Photo: Belmont’s Grace Christensen racing to her second try against Algonquin.
After losing players to graduation (the entire front line), injury or interest in other activities, Head Coach Kate McCabe of Belmont High’s Girls’ Rugby Team wanted to see just what sort of squad would they have as they prepare to defend their 2017 MIAA State Championship against a slew of new teams entering the sport this year.
And it appeared the season’s opener would be a good test as the Marauders hosted Algonquin Regional, the team it narrowly defeated in the championship game last June.
If Wednesday’s game were an exam, you’d be giving the team an A-plus as Belmont ran riot over the T-Hawks scoring ten tries (a better-known equivalent is a touchdown in football) to romp to a 54-0 win before a nice-sized crowd at Harris Field.
“Yeah, that [score] was a surprise,” said Marauder’s scrum-half and senior captain Jess Rosenstein after the match. “They are the definition of a ‘tough’ team. They are a forward attacking team, so we had to prepare for that.”
It didn’t help Algonquin’s cause losing two starters in the first eight minutes to seeming injuries, but it wasn’t likely a game changer as Belmont was ready to set an early marker of its dominance on the field.
With a good mix of returning players and several youngsters in their first-ever game, Belmont dominated the important areas of the game including winning rucks – restarts after a player is on the ground – and scrums where Rosenstein was outstanding in delivering the ball to the outside wingers. The Marauders also won most of the one-on-one battles as its collective tackling was a difference maker as Algonquin could not find an offensive rhythm.
Where last year’s team was known for its grinding, physical offense that tired out opponents to score, this first game saw a squad that created room inside and outside to run at will. Junior fullback Gabriella Viale found just such an opening at the 15-minute mark and sprinted 20 meters for the first try of the year. Three minutes later, junior Number Eight Grace Christensen stiff-armed her way 70 meters down the left sideline to up the score to 12-0.
Another Belmont veteran, junior right wing Hannah Hlotyak, took a pass and outran the opposition at the 21-minute mark to give Belmont a 17-0 margin. While Algonquin was able to gain possession, the Marauders’ defenders tackling, led by several solid hits by Lock Maddie Mulkern, kept pushing the T-Hawk back for losses while dominating side-outs and winning the ball in scrums and rucks.
Belmont ended the half with its fourth try as Rosenstein took a big chance and kept the ball from a scrum and scampered 40 meters through the middle of Algonquin’s backs to put the Marauders’ took a 24-0 lead after the first 35 minutes.
It took Viale just 80 seconds into the second half to sprint down, this time, the right sideline to put the game out of reach at 29-0. The remaining 33 minutes was a lopsided affair with Belmont’s ball distributing in midseason form as the Marauders’ threatened to score at any time. Mulkern, Hlotyak’s second and Johanna Matulonis’ first-ever try scored by the midpoint of the half while Hook Elise Ferriera driving try was followed by a terrific sprint by newbie Calista Weissman who outran the T-Hawks left side and nearly lost her shorts from a failed last-ditch attempt to stop her from scoring.
“It was a little strange to win this way, but we’ll take it,” said Rosenstein.
Belmont will be on the road against Needham and Lincoln-Sudbury before returning to Harris Field next month when it hosts the first-year varsity squad from Weymouth on Wednesday, May 9 at 6 p.m.