The Girls Single School National Invitational Championship is new this year, and its Midwest location has seen several otherwise isolated teams sample the competition. For newcomers like Broken Arrow, the unknown is exciting, and the Oklahoma team is eager to understand its place in the region.
Gayla Adcock started Broken Arrow’s girls program 13 years after the boys’ team formed. Initial interest was inconsistent, until the team focused on 7s. The team started winning games, the players were having fun, and word spread. Adcock developed her recruitment channels, and the roster began to fill.
Adcock finds her athletes from a myriad of sources. There are those who are looking for an opportunity, like the home-schooled and students from small Christian schools with no sports programs. The coach is heavily involved in the Boys & Girls Club and YMCA, where crossovers – like star swimmer Neariah Persinger, who was just named DI Elite Lindenwood Back of the Year – find themselves talking with Adcock. But the most interesting source is connected to Adcock’s day job as a detective for the Broken Arrow Police Department. The courts phone the coach when an adolescent with a minor infraction – like missing curfew – needs something to occupy her time.
But finding players was only half of the problem; Broken Arrow needed to engage players with games.
“We were the only team in Oklahoma for three years, so we went to Texas a lot,” Adcock spoke to the genesis of higher-level opportunities to come. “As we got to know their rugby programs – and Missouri’s and other states’ – we realized that they were like us.”
In 2015, Texas and Oklahoma combined to form Texoma, a select 7s side that went on to compete at the USA Sevens High School Rugby Challenge in Pennsylvania and Las Vegas Invitational in 2016. Missouri’s Anna Kunkel followed with the region’s first 15s all-star squad, which traveled to Denver for the Rocky Mountain Challenge. That effort has expanded in 2016, as Mid-America fields varsity and JV teams at the western Regional Cup Tournament. Adcock will coach the varsity team.
“These girls want to play. It’s exciting for them,” said Adcock. “They work hard to get jobs and raise money so we can go. I try to keep it cheap, so we spend a lot of time driving in my car.”
Today, Broken Arrow fields 7s and 15s teams, is one of three Oklahoma girls’ programs, and as of Saturday, is the state’s first 15s champion. Players like founding member Mariah Huffman have seen the team from its early stages to state championship, and the No. 8 will continue to be a rock-solid leader in her final games as a senior.
“I’m proud of what she’s accomplished,” the coach referenced Huffman’s selected to Texoma and Mid-America all-star teams. “I hope her rugby career continues at the next level.”
Scrumhalf Rachel Burger is also at the center of Broken Arrow’s success. The diminutive halfback does not lack physical prowess, and Adcock described Burger as a scrapper who leaves nothing for game day.
But it’s the influx of younger players that has Adcock excited about the future.
“I only have three seniors – Huffman, Burger and Alicia Hicks,” Adcock explained. “My sophomore class is my back line. They’re young, fast, athletic and very coachable. They’re the future. I’m excited to watch them in Colorado with the JV team.”
Broken Arrow entered its fourth year in 2016, and Adcock knew it was time for the challenge.
“You have a goal you want to achieve,” Adcock said of the team’s genesis. “First, it was get the program going, but sites were always on nationals. Through all of the tournaments we participated in, nationals was the one I wanted to participate in. The program’s getting more girls interested, and I felt this was our year.”
Even though Broken Arrow is a club team (there are single-school and club championships going forward), the single-school committee was flexible with the young team and placed it in the Division II competition. In its inaugural year, the committee also allowed teams with five non-students (i.e., mostly single-school teams) but will move to a true single-school tournament in the near future.
“With states [Saturday] and practice this week, it finally hit them – that shock and awe that we’re going to compete on the national level,” Adcock said. “They’re happy and focused, but also have butterflies and nervousness.
“The emphasis isn’t totally on winning but we want to play to our potential and be successful,” the coach added. “They’re ready to compete and show that Oklahoma has something of interest.”
To learn more about Broken Arrow’s lineup at single-school nationals, as well as the DI match-ups occurring this weekend at Lindenwood University, click here.