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Sparta-Rock Rugby Club Earns Runner-Up in State Finals

By Jeannie Gregory, 11/10/19, 11:00PM EST

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The State Runner-Up Sparta-Rock Rugby Club celebrates their second-place finish. ~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory

GRANDVILLE – There was plenty of excitement throughout Grandville High School’s Bulldog Stadium before the Michigan Rugby State Championship was even kicked off., Sunday, Nov. 10.  Sparta-Rock Rugby Club, who had toppled Grandville’s dynasty in 2018 with a 27-15 win to claim the Championship was there for another go-around in the State Finals. It was to be an epic battle, with Grandville having their pride to reclaim and Sparta-Rock out to prove they were again the No. 1 team in the state.  The tension built between the two teams as they worked their way through the regular season.

Even though Sparta-Rock was the defending champions, they were still considered the underdog heading in. After all, it is a relatively new program and Grandville was deeply established in wins and State Championships. It was only six years ago that Grandville completely dominated the team by a 74-5 score, this was just after head coach Andy Dauser had inherited the programAlso, the two teams played during the regular season and Grandville had handed Sparta-Rock another lopsided loss.

There was something else the rugby club was facing. The Bulldogs featured multiple four-year players and an All-American. Not only did Sparta-Rock start three first-year freshman players, out of the 15 players who started on the pitch a total of six were first-year players. That’s not an excuse, it is what the team’s motto is all about. “Always Be Improving” held strong throughout their season as the players worked to learn a tough game and its intricacies that many in the stands still don’t fully comprehend. To their credit, the Sparta-Rock team didn’t look remotely intimidated, they were hungry for the game and the win.

Even with that background, everyone knew it was going to be an impressive game, and the match-up didn’t disappoint. It’s what a rivalry is all about. And the Sparta-Rock/Grandville match-up has decidedly become a rivalry.

From the kick off to the first scrum it became obvious both teams play hard-nosed rugby. The tackles were hard, the scrums were drawn out, and the play was intense up and down the pitch. Sparta-Rock was the first to score showing incredible pitch outs to a number of players until it made it to the outside to speedster Grace Gohl, who tore down the left side of the field to score a try and light up the scoreboard with five points. Grandville worked to answer, pinning Sparta-Rock very near their own try line making a huge threat to turn the game around, but a grubber kick moved Grandville far away from the try line. Sparta-Rock got the ball back and once again got the ball to the outside and into the hands of Gohl, but this time the results weren’t like the previous time. As Gohl made her way down the left side again a Grandville tackler’s teeth connected with Gohl’s head. After laying prone on the ground, Gohl reached up to her head and when she found blood and trainers were called in. They packed the wound, wrapped gauze around her head, then put on a skull cap for added safety. Gohl was back in the game, like the true rugby player she is.

It wasn’t long after the injury timeout that the Bulldogs were able to score a try of their own to knot the score 5-5, which was how it stayed as the teams headed into halftime.

Sparta-Rock hit pay dirt first again in the second half, this time it wasn’t all about speed, it was more about endurance. The team kept grinding away pushing back and wearing down the Bulldog defense to make it to the try line. This time, Erin Ball did the honors, fighting for every inch to break the plane and ground the ball. Sparta-Rock had recaptured the lead at 10-5.

The momentum shifted after the score as it seemed to be a wake-up call for the Bulldogs. They answered with a try of their own to knot the score at 10-10 and then claimed the first lead they had for the game at 15-10. Sparta-Rock played hard, continuing to work valiantly at stymying the Bulldogs, but Grandville continued to whittle away the yards, even utilizing dummy passes, moving the score to 20-10. For the first time in the game, their conversion kick was good, actually bouncing off the upright and falling over the bar to earn another two points for Grandville, moving the score to 22-10. Time would run out with Grandville claiming the game and the title.

Throughout the season we continued to improve and unfortunately couldn’t prevail in the end,” shared Dauser after the game.

He still was happy with the season and his roster, who had grown through the 2019 campaign from a large number of new players to earning runner-up status in the entire state of Michigan.

We are always working on building a fun team atmosphere that builds strong, proud female athletes,” he continued. “I am very proud of our team this year and I love each and every player.” 


Grace Gohl works away from a Grandville player. ~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory


~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory


~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory


~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory


~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory


~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory


~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory


~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory


~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory


~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory


~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory