Emmy Link, one of several Crusaders with higher-level experience. /// Photo: Carly MacKinnon
The divide between Kent and the rest of the Washington high school league is significant, as evidenced by the 166 unanswered points scored in the first two weeks of the season. But the Crusaders are doing a good job of challenging themselves, looking for playing opportunities at higher levels and overseas.
After finishing second at DI nationals last year, Kent launched into a summer 7s season, hosted 15s practices in the fall, sent players to All American camps and all-star teams, and is feeling stronger for it.
“We’re starting to work a lot earlier in the season,” Kent senior Emily Prentice said after a 94-0 win over Budd Bay. “It’s the middle of March and we’re focusing on the structure that we want to play within – instead of spending so much time on how to pass, ruck, running lines. Everyone’s acquainted with the basics, so we’ve been able to integrate a structure of play that I’ve seen at the U20 level.”
As a Women’s Junior All American, Prentice has the most experience on the team. She’s represented the U.S. at the Youth Olympic Games and played with the U20s against Canada last summer. She was most recently with the Washington Loggers at the Vancouver Rugby Festival and helped the Atavus All Stars to a runner-up finish in Las Vegas. After graduation, the competition will shift as she’s head to DI varsity Harvard to begin her college career.
“I’ve definitely been busy this year,” Prentice laughed. “But you’re only going to get better through playing. With the [women’s national team] pathway unifying, it’s created more playing opportunities, and I’ve been lucky to attend these camps.
“It’s been great playing with all these talented players from all over,” the loose forward reflected on recent tournaments. “And then you add in that challenge of having to adjust to one another in a couple of days, all while performing and getting a good result.”
Prentice isn’t alone. Teammates like Finau Tamaivena, Lolohea Makaafi and Victoria Tuli have been attending All American assemblies. Veterans like halfbacks Emmy Link and Kaira Martin inject Loggers experience and form a nice trio of leadership with Prentice at No. 8.
“We have a lot of athleticism and power in our players, but the general rugby IQ level is higher,” Prentice compared the team to last year’s.
“A big difference I’ve witnessed over the last two years is how many underclassmen are coming out,” the senior added. “Every year we get good athletes – basketball players, soccer players – but in the past we’ve tended to get them in their senior year. Madison Jumper is just one example. She’s a sophomore and had been playing football. She’s out now and is picking it up so fast.”
The team’s rugby IQ will get another boost starting next week, when the team leaves for New Zealand. While Kent always tries to tour before nationals, this overseas trip was able to come together because the club championship is occurring in Washington this year.
“I’m so excited to travel with the team and to be challenged over there against that level of competition,” Prentice said. “I can’t wait to just go somewhere where rugby is such an integral part of the culture, to see how global the sport really is and how being a rugby player connects you to these other places.”
Prentice is also excited to play the Milton Girls School, who should pose a good challenge. The team’s response will be a good indicator of how the squad is building toward nationals.
“We try to make sure that we’re practicing and playing with intention,” Prentice explained nationals’ influence during the regular season. “We’re installing things with the new girls, who haven’t played other competition and aren’t aware of the different levels of play.
“We always love challenging ourselves and it’s always a lot of fun to play Fallbrook because they play a different style than us, than anything we see in Washington,” Prentice added. “I’ve had fun playing with their players over the years and we have a good relationship with their program. Danville, too. We didn’t get a chance to play them last year, and they’re a challenge.”