby Texas homepageNorth Texas Barbarians Facebook2019 Women’s Rugby Calendar

D’Errico is originally from Connecticut and picked up the game at Southern Connecticut State University. After graduation she played with then-Division I New York Rugby Club, and counted notables like Hedwig Aerts and Lara Vivolo among her teammates. D’Errico also helped coach her college team and then stepped away from the game for 8-9 years to work on other life pursuits. The family then moved to Texas in 2013 and started familiarizing itself with rugby in the Lone Star State.

Once Kissinger learned that D’Errico and her husband had played rugby, he tabbed them to coach the girls’ high school team. In 2018, the team’s inaugural season, the Barbarians won the Rugby Texas DII 7s Championship, and then returned the majority of its players for 2019. Division I and Division II merged this year and contested five round robin tournaments around the state.

“Our kids have played 1-2 years max, so their rugby IQ needs to grow, but they’re athletic and enthusiastic, and that puts them in the position to be competitive. They can get around the field and just constantly keep pressure on,” D’Errico said. “And they’re learning a lot. They’re able to maintain defensive lines and make tackles and jackal the ball. They obtain and maintain possession – those fundamentals, they’ve got. I’d love to see their passing lines work better – keep spacing, stay steep, stuff like that.”

The pinnacle of raw talent is Faith Gastineau, an unlikely addition to the team and the leading try-scorer.

“I approached her last year to play when I saw her at the school’s Powder Puff game,” D’Errico said of the track star. “She rattled off all the sports she already played so I didn’t expect to ever see her, but then she started coming to practice after [this year’s] first tournament. She’s just excellent. Runs amazingly. I’m taking her to the RCTs in a couple of weeks to join 5785 out of Colorado, because she needs to be seen.”

Captains Rebecca Stepan and Brittney Raymond are the leadership and they directed a squad that never fielded the same lineup for any of the state tournaments – due to injuries and other high school goings-on.

“We were top three all year long but the top team for the last 3-4 years is HEB,” D’Errico praised the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Hurricanes. “They’re very talented. They pass, tackle excellently. They were the team to beat for every team. The rest of the top-four were relatively even – Plano, Woodlands, us.”

The season’s standings set up the two pools for the state championship, which was a two-day affair the final weekend in April. The top-two teams from each pool would then advance to Sunday’s knockouts. The Barbarians went into Saturday without two of its best players – Gastineau for track state regionals, and Landry Moore for a drill team showcase.

“Since we were down some key players, the girls were a little less focused than usual and the intensity was not there on day one. That first day, our tackling and defense let us down, and we needed to run the ball more aggressively,” D’Errico said.

North Texas fell three tries short of The Woodlands but won its two other pool games to advance to Sunday’s semifinals. Raymond, Evelyn Locke and Kaylan Yarbrough put in memorable performances to make that knockout berth happen.

“Getting through Saturday in the top two and moving on, that allowed us to refocus and begin with a fresh start,” D’Errico said. “With Landry and Faith coming back – we know what great players they are and that they’d make a big impact and change the dynamic.”

North Texas faced powerhouse HEB in the Sunday semifinals. The Barbarians took a 12-5 lead into halftime and remained resolute through regulation for the win.

“We knew we had an outside chance if we played our best, but it was going to be a challenge,” D’Errico said. “We were thrilled in the way we played and the result. They knew what they wanted, so it was: OK, one more game.”

The Woodlands won its semifinal, setting up a rematch from pool play in the final.

“The final was a matter of everything coming together for us,” D’Errico said of the championship.

Sophia Wilds and Gastineau scored in the 17-5 win over The Woodlands, claiming the team’s first Rugby Texas DI 7s Championship.

“They were thrilled,” said D’Errico, who is the subject of a delightful celebration photo. “I even felt that something amazing had happened, something we weren’t expecting to happen. To achieve something that amazing, being so new at the sport and so new together, it was exciting. It put a long season of bad weather and rough experiences into perspective. A nice light at the end of the tunnel.”

Locke was named MVP of the season.

“Just a smart kid and fantastic tackler who works really hard all game long,” D’Errico said of the distance runner-turned-flyhalf. “She outworks everybody and chased down some crucial tries in the semifinal. She just does her job really well.”

Traditionally, this time of year sees the high school all-star teams assemble and ready for the Regional Cup Tournaments (RCTs) and 7s showcases. The RCTs are a major talent identification venue for collegiate scouts and USA Rugby age-grade selectors. But Rugby Texas is not fielding a girls’ team and recently announced that it won’t be fielding boys’ teams either.

D’Errico and the Barbarians are able to bypass some of those organizational issues through its relationship with Colorado’s 5785. Air Force head coach Amy Rusert (who just won another DI College 7s National Championship) is the organizational guru there and taking eight teams to the Rocky Mountain Challenge, the region’s RCT. The Barbarians are able to send some players to Rusert and get them seen.

Additionally, North Texas is also linked with the Celtic Barbarians, a North American select side, and sending Erica Kissinger and Annie Craig to the Paris World Games in the fall.

But the RCTs are all about 15s, and there’s no girls’ high school 15s in the state – yet. D’Errico is working with Rugby Texas Girls Director and The Woodlands coach, HARC’s Chelsea Peper, to incorporate 15s.

“That’s the next goal. And the sooner, the better,” D’Errico said of a fall 15s league that would precede the spring 7s league. “We’ve got what we need for a 15s team. Same with The Woodlands. Maybe Katy or Kingwood, too. Even if there were combination teams I think we could get some 15s games this fall. And then there’s Oklahoma. They play 15s and have 3-4 teams. The driving distance is about the same [to other parts of Texas].”

D’Errico indicated that the club is located in an area that is experiencing population growth. The coaching staff is also growing and those talents will be needed as a host of junior high players emerge and join the next level of play. These players will have multiple years of experience and set up the program for the next 3-5 years to come.

“We’ve been successful at the state level and it’s time to branch out,” D’Errico could sense the momentum. “I want to see us grow into one of the premier programs in the state, if not the country.”

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