Photo: Ric Kruszynski
Brunswick capped an undefeated fall with a third-straight Rugby Ohio 7s Championship in the Competitive Division, while its second side finished runner-up to Parma in the Social Division. Valkyries head coach Dan Prater is cautiously optimistic that this success is an omen of good things to come in the spring, but is particularly excited about the amount of time this group will have together.
Brunswick had to replace some leadership, as last year’s graduates migrated to rugby schools like Notre Dame College (host of the Rugby Ohio championship), Kent State and Davenport, and multi-sport athletes narrowed the available player pool. However, there was a nice returning class, particularly the juniors, and eager underclassmen, “who have done nothing but impress so far,” per Prater, for two sets of rosters this 7s series.
Molly Cancian / Photo: Ric Kruszynski
“We had a strong team coming in this year,” Prater explained. “Spring 15s was a bit anti-climactic with our bow-out in the semifinals but we had a good off-season this summer and we were going into the fall as defending two-time 7s champs. So we had a strong foundation to work from.”
That foundation is continually reinforced through a robust youth program that funnels experience into the high school ranks. Senior Molly Cancian, who captains the squad alongside junior Louisa Justice, is just one product of the youth system and in her seventh season of rugby. They are a hub of leadership and cultivated an environment that welcomed newcomers and eased their transition into a title-vying program.
As the rosters started to shake out for the fall 7s season, the first team featured just one senior, Cancian.
Louisa Justice / Photo: Ric Kruszynski
“It’s fun to think ahead that almost our entire team has another year together. Granted, we will lose Molly – who was a monster in 7s after scoring 23 tries this fall with her speed – to graduation,” Prater looked ahead. “Even our second team performed incredibly well in Division 2 despite consisting of five freshmen and four sophomores – seven of which have never played high school rugby or even picked up a ball before August!”
The first side went 12-0 in the run-up to states, and the second side was nearly perfect save one regular-season loss to Parma. In the Competitive Division, Brunswick averaged nearly 30 points scored per game while allowing one try against. Perrysburg provided good pushback during the regular season, holding the Valkyries to a 24-12 decision and matching Brunswick’s pace out wide. Mentor, too, proved worthy competition throughout the fall, and after Brunswick enjoyed a first-round bye through states, and then a 39-10 semifinal win over Hudson, the Valkyries faced Mentor in the state final.
Dakota Burgess / Photo: Ric Kruszynski
“They scored twice [in the final] before we got mobilized almost six minutes in,” Prater noted Mentor’s prowess. “Like Perrysburg, Mentor had some fast runners that gave us a hard time. For both teams we had to rely on a less subtle approach – brute force. Several tries in the final were scored straight up the middle either through or around broken tackles and quick phase play.
“We also have a deep bench that brought fresh legs with them to finish the second half against each team we faced,” the coach continued. “There was very little, if any, drop in performance when starters began to come off.”
Brunswick beat Mentor for the Competitive Division title and Cancian was named championship MVP. The second side beat Cincinnati 10-0 and Perrysburg B 31-0 en route to the Social Division championship, but then Parma prevailed for the trophy.
Addison Sponseller / Photo: Ric Kruszynski
“Tournament day it’s tough to narrow down who stood out,” Prater praised the group effort. “Forward Jordan Kouns has been smashing lines all season and she continued the trend Sunday. The Helman twins, Brianna and Brooke, were monsters on defense with their big tackles, as they have been.
“The standouts as always have been Molly and Louisa. Molly typically gets two steps on the edge and she’s gone for five,” the coach said of the four-try performance. “And Lou was a nightmare up the middle with several big runs after breaking multiple tackles each time. Lou had three tries on the day and 19 total for the season, second only to her fellow captain, Molly.”
Rugby Ohio is one of several states that holds a fall 7s season that keeps high schoolers playing, but the main emphasis is spring 15s, when the full complement of players is available. Prater is hoping for big things come 2020.
“I’d like to think this does bode well for our 15s. But I think it’s accurate to call it ‘cautious optimism,’” Prater concluded. “We went into 15s last season with the confidence to win it all but had a tough first round in the playoffs and came up short.
“This year I’d like to think that our leadership within the team will pull us through along with all the young talent we have,” the coach continued. “The trick will be to build on our fall 7s success and then transfer that energy and enthusiasm to 15s in the spring time. So far everything’s in place for a successful run in 2020. We just need to finish it out.”