Warsaw Area Rugby Club player Tahya Bruce breaks away for one of her four scores for Team Indiana at last weekend’s Challenge Cup in Pittsburgh. Bruce scored four tries in three games, garnering team MVP honors. Photo Provided
Warsaw Area Rugby Club player Tahya Bruce breaks away for one of her four scores for Team Indiana at last weekend’s Challenge Cup in Pittsburgh. Bruce scored four tries in three games, garnering team MVP honors. Photo Provided
The rugby season didn't end with the state championship matches for a number of Warsaw Area Rugby club players.
Both Warsaw teams reached the state finals at Elkhart's Moose Rugby Grounds on May 31, with the boys winning the division II title 29-10 over Pike and the girls settling for a runner-up finish to North Central, losing 34-24.
A number of those players returned to the Moose Rugby Grounds for the Midwest all-stars game on June 14 and 15, with 10 Warsaw players then being picked to take part in the 2014 Challenge Cup at Founders Field in Pittsburgh, representing the state of Indiana.
From the Warsaw Area boys team, Jason Taylor, Austin Taylor and Marcos Rodriguez made the cut for the Regional All-Star Tournament in Pittsburgh, while the girls field was smaller to choose from, with seven Warsaw girls being selected, including Gabrielle Cretcher, Hannah Garcia, Tahya Bruce, Alexis Devenney, Sydney Sargis, Mikaela Till and Makinzie Hoagland.
Because there is a smaller pool of female players in the state, many more Warsaw girls were selected, but for the Warsaw trio of boys, their selection was much more difficult.
“To be selected and actually get to play, as Jason and Austin played all of the finals, is a big deal, simply because they're playing on a select team with players from powerhouse teams like Cathedral, which won a national title, and Penn, Brownsburg and teams that are nationally-ranked teams,” Warsaw Area Rugby girls coach and a coach on the Select team, Trevor Cracknell said. “It's a big deal to be invited to play in Pittsburgh, especially from a lower-division team like Warsaw.”
Playing in division II, the Warsaw guys didn't get to compete with most of the all-stars they teamed up with, as the elite teams in the state play in division I or an even higher level with the Super League.
“A lot of them were even two levels above them,” Cracknell said.
The Indiana varsity team finished the weekend with a runner-up finish to Florida.
The girls team went 2-1 at the tournament, falling 25-21 to Ohio in the opening contest, ending their hopes for a title pretty quickly.
“In the whole Indiana group, out of all the teams - the varsity boys, jv boys and the girls - they only lost one game a piece out of the whole weekend,” Cracknell said. “Playing at that level, it only takes a little lapse in concentration to get scored upon.”
The Warsaw girls proved they could hang at that level, scoring 11 of the team's 14 tries, which are the equivalent of touchdowns, accounting for five points.
Eight of those tries came from a pair of incoming Warsaw Community High School juniors, Bruce and Garcia.
With her performance, Bruce took home the MVP honor for the team.
“Tahya's just a great kid,” Cracknell said. “She's really, really quick. Just plays really hard and was one of those kids that stood out over the weekend.”
While Bruce was named the MVP, Garcia was selected as a girl who may be invited to compete for a spot on the national team, which isn't bad for a player who only began to play the sport this spring.
“There's an opportunity for her to go out to a selection camp, where they teach a few things for three or four days,” Cracknell said. “At the end of the camp, they play a Stars and Stripes game. From that, they make selections to go out to play at the international level.”
Before she knows if she'll be selected to take part in that camp, the final all-star tournament will take place this weekend in Devens, Mass., allowing more players the chance to be seen.
“The reason for having these tournaments is to give essential showcase for different players' abilities,” Cracknell said. “There is what they call the high school all-american team, and they go play other international teams. There's selectors for the boys and girls at these tournaments.”
Even if she isn't selected for the camp, Cracknell said just being noticed by a selector is a big deal.
“It's almost an honor to be pulled aside by the selectors, and being told, 'Hey, you had a great game. We're really interested in you. Keep playing rugby. What year are you? How old are you? How long have you been playing?” Cracknell said. “It's a little bit special to be taken to the side and have interest shown in you.”
Along with trying to win the tournament or being picked for a selection camp, Cracknell believes the opportunity to get to know fellow players from the state is important for the all-stars.
“We travel out on Friday on a bus, so they spend a little bit of time practicing together, playing together, living together,” he said. “It's a whole weekend experience for them. It's something different. Usually, they may just get together quickly after a match to socialize. With this, they're actually socializing, making friends and bonding and becoming a real tight group.”