By Katy Andreini
There is a distinct change in the air this season with the Sparta-Rock Girls’ Rugby team. It is borne of a knowledge and confidence that the team can, indeed, defeat long-time rival Grandville in the state finals. This confidence is earned through hard work and perseverance as the team plows through their season, even defeating Warsaw, Indiana, in a 21-10 upset.
Sparta-Rock’s only loss this year was to their nemesis, Grandville, but the team’s defense held Grandville to only two tries, with a final score of 0-10. The team is proud of this loss, because it proved to them that they can defeat Grandville when they meet again later this season. While the whole team, as well as the coaching staff, can be credited for this success, there are a few key players who contribute to the win each and every game.
Lexi “Sprinkles” Lamancusca is a senior at Rockford this year, but it is her first season playing rugby. While her experience is small, her impact on the team has been huge. “Lexi reads the gaps in the defense really well and just bursts through so no one can catch her,” stated Captain, Darby Eck. “She also finds the vulnerabilities on the outside and cuts in when necessary; she reads the field incredibly well.”
Lexi’s prowess on the field, despite her short time on the team, has much to do with her quick wit and innate athleticism. While she is still unsure of where she will attend college or whether she is going to play rugby at the collegiate level, she is sure about one thing: “We will beat Grandville. We know what areas we need to work on.”
Valencia “Pure Gold” Goldsmith entered her second year on the team with a bang. Val, a junior at Rockford, plays either fullback or wingback for the team, depending on where she is needed. When asked when she actually figured out how to play this complicated game, she replied: “The moment I found out what I was doing was in my first game last year. Coach Dauser just put me in and it clicked!”
Valencia has really come into her own this season, scoring multiple tries for her team on offense as well as being a fearless, strong force on defense. Much of her success can also be attributed to her attitude: “I’m leaning towards playing rugby in college because it’s fun and I can still grow and get better at it.”
This positive outlook is infectious on the field and helps to bolster her team when the chips are down. “I felt very proud of our team when we played Grandville. I feel like we pushed them so hard that they didn’t expect the win. We made them work for the win they got.” Val describes her optimism regarding defeating Grandville in the state finals as, “Super confident.” She added, “We are getting better every day and we know that we can be so much better than them. We just have to play like we know we can play, and win it all!”
Last, but absolutely not least, is veteran player Ashleigh “Crazy Ash” DeWitt. Crazy Ash comes by her nickname honestly. She plays on full-tilt 100% of the time. She is a leader both on and off the field, serving as Co-Captain with Darby Eck. Ashleigh is a senior at Comstock Park, and she has been with this team for three years. She plays 8 Man and Flanker for the team, and hopes to play for Davenport next year.
Ashleigh remembers the moment she first really felt like she knew the game, inside and out, with humor: “The moment I figured out what I was actually doing was during the first game of my junior year, LOL.” Many will agree that rugby is both physically and intellectually demanding. This is one of the reasons why Ashleigh is such a strong player; she has both the brains and the brawn necessary to dominate in all aspects of the game.
Once again, it is a positive attitude and the drive for continuous improvement that sets these players apart: “I felt like the Grandville game was a great game, Ashleigh reflects. “We had too many penalties throughout the whole game, which is what allowed Grandville to gain so many yards. I strongly believe we can beat Grandville if we have more urgency, more experience (for the newer players}, better passes, and our fitness level improves. With all of these things combined, we’ll be unstoppable”
Since Grandville defeated the team, they have been working hard on all of these components. The defeat over Warsaw proved how much the team has improved and how important winning this state title is to Sparta-Rock.
Thus far, the season looks like this:
- Sparta/Traverse City: 23-12
- Grandville/Sparta: 10-0
- Sparta/Berkley: 46-5
- Sparta/Warsaw: 21-10
- Sparta/Livingston County: 74-0
- Sparta/Grand Haven: 62-0
The team plays Lakeview at Lakeview in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, on Sunday, October 21.