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Harrisburg Gets Its Shot at Nationals

  • 31 May 2019

Photo: Valerie Caras

Harrisburg is the four-time reigning DII Mid-Atlantic Conference champion and very familiar with the current level of competition coming out of the eastern regions. But the Harlots have not been able to test themselves against their western counterparts, and that will all change Sunday when the team heads to Obetz, Ohio, to face Sacramento in the DII Club National Championship.

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“That’s all that’s left,” Harrisburg co-captain Georgia Goodman looked toward the weekend. “We’re looking for success but we’re proud of what we accomplished as well. We’re just staying positive and moving forward.”

Goodman and fellow co-captain Courtney Reapsome checked in after Thursday night practice, and it was clear that their focus was fixed on near-future demands. When asked about the season as a whole – which begins in early September – recollections tended to blend together. What did stand out, however, were the near-pitch efforts that strengthened bonds and ultimately affected performance.

“We really focused a lot on why we play rugby, which really comes from the community – that support and the friends and camaraderie and fun, and trying to build better humans to build better rugby players,” Goodman said. “We disseminated the small tasks – keeping stats, washing jerseys, running water bottles, bringing equipment – to make people more accountable. The team has stepped up. It’s nothing we’ve done. When people take ownership of their own success, they drive a little harder.”

As for on-paper recap: It was a good year. The team returned many players from last year’s squad and added newcomers, like NOVA’s Heather Thompson and Tulane University standout Maddie Brenner, who made an immediate impact on game day. But those talented newcomers also allowed for tougher training sessions and inter-squad scrimmages, which strengthened the overall team. During the fall, Harrisburg went 6-0 in the MAC North, then 1-1 in the spring to close out the regular season.

“We were grateful for the game against White Horse in the spring to prep for playoffs,” Goodman said of the 44-34 loss, which ended up sending Phoenixville to playoffs over Doylestown, also 5-3. “It was just an interesting day. They put up a great game and we didn’t on that day. We had a couple players missing but we didn’t come to play.

“It was a reality check,” Reapsome said of the loss. “It put everyone in the mindset that we need to focus on what we’re doing. We still need to execute our game plan and communicate with each other on the field.”

Harrisburg salved that misstep during the MAC championship. After defeating South #2 Norfolk 53-20 in the semifinals (White Horse beat Severn River 30-24), the Harlots beat Phoenixville 36-17 for the title and trip to Spartanburg, S.C.

Reapsome explained that the leadership doesn’t scramble for film on potential opponents, that that energy was directed inward during the run-up to regionals.

“It was the mental piece for us,” Reapsome reflected on the shortcomings of previous regional championships. “We’ve done the work and elevated our level of play on the field. So it was the mental piece that would push us past the last hurdle.”

Regionals began with Atlantic North champion Providence, which has solid experience at this level of play. Last year, both Providence and Harrisburg had their hearts broken by eventual national champion Charlotte, losing their regional games by four and five points, respectively.

During the first half of the semifinal, both teams traded tries and leads, and it was very much anyone’s game. But after halftime, Harrisburg started to pull away and finished with a 52-38 win.

“We had a ton of quality support, which gave opportunities for some individuals to really perform at the top of their game,” Goodman said of difference-makers on the day. “There were some pretty tremendous tries but if you look at the play before, or three plays before, you’ll find people who did their jobs to create that [scoring] opportunity.”

“We were excited we won and enjoyed it a little bit, but when you’re at regionals, you know there’s more work to be done,” Reapsome said of post-game sentiments. “It was just one step toward what we wanted to accomplish. In terms of preparation for Sunday, it was more about the recovery.”

On the other side of the bracket, Atlanta gutted out a 30-24 win over Buffalo to advance to the eastern final. On Sunday, Harrisburg took a 14-0 halftime lead, as center Nikki Snyder and Goodman scored tries, and the flanker added the extras.

“We came out kind of sloppy, our shoulders forward a little bit, and weren’t really clean on offense,” Goodman said of the first half. “In the second half we composed ourselves a bit better and focused on catching, passing, getting the hands up early and being good teammates as passers and receivers, which gave us the opportunity to play more offense.”

Atlanta picked it up in the second half as well and two tries saw the regional first-timers bloom a bit.

“We knew they had a really tough game against Buffalo – and our game against Providence was physical, but didn’t come down to the last minute the way theirs had the day before,” Goodman set up the turning point in the final. “There was a penalty midway through the second half … Courtney took a tap-and-go and ran it in for a try. That lifted the intensity of the whole team and we carried that for quite a while when we had to play defense and make those key tackles.”

The Harlots tacked on two more tries in the final 12 minutes of the match for the 35-12 win and berth to their first national final. There, Harrisburg will face DII Western Regional Champion Sacramento, and have a solid contingent of club mates in Ohio for support.

“There is a large portion of us who have been dedicated to this team. We’ve built this family and community, and the support that rugby creates – there’s not limit to what you can achieve,” Reapsome closed. “We trust and believe in each other, and that’s where we are in our season.”

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