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Simsbury Recoups Connecticut Title

  • 12 Jun 2019

Although painful at the time, Simsbury High School ultimately benefitted from losing the 2018 Rugby Connecticut 15s Championship. The returners recommitted themselves to excellence and set tough goals in a state where the competition was strengthening. That extra push, and that residual disappointment from the previous season, drove Simsbury to a four-point title win over reigning state champion Southington.

RELATED: Washington Joins Simsbury (2017) • 2018-19 Simsbury Roster 2019 Women’s Rugby Calendar

Simsbury head coach Alycia Washington joined the well established program in 2017, and the squad impressed the USA lock that year with a state title. When the team followed with a repeat berth to the 2018 final, it entered that match against Southington as the favorites.

“Last year we were undefeated in the regular season and lost in the championship. They had felt the thing of complacency – Oh, we got this – after beating Southington twice in the regular season,” Washington said. “Losing that championship game, it really mattered a lot and lit a fire in them.”

The team turned that heartbreak into motivation, and Washington noted a general jump in the intensity. The players set a goal of being undefeated through the 2019 state championship.

“They asked, ‘Is that too lofty of a goal?’ ‘No,’” the coach retorted. “You have to learn to say your goals out loud so you can be held accountable to them.”

One trio in particular accepted that challenge and set that go-forward pace for the rest of squad. Senior Bianca Ceolin took the lead and DI NCAA varsity Quinnipiac University took notice. Ceolin signed a few weeks ago and will relocate to Hamden this fall. Loosehead prop Meghan Walsh is stellar in the front row and displayed a latent talent for the open field in one telling match.

“There was an injury so we threw her in at eight. She did amazing,” said Washington, who noted that back row didn’t actually appeal to Walsh. “In our state semifinal, I was in Canada for [USA] camp. She got a bloody nose and was all, ‘No, I’m fine, I don’t need a doctor.’ And then after states, her mom texted me that she had broken her nose and had known it was broken but didn’t want to say anything. I don’t advocate players not communicating with their coaches but it just shows her grit.”

Sixteen-year-old Grace Dagenais is the regular No. 8.

“If I could play longer, we’d be USA teammates one day,” Washington said. “She’s top notch, and has incredible work ethic on and off field. I can her ‘monster’ to her face because she is a brick house as a ballcarrier and tackler.”

The rest of the team did a great job knowing and owning their roles, supporting teammates and embracing the spirit of the game.

That buy-in was crucial as Connecticut added two new teams in Fairfield and Greenwich. With six teams in the league now, the competition did away with home-and-away and everyone played each other once during the regular season.

“The new teams were incredible and that’s a credit to their coaches and players,” Washington said. “Both teams beat other teams that had in the league one, two or three years. Having them in the competition force everyone’s game upward.”

Simsbury maintained a healthy respect for its opposition and took no game for granted. Southington remained the team’s toughest opponent, and the regular-season match went 36-19 to Simsbury at home. The duo then advanced to the final and rematch.

“Everyone’s mindset changes a bit for the final,” Washington said. “They were defending their championship and that adds more edge to the game and everyone’s motivation. Since they were the winner from last year we came in as the underdogs and that really brought it out of us.”

Southington scored first and then Simsbury return try and conversion afforded a 7-5 lead that the team would not relinquish. Stats wise, Washington surmised that Southington won the possession and territory game, and was able to answer Simsbury’s three tries. The difference on the scoreboard was Ceolin, who can slot a conversion from anywhere and thus lessens the pressure of circling around to the posts.

“There was lots of goal-line defense that game and for a coach in the technical zone it’s hard to see what’s happening there. So it was stressful,” Washington said. “We always say, ‘If you like your teammates then make the first tackle so they don’t have to scramble to make the second and third.’”

Defensive standouts included freshman scrumhalf Sydney Marcy and freshman fullback Alex Peterson.

“The way we set up the first line of defense, the 9 is behind the ruck and directing traffic around the ruck – who goes, who stays, when to load, when to launch. Sydney did a great job of corralling everyone,” Washington explained. “Alex was vocal from the back and saved a lot of breakaways, which was incredible.”

The freshmen did not buckle under the pressure, or as the 90-degree turf prompted fatigue, handling errors, and scrums and lineouts.

“The heat got to the players in terms of continuity – lots of scrums and lineouts due to knock-ons,” Washington said. “My freshmen were absolutely incredible,” the coach beamed. “They came in guns blazing. They’d take a big hit and you’d think, ‘Oh, they’re going to need a minute,” and then hop right back up. They never complained and motivated upperclassmen.”

The level of play was still high despite the on-pitch temperature, and it took everything Simsbury had to hold onto its 19-15 lead.

“We do conditioning at 98% of our practices. ‘We didn’t do all of those broncos and burpees for nothing. We did the work and this is our day,’” Washington watched her team dig deep. “Last year was such a bad feeling – it just sucked – and they came back with something to prove.”

The final whistle sounded and Simsbury had its state title.

At the end of the game everyone was crying tears of joy, or relief to get out of the 90-degree heat,” Washington said. “Pure elation. Even as a coach it’s one of the best feeling you can have. I had tears in my eyes, which is uncharacteristic of me, especially in public.”

The moment wasn’t lost on the players, who took time to shout each other out. The leadership reminded everyone that they’d always this moment together – a nice replacement for 2018.

“It warms my heart,” Washington reflected on this moments. “All of this is the extra that really makes it for me. To look back at the season, I’m so happy to have a small impact on their lives or their time at Simsbury.”

Rugby CT will be sending a team to the Northeast Regional Cup Tournament in Massachusetts at the end of the month. Fairfield head coach Eric Anahory is leading the all-star squad.

“I’m excited to show what we’ve got,” Washington donned the Rugby CT interim president hat.

Stay tuned for more on the state of girls’ rugby in Connecticut as well as Washington’s insight regarding selection to the international Super Series in San Diego.

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