By KATY ANDREINI
“Our 86-0 victory was a great start to the season,” stated Sparta-Rock Girls’ Rugby coach, Andy Dauser, regarding the season opener against Lakeview on September 17th. “We spent most of the game on the attack and dominated the game.”
The scorers during this game included senior Serena “Gerk” Gerkhe, who scored multiple tries; junior Ashely Dewitt; sophomore Valencia Goldsmith, and freshman Madison Bennett, who was named Madam of the Game in the B match. When asked to what she attributes this early success, she replied, humbly: “I just tried to practice as much as possible and give it my all. Two games in, I think there is good chemistry among the players. We all work together as a unit.”
Coach Dauser agreed that this first match was a great team effort, with phase rugby play and hard-nosed defense. “Since the team has thirty girls out this season, they have a B-side who receive ample playing time during the third half. The B-side was victorious against Lakeview with a 41-0 final score. They were led by first-year players, Audrey Angstman and Madison Bennett, who helped lead our attack with great pace of play and ball movement, as well as hard-hitting defense.”
This first match was a dress rehearsal of sorts for the team’s steepest competition, three-time defending state champions Grandville, whom they met on September 23rd. “We did not come out with the intensity and sense of urgency we needed, and fell behind to 10-0 at half-time,” Dauser stated.
However, the girls showed no quit in them, and came out with a furious start to the second half. Felicisa Stuhan was able to get the team on the scoreboard, with a smart pick and go. Gerkhe followed this with a penalty run to give Sparta-Rock the first lead of the game, 14-10. Gerkhe, who is a veteran player, scored seven tries in the first two games. Serina attributes her success to two key factors: “I have improved because I’m consistent with practice and condition more.”
This seems to be pervasive throughout the team. They have made a concerted effort to attend practice regularly and go hard during conditioning, which may be, in part, due to the newest member of the coaching staff, Mckenzie Koval, who played rugby at the collegiate level for Michigan State University. Coach Koval is optimistic when it comes to the team’s future: “This team is already at a high playing level after only two games, and we can only progress from here.”
An additional factor to the team’s success this year is a stellar kicking performance by senior Danielle Heimstra. Danielle scored six points for the team during the Grandville match, which significantly decreased the gap in the score. Danielle listened to her coaches’ advice to gain improvement in her kicking skills: “My coaches said the key to kicking is to be repetitive and to make sure you take the same amount of steps, check that the ball is pointing at the goal, and then just take your time. I really listened to that advice, and I think that’s what makes the difference.”
Despite the fact that Heimstra slotted all three conversion kicks, putting the game in Sparta-Rock’s reach, they were eventually defeated by Grandville. Giving great effort and skill during the match were the forwards who were working the Grandville scrums. Leading the force were Bree Bassett, Althea, Darby Eck, Autumn Berenbrock, Ashleigh DeWitt, and Alex Hyde. Improvement in defense will be the focus this week, as the team prepares for the first big road game of the season this Sunday, October 1, against Berkley Girls RFC.