Championship MVP Genevieve Ruesch, first row, fourth from left /// Photo courtesy DSHA Rugby
Another fantastic Midwest High School Championship unfolded in Elkhart, Ind., as single digits separated the region’s best teams. For the first time in more than a decade, Divine Savior Holy Angels (DSHA) did not enter as the number one seed, but after three tough wins, the Wisconsin side returned home with its 13th consecutive Midwest title.
DSHA started the quarterfinals against Indiana’s Penn and leaned on good team ball to produce a 45-5 win. A rematch of the 2015 final played out in the final four, as St. Joseph, which had defeated Brookfield 31-0, advanced a stage deeper into the trophy round. And much like last year’s match, the Dashers held off an aggressive, eager St. Joseph for a 17-10 win.
“We knew it was going to be an all-out battle, and that’s what it turned out to be,” DSHA coach John Klein said. “We stepped up to the physicality, made our tackles and our plays, and took advantage of the opportunities they gave us. But they just kept coming at us.”
Both teams are all-girl Catholic high schools, so there’s a respectful rivalry when these two teams take the pitch. St. Joseph ended the tournament in third place, defeating Warsaw 36-7.
Responding to whether the semifinal was a welcomed warm-up for the final, Klein said, “I don’t know if playing St. Joe’s is something we hope for before playing someone else. They’re a legitimate opponent, and they always have a chance to win. I’m never excited to play them before a final.”
On the other side of the bracket, Catholic Memorial finished day one with two wins (27-10 vs. Plainfield, 39-0 Warsaw) to advance to the championship. The Crusaders and Dashers contested the Midwest final for three consecutive years (2012-14) before St. Joseph stepped up in 2015. The regional powers know each other well, but this year’s Midwest title was more important than usual.
In the fall, Catholic Memorial had snapped Divine Savior Holy Angels’ 12-year streak as Wisconsin state champion. As such, the Crusaders entered the Midwest tournament as the number one seed.
“They’ve been all we can handle the last two years,” Klein said. “They’re so clinical, so fundamentally sound, and just so hard. But we came out hard as well. It was a match for the ages.”
The first half was scoreless. Eventual tournament MVP Genevieve Ruesch was inspirational in rallying her team into action.
“Genevieve is a special scrumhalf; one of the best I’ve coached,” Klein said of the Player of the Week. “She brings it all the time and gets us going. She’s an absolute blessing to have around, and she’s got a great pass. She can put it on a rope.”
Some good ball movement put wing Grace Hilbert and No. 8 Maggie Leffler into the corner for tries and a 10-0 lead. Catholic Memorial answered with a converted try, 10-7, and then the race to the final whistle began.
DSHA relied on the expert leadership of captains Meg Walker at inside center, flyhalf Claire Brown and lock Abby Barczak to keep play consistent and composed. The Dashers held on to win.
“We had 12 previous state titles before they beat us and 13 Midwest championships before this one. To have Memorial break both of those streaks would have been hard to take,” Klein said. “There is a rivalry no doubt, but we bring out the best in each other. We play these incredible games, and on either side, there are always tears flowing afterward. It’s an emotional rivalry and an incredible joy when you win.”
DSHA’s second side won the JV division as well, indicating that there’s a good crop of underclassmen driving the program forward. In the immediate future, Divine Savior Holy Angels will play a 7s tournament this weekend and then rest up for single-school nationals May 21-22 at Lindenwood University. Catholic Memorial will be in St. Charles, Mo., as will fellow Midwest Championship participants St. Joseph, Hudson, Penn, Warsaw and Brookfield.
Midwest High School Championship
QF: Catholic Memorial 27-10 Plainfield
QF: Warsaw 19-10 Hudson
QF: Divine Savior 45-0 Penn
QF: St. Joseph 31-0 Brookfield
SF: Catholic Memorial 39-0 Warsaw
SF: Divine Savior 17-10 St. Joseph
5th Place SF: Hudson 35-5 Plainfield
5th Place SF: Penn 22-5 Brookfield
7th: Brookfield 22-5 Plainfield
5th: Penn 17-15 Hudson
3rd: St Joseph 36-7 Warsaw
Final: Divine Savior 10-7 Catholic Memorial