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Rugby Team Claims State Title

By Jeannie Gregory, 11/11/18, 6:00PM EST

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The Sparta-Rock Rugby Team poses with their State Championship trophy. ~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory

Rams Top Grandville 27-15

It is never easy to top a dynasty, but the Sparta Rock girls rugby club team did just that on an extremely chilly day, Sunday, Nov. 11. The team was facing off on the pitch of Davenport University’s Turf Field against the Grandville Bulldogs for Rugby Michigan’s 2018 Girls Rugby State Championships. Grandville’s rugby program is well-established, and was sporting 44 consecutive wins in a row. The Sparta-Rock team had suffered one loss during their season – and that was to Grandville by a score of 14-0.

The team didn’t seem at all intimidated as they took to the pitch - as a matter of fact, they looked determined. They let Grandville know early there wasn’t going to be a repeat of the game earlier in the season. It took the team just 2:02 to score their first try of the game, when Rockford’s Grace Gohl blew down the left sideline and grounded the ball on the try-line for five points. Grandville answered quickly, scoring a try of their own at the 23:36 mark of the first half, and it looked like it was going to be a see-saw affair. That wasn’t how it was to be, however. The Sparta-Rock team fed the ball again to Gohl and she scored another try at the 19:07 mark, to claim a 10-5 lead. After that Sparta Rock’s defense became extremely stingy with real estate, keeping Grandville frustrated and away from the try-line, while lighting up the scoreboard with a try from Ashleigh DeWitt at the 8:29 mark. A successful 2-point conversion kick moved the score to 17-5 Sparta-Rock at the close of the half.

The second half was more of the same, with Sparta Rock’s Darby Eck scoring at the 23:47 mark, and Katie Gale at 14:34 to move the score to 27-5. Grandville caught their breath, and was able to answer with a couple of tries of their own, but in the end the Sparta-Rock team was too much for the Bulldogs and the game ended with a 27-15 victory for the Sparta-Rock team.

The win tasted particularly sweet to head coach Andy Dauser.

“Our team motto is ‘Always Be improving,’ which is evident in our 14-0 loss in Week 2 to Grandville, compared to our 27-15 state championship victory over them,” shared Dauser. “Sunday's state championship has brought the club full circle since Greg Peak and I have taken over the club. Five years ago, we played Grandville on that same field and suffered a 74-5 loss in our second game coaching the girls. It's not just going out and trying to recruit players as coaches but also having great players recruit and understand the importance of what we are trying to build and maintain. I am 6'2" 275 lbs. and go out of my comfort zone trying to talk to high school boys and girls about the benefits of playing rugby, which can be intimidating but when they also have other players and friends tell them about how much fun they have that is what draws them in.”

Captain Darby Eck summed it up this way.

"Three years ago when I joined the club, we had only 17 players on the team and only half would show up to practice on a good day,” said DeWitt. “Now, we have built up a club with over 30 dedicated, skilled girls. It's been amazing to watch that growth and be a part of it. I'm really proud of this year’s team, they're literally my second family and we work together as such on the field. The state championship is just a tangible display of all the hard work we've put in this season,” said Eck. “We have an insane amount of skill on the team that the coaches have worked hard to polish into the well-oiled machine that presented itself in the state finals. I'm so proud of how the girls presented themselves, with both athleticism and sportsmanship."

Captain Ashleigh DeWitt reflected on the team’s success.

It means so much to finally be a state champion, as I have been working for this for three years,” DeWitt said. “Sparta Rock Girls Rugby only focuses on making themselves better by versing yourself and being the best that you can be. Yes, Grandville has been our biggest rival, but our team has worked endlessly to better ourselves. Because of this we were able to become a greater team and dominate the championship.”

It was all in Dauser’s plan.

“This also goes to what we preach to the girls,” Dauser said. “Even though we face an opponent each week on the field, we are not competing against them, we are competing to be the best that we can be and that is all that matters. If we truly play to our best ability and give maximum effort, the wins and losses will sort themselves out on their own.”

Rockford’s Gohl, who scored two impressive tries, was named Madam of the Match and is already counting down the days until next season.

I’ve never met a better bunch of girls that can kick my butt, pick me back up, and show me what being a team as a whole is really about,” she shared. “I love this sport, I love my coaches and I love my ladies most of all. I’m really looking forward to next year.”