Boys’ Hoops Set For Boston Garden Party Vs Algonquin Reg.; Sunday, Jan. 6 At 5 PM

Photo: The poster for the invitational.

Belmont High Boys’ Hoops will be heading for a garden party on Sunday, Jan. 6 at 5 p.m. as the Marauders battles the Tomahawks of Algonquin Regional on the parquet floor of TD Boston Garden as part of the annual Good Sports TD Garden Invitational.

Seeing the local team at the “Gah-den” is a special event as those who saw the Girls’ team win both games in 2016 and 2017 and the Boys’ battle it out until the final minute against a strong Somerville team in 2014 can attest. 

So, you may ask, where can I get tickets? Say no more:

STATE CHAMPS! Belmont Takes Girls’ Rugby Title Over Algonquin

Photo: Smiles from the Belmont High Girls Rugby, state champions.

Belmont High School Girls’ Head Coach Kate McCabe told her team during the season that “offense wins games, but defense wins championships.”

McCabe’s adage turned out to be spot-on prophetic as the Marauders used a punishing defense to propel its offense to  17 unanswered points as Belmont defeated Algonquin Regional High School, 17-14, to win the inaugural MIAA Girls’ Rugby State Championship on a hot Saturday afternoon at Endicott College, June 10.

After falling behind 14-0 in the first 25 minutes, the Marauders’ used a “no stars” team approach to claw back into the game, sparked by two pivotal plays by a pair of sophomores and the determined leadership of a group of graduated seniors.

“There is not a girl that has been playing with us this entire season that doesn’t deserve credit for what we did out there,” said senior captain Sara Nelson who three years ago was one of the original players who helped started the girls’ program.

“It’s such a team effort, and I love them all,” said Nelson.

“I’m so excited for them,” said McCabe walking off the field with the state championship trophy in her hands.

“They worked so hard; they really wanted it especially the senior class. They made [the state championship] their goal, and I’m just thrilled they got it,” said McCabe, which included Anne Baker, Molly Goldberg, Aisling Madden, Georgia Parsons, Mariel Somers and Nelson.

Not only was the game the first ever state championship for the Girls’ (as well as two divisions of Boys’) it was a historic game as it was the first title game in the US sponsored by a state high school interscholastic association. It is hoped that the championships will spur other state associations to add rugby – the fastest growing high school and college sport in the US – to its list of varsity sports.

Not that Belmont made it easy on themselves to take the championship as the first 25 minutes found the Marauders’ digging a fairly deep hole for themselves as early mistakes and inability to stop the T-Hawks backs resulted in a quick 14-0 deficit. Algonquin’s senior fullback Kendall Scholl found herself turning the corner on Belmont’s defense to score a long distance try only four minutes into the game.

The match-up was following a familiar script of the previous two meetings between the teams – Belmont won 20-10 away and tied the T-Hawks 10-1o at Harris Field – in which Algonquin started out strong scoring the first try. 

For nearly the remainder of the half, Belmont had its back to the goal line. After one stellar defensive stance in which the Marauders stopped Algonquin for more than two minutes from within five meters, the T-Hawks pushed Belmont back so its big front line player Charlotte DiGovanni could fall forward with a disputed try as many saw the ball fall out of her hands before it was touched down with 11 minutes to play.

“We did not make it easy on ourselves, that is for sure,” said McCabe. “I think that first half we played a little afraid. We didn’t want to make mistakes, but we made a lot of mistakes.”

With time running down in the half, Algonquin would lose its best all-around player, senior Sam Dickie, to a shoulder injury. Soon after, Belmont would get the break they needed as sophomore fullback Gabriella Viale took the ball from 25 meters out and ran through the T-Hawk line for an uncontested try with no time on referee Kelly Craven’s watch to cut the lead to 14-7 at the half.

“I just saw a gap, and I took it,” said Viale.

McCabe said Belmont needed to take more chances in the final 35 minutes which the Marauders did, stealing a pair of critical scrums and advancing the ball within five meters of the goal 10 minutes into the half but lost possession to an infraction.

But the subsequent kick by Algonquin – a team can advance down the field by kicking it up the pitch and out of bounds – was caught by Belmont’s sophomore right wing Hannah Hlotyak who scampered up the sideline 20 meters. Less than a minute later, senior “8” Georgia Parsons powered through a slew of Algonquin players for Belmont’s second try.

“I told myself that I was going to score try, try to score more than one,” said Parsons, whose ankle was tightly wrapped after injuring it three days before the game. Parson – who was the varsity soccer goalkeeper in the fall – missed the conversion to bring the score to 14-12. 

Belmont continued to press Algonquin on both offense and defense as the T-Hawks tired considerably, unable to move the ball effectively against a Marauder defense which each player called out assignments. Many times Algonquin players could only hand off the ball as there was no room to maneuver.

On offense, junior scrum half Jessica Rosenstein – who takes the ball from the scrum and delivers it to the backs – was quarterbacking the offense with spot-on back passes while junior flanker Kailee Pellicane had a series of punishing runs while doing the dirty work of clearing out Algonquin players attempting to steal the ball after a Belmont runner was tackled. 

Up front, the forwards, lead by the senior Head Prop duo of Baker and Goldberg supported by sophomore Locks Grace Christensen and Samantha Dignan and flankers; senior Somers and Pellicane dominated the scrums and rucks which left the Algonquin front line exhausted for most of the second half.

With 17 minutes remaining, Belmont moved to its left where they found room to run. Sophomore Amanda Hanley took the ball on a 25-meter romp to inside five meters where junior Rachel Iler-Keniston picked up the ball and dove in for the try. The conversion from the acute angle failed to give Belmont a slim 17-14 lead.

Six minutes later, Algonquin came close to turning the table on Belmont as a quick restart saw a T-Hawk fullback break through an opening into the clear. With only open turf between her and the end zone, it appeared she was going in for a sure tying try when Viale ran her down with a game-saving tackle 15 meters from the goal line. 

“I saw the girl break away and I was like, ‘you’re no getting past me,’ and I went for it,” said Viale who competes in winter track. 

That would be as close Algonquin would come to scoring as Belmont’s fly backs began picking up large chunks of real estate while substitutes such as Heather Swanson contributed by making a critical steal from an Algonquin ruck. 

After the field clock had stopped at two minutes for what seemed to be 10 minutes and with Craven looking at her watch, Rosenstein kicked the ball out of touch after a penalty. It was then the final whistle blew, and after a few seconds of drained relief, the celebration began. Each player received a championship medal, and Nelson accepted the state championship trophy with the coaches. After photos of them with the trophy and banner, the entire team then ran through a “tunnel of honor” created by supporters and several members of the boys’ team who came to cheer the girls.

McCabe said for Belmont, the victory is vindication for the seniors who came out as sophomores to start what was then a fairly unknown sport for girls in the state. 

“For girls’ rugby, I hope this starts a trend., I hope more schools have girl rugby teams. I hope we see more really tough games like this. The fans were going crazy. It was a great game of rugby,” she said.

When asked what it was like winning a state championship, “it had not sunk in yet” said Nelson with a beaming smile and tears in her eyes.

Belmont Girls’ Rugby Prepares for Historic First-Ever State Finals Sat. June 10

Photo: Preparing for history.

It’s two days before she will lead her team into the first-ever state Girls’ Rugby final and Belmont High Head Coach Kate McCabe is not particularly happy.

On Belmont High’s Harris Field, McCabe ordered the three dozen or so girls who were out practicing to perform 10 burpees, a quick penalty for not being ready to restart after a water break.

“You have two and a half hours here to prepare for the game,” said McCabe, a social studies teachers at the school as well as the coach who started the program three years ago with a handful of hopefuls who practiced in the mud as she taught them the game.

“Let’s not waste any time,” she said.

The team then got down to business, running through plays with a focus on tackling and protecting the ball.

McCabe and the squad are taking their undefeated season – three wins and a tie – and strong play with them as they enter the Endicott College football stadium at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 10 to take on rival Algonquin Regional High School for the third time with a state championship trophy as their goal.

The game – played between the two Boys’ title games – is special not just that it’s the first-ever state championship in rugby, it is also the first finals sanctioned by a state high school interscholastic association, a breakthrough that gives the sport a boost towards acceptance by high schools in Massachusetts and in other states.

“It means a lot for the program and I’m really proud for women’s rugby,” said McCabe last month.

For Sara Nelson, one of the first girls to go out for the team three years ago and is now the team’s sole captain, “it’s great that we get to represent the sport in the finals.”

Sports : Girls’ Rugby First-Ever Varsity Home Game a Memorable Tie

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.