The team after Saturday’s win vs. Tempe. /// Photo courtesy Belmont Shore Women’s Rugby
The title is for the taking in SoCal’s DI club, as Belmont Shore snapped Tempe’s undefeated record with a 42-22 win Saturday. There are now three teams at 2-1 with half of the regular season remaining.
Belmont Shore’s season started shakily and resulted in a 38-12 loss to Santa Monica. The club refocused and answered with a 57-17 win over Las Vegas, a victory that coincided with Tempe’s 33-26 win over Santa Monica.
But coaches Grace Espinoza, Linda Miller, Amber Tucker and Kasey Eriksen didn’t focus on the league goings-on so much as confidence-building within the ranks.
“When you’re going into a game against a team that beat the team you lost to, there’s a little bit of doubt in your mind,” Espinoza said. “At the Tuesday practice before the Tempe game, we had the girls do a 100 down-ups, but we didn’t tell them until afterward how many they had actually done. They were so surprised, and we told them, ‘Yeah, you did that, and you can win this game.’”
The team is stronger than last year’s squad, with a developed bench and newcomers who are embracing high-pressure practices and catching on quickly. They’ve got great guides in captains Joann Chang and Ana Carvajal, who compliment each other’s styles of leadership and keep the team focused. Flyhalf Ai Fujii is also a unifier, strengthening the back attack and connecting well with the forwards.
Tempe and Belmont Shore matched up well and traded scores through the first 25 minutes. At halftime, Belmont Shore led 21-15, and then fitness dictated the second half. By game’s end, the California side sent wing Eline Castaneda, flanker Kelechi Agalaba, inside center Jenn Picard, impact sub Mariela Carranza (2) and wing Laura Steele across for tries. Outside center Elizabeth Simmons slotted six of seven conversions for the 42 points. Tempe did not earn a bonus for tries scored.
“We knew Tempe was a tough team and to come out with a win is a huge confidence booster,” Espinoza said. “We’re very proud of the girls, but we let them know that this doesn’t mean we let up. We have a lot of work to do – on fitness, continuing to build on cohesiveness between forwards and backs and among the team itself. But we’re really starting to gel, to read each other and know what to expect from everyone.”
The coaching staff was particularly proud in the team’s scrums, as Tempe remarked that Belmont Shore’s pack was the first to withstand its drive. The lineouts need improvement, and the set piece also showcased some decision-making lapses.
“Some of that problem-solving stuff,” Espinoza said of areas of improvement. “Tempe had a very good, tall jumper, and it was tough to throw it by her. But we kept throwing it to her and she kept stealing it.
“We also worked on some plays in our scrum, which worked well, but we performed them in the wrong spots on the field. Just need to brush up on some of that decision-making stuff.”
The team is happy where it is midway through the season, but round two of league play promises more challenges. Even Las Vegas, which is 0-3, brings heaps of physicality to the field, and Belmont Shore’s coaching staff is making sure that its team remembers that. If all goes well, then a playoff berth may be in Belmont’s Shore future, and the coaches emphasized that the post-season is definitely on the team’s radar.