Photo: Georgia Parsons of Belmont High’s Girls’ Rugby squad.
Kate McCabe could finally smile only after the game recalling the final seconds of the historic first ever girls rugby match at Belmont High School.
A fullback from Algonquin Regional High School had turned the corner beyond the Belmont defenders and was heading full bore for the Marauders’ end zone, looking to break a tie game with a stunning run to glory.
But there would be no miracle finish for the T-Hawks as a pair of Marauders had the angle on the back and pushed her out of bounds 20 meters short of the try line, ending the game.
“That was close!” said McCabe, the Belmont High School social studies teacher and Belmont’s girls’ rugby head coach since the team’s inception as a club sport in 2015.
On a misty late evening under the lights of Harris Field, Belmont High and Algonquin Regional settled for a 12-12 tie in the first-ever MIAA sanctioned girls’ rugby contest in Belmont, serving as the inaugural varsity match at the school.
The MIAA – Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association – is the governing body that supervises high school sports in the state. Before this season, rugby was club sport at schools and regionally.
“I am so proud of the girls tonight,” said McCabe, who started four years at Boston University and was on the Boston Women’s Rugby Club before entering coaching. Despite missing two flybacks and another starter, “[Belmont] played an outstanding game despite the rain” which caused a number of miscues (for both teams) that hampered the game.
This first season of girls rugby under the guise of the MIAA sees three schools – Algonquin Regional High School (Southboro and Northboro), Lincoln-Sudbury Regional and Belmont – with past playing experience competing on the varsity level as other schools, such as Newton North, are creating their own programs.
Algonquin is the most experienced of the playing team, having won the Massachusetts Youth Rugby Organization’s State championship from 2011 to 2014 while Lincoln-Sudbury was victorious in 2016, beating Belmont in the semi-finals.
This year, Belmont defeated Lincoln-Sudbury in its first-ever MIAA girls game and after the tie with Algonquin, the T-Hawks (which defeated L-S, 5-0, in its first go around) and Marauders are both standing at 1-0-1.
The match itself was a bruising affair with Belmont’s strength from the ruck and maul pressured Algonquin, which countered with sharp passing and skillful tackling – led by player of the match ARHS’s senior Sam Dickie – especially close to the try (goal) line. Three times Belmont was within 10 meters of scoring a try (worth five points) but were stopped by Algonquin’s solid defense or by mistakes on their part.
Algonquin’s pressure offense, using quick passes and counter running, earned it the first two tries of the match, building a 12-0 lead. Belmont cut the lead to 12-5 when senior Georgia Parsons – a three-year varsity goalie for the girls’ soccer team – bulldozed her way for a try after the 35 minute half had expired. (In rugby, a half or the game only ends when the ball is kicked, or a player is dragged out-of-bounds.)
The second half saw Algonquin being to feel the effects of Belmont’s punishing runs into the center and experience in the scrum, ultimately resulting in sophomore Claire Martin crossing the line for Belmont’s second try. Parson’s secured the two-point conversion with a well-struck kick through the center of the uprights.
Both teams had their chances in the final 20 minutes with Belmont coming ever so close in the last two minutes only to see a wet ball bound away within 10 meters of the try line in the final two minutes.
As with any rugby match, there was the rash of knock-on injuries, a bloody nose, a painful dislocated finger and the need for many bags of ice. But after the match, it was also time for players who are teammates on club sports to exchange greetings, coaches to discuss the game and the sharing of pizza.