After a year’s hiatus, Wisconsin Girls Rugby (WGR) returned to the pitch for a full championship 15s season this fall. Teams returned in various forms of readiness – some squads had to combine for numbers; others had the best season of their lifetime. But one thing remained the same: Divine Savior Holy Angels (DSHA) and Catholic Memorial High (CMH) met in the state final for a next-level title bout. Under the lights in Cottage Grove, Wisc., the Crusaders for the third time in their program history bested the Dasher 21-17 for the 15s trophy.
Long-time assistant coach Alex Glorioso stepped into the head coach position this season, and she took over a team that had graduated 13 seniors in spring 2021.
“Once the shock wore off, I was eager to start,” Glorioso said of stepping into head coach.
“You’re trying to get some of the younger kids good experience but also push the older kids,” Glorioso said of the coaching balance. “We started with 15-16 and as the season went on got a couple more, and just kept building until we got to where we left off before Covid. It took us some time since we’re a completely new team and coaches. But after a few weeks, we were figuring things out.”
All season long, senior captain Laci Crow has been the incomparable leader. The No. 8 sets the standard alongside fellow senior captain Bridgid Chanen.
“Those two are our voices and our examples,” Glorioso said. “They’re great leaders and are very tough, hard-nosed players.
“There’s also a really good junior class coming up and scrumhalf Alex Mazurczak has been awesome,” the coach continued. “She has matured so much in that role. Same with flyhalf Marie Dowling. She found her voice and has played really tough rugby. She’s been that spark for us in a few games.”
Elie Hanson has also distinguished herself in the strong junior class. The freshman class has brought a level of athleticism that excites the coaching staff.
“The goals weren’t exactly the same this season,” Glorioso said. “My goal was to not let them stress about anything and for me to take handle everything. I just wanted them to grow and get better every week. I didn’t want them focusing on the end of the season or the spring, but to take it practice by practice, game by game before we talked long-term goals.”
The Crusaders compete in the Tony Oliver Conference and started with a 60-0 win against Muskego and 72-0 victory against DSHA JV. A rescheduled match against Stevens Point went 24-17 in Catholic Memorial’s favor, and then Hamilton nearly beat the Waukesha side in a thrilling 26-24 contest.
“That was huge for us,” Glorioso said. “Hamilton is an excellent team and this was a good breakout season for them. I’m really excited for them. They had us on our heels for most of that game and controlled the first half for sure.”
The coach called out some big moments from Dowling and Crow, among others, who helped turn around the game.
“We were down by 12 with 15 minutes to go, and the team showed a lot of resiliency to come back and win by two,” Glorioso said. “That really sparked us and solidified the idea that we are a very strong and tough team. It doesn’t matter what the score is, just stay afloat and stick to the game plan, and we can do this.”
That confidence radiated down through the younger classes, and they started to understand the grit necessary to win higher-pressure games. There was a new excitement as the team entered the state semifinals, and a 66-7 win against Green Bay/Pulaski followed.
“After playing Stevens Point and Hamilton, I realized we have some really strong, confident runners, especially in the forward pack,” Glorioso said. “That’s where more of our experience is anyway, so we had a strong focus in more of the middle of the field before moving the ball to speed out wide. We just needed more time to develop some players.”
Meanwhile, DSHA went undefeated in the Jeff Noe Conference and played its closest regular-season match in week one, a 27-5 win against the Bruisers. The Dashers faced Hamilton in the state semifinals and eked out a 22-17 win and trip to the title bout on Oct. 31.
Catholic Memorial vs. DSHA is a classic, and Glorioso estimated that one-third of the team understood what it meant – pace and intensity wise – to face the Angels in a high-stakes title game. In the run-up to states, the staff reiterated that this game was going to be different.
“Like always, the game started off with a bang. There was a flurry of energy in the first 10 minutes from both sides, and DS got to 10-0 lead really quickly,” Glorioso said. “We were a little too over-zealous in our defensive rucks, but after 10 minutes, the game settled into a regular game pace, and the girls mentally slowed down and made some adjustments.”
Crow scored just before the half and then opened the second stanza with another try. Mazurczak kicked both conversions for a tenuous 14-10 lead. The Dashers answered with its third try of the night, with its scores coming from Mary Foy, LaJess Jordan and Ima Willoughby. DSHA connected on the third conversion for the 17-14 edge.
The Crusaders had 10 minutes to engineer a final lead change and did so through inside center Audrey Fryda. Mazurczak was perfect off the tee, giving Catholic Memorial a 21-17 lead. The defense then stepped up and held on for the programs’ third-ever state championship. DSHA chose Crow as its Forward of the Match, and Fryda its Back of the Match. The Crusaders highlighted No. 8 Elizabeth Susek and outside center Evelyn Coffou.
“Any time you can be competitive with DSHA, it feels good,” Glorioso said. “They’re fantastic and have been a phenomenal program forever. Beating them is quite the accomplishment, and this win is good for the program. But for me, it’s never about one game or one championship. The team and foundation and our whole mantra have always been the same. The win feels good, but we’ll keep doing exactly the same thing going forward and see where we can go.”
Catholic Memorial has featured in the previous 11 state championships against DSHA, and won titles in 2015 and 2017. Glorioso is the first woman head coach and their first non-founding member of WGR to win the state title.
“It is a big deal and really significant, and hopefully the first of many ‘firsts’ to come,” Glorioso said. “I am not an attention person at all, but it’s cool to highlight that because it’s important in a girls’ league and a cool story for the next generation of young players to follow.”
Wisconsin now heads into the off-season, and the spring means state 7s and a 15s pathway for those interested in the Midwest and national championships. DSHA and Catholic Memorial are regulars at the single-school national tournament, and the former is the reigning champion.
“I’m very proud of how this team has bonded together,” Glorioso closed. “It wasn’t one individual carrying the team all year long. Every individual shared the weight and did what the coaches wanted them to do all season long. I’m excited for the spring, and the future.”
WISCONSIN HS 15s CHAMPIONSHIP
9th: Madison 47-5 Muskego
7th: DSHA JV 39-17 Kettle Moraine
5th: Brookfield 20-20 SPASH
3rd: Hamilton 46-10 Green Bay/Pulaski
Final: Catholic Memorial 21-17 DSHA