Photo: Belmont High Girls’ Rugby Head Coach Kate McCabe getting drenched after Belmont won its fifth consecutive MIAA Division 1 state girls’ rugby title.
The Belmont High School’s rugby program duplicated last year’s achievement as the Boys’ and Girls’ squads returned home to Belmont with a pair of Division 1 state championships in games played Sunday morning and afternoon on June 18 at Curry College.
Boys’ Back Line Leads The Way To Consecutive Championships
Win, return, repeat.
Belmont High Boys’ made it consecutive MIAA Division 1 state titles as the top-ranked Marauders defeated this season’s chief challenger, second-seed St. John’s Prep of Danvers, 24-14.
Belmont High finishes the season undefeated, 10-0, for the first time in the program’s 17-year history, which included three matches against out-of-state competition. The Marauders equals its traditional rival, Boston College High, with the most number of MIAA state titles with three.
“Day one of this season was, ‘Guys, you’re defending state champs, but that was last year’s team. This is a different team. We’ve won nothing,” said Belmont’s Head Coach Greg Bruce. That belief led to the team to adopt a “Zero, zero” mentality – which the team shouted out after every score by either team – which got the team grounded for the season.
Rather than viewing the score of individual games or an undefeated season as the measure of the team’s success, “they just wanted to come out here to play their rugby and have one last opportunity to be together,” said Bruce.
The match’s first 20 minutes was the expected heavyweight bout of hard tackling with no quarter given between programs that acknowledge a level of “bad blood” between the two. “[Chirpy] on the field and from the stands,” according to a Belmont coach.
“We knew they were going to be really physical, and they came out even more physical than we expected,” said Belmont High senior prop Asa Rosenmeier, a co-captain heading off to Brown, where he will play rugby. “We pride ourselves on our defense, so we took that challenge straight on.”
Playing without the senior inside center, co-captain, and the program’s all-time leading scorer Jake Cornelius who was injured in Belmont’s 49-14 semi-final victory over BC High, the Marauders stayed within their “game” of running at Preps’ front row led by the 6’5″, 280-pound Rosenmeier and keeping possession of the ball by controlling their rucks and winning the scrums.
After coming close in the first minute, Belmont struck first at the 17-minute mark as junior Number 8 Max Cornelius took a “tap and go” and snuck over the try line after being set up by a 30-meter run by senior outside center Ben Williams that put the ball inside the 10-meter mark. Junior inside center Stephen Hong – who moved into Jake Cornelius’ number 12 role on short notice – nailed the conversation despite the acute angle to stake the Marauders to a 7-0 lead.
“I was ready for this moment,” said Hong. “We got the ‘W’ so I’m pretty happy about my performance.”
It took just five minutes for the Marauders to add its second tally as Hong hopped by a defender and sprinted 40 meters to score after Rosenmeier stole a Prep pass to give Belmont the ball 35 meters from goal.
Prep got on the scoreboard through Luke Rinklin, the Eagles’ Man of the Match, when the junior fly-half quickly took the ball on a touch and go and weaved 30 meters unopposed to place Prep within one score of the lead, 12-7.
But Belmont would have the final word in the half as senior flanker Matt Doban broke two tackles in the last ten meters to lunge over the try line at the 35-minute mark to up the Marauders’ lead to 19-7 at intermission.
During the opening 15 minutes of the second half, Prep’s task was straightforward: Get an early try and keep the score tight over the final 20 minutes. And the Eagles attempted just that, possessing the ball 20 meters from the Belmont try line as they pressed the attack.
But Belmont’s hard-pressed defense would bend but not break. While the Marauders’ front row punished St. John’s Prep’s runners in the center of the field, it was Belmont’s young back six – Henry Thomas, Luke Wilgren, Hong, Williams, Myles Torres, and Wyatt Sclafani – who made up for their lack of size with speed and tackling prowess prevented Prep from breaching the defensive line including twice inside five meters of the goal line. And when Prep crossed the try zone seven minutes into the half, Hong and junior fly-half Thomas prevented the Prep player from grounding the ball, allowing sophomore full-back Torres to come in for the steal.
“We got down low around the breakdown and then fired up and hit them. You can’t be scared playing defense. That’s how we held them,” said Rosenmeier.
“We asked them to put out their best defensive performance of the year,” said Bruce after the game. “Even though the score might not be the lowest points we’ve given up, that was by far the best defensive performance.”
The Marauders’ victory was secured with one of the season’s flukiest tries. On their first venture into the Eagles’ territory 15 minutes into the half, as Belmont was kicking towards the touchline, a Prep player made what one MIAA official called “an extraordinary athletic play,” leaping for the ball three meters out of bounds to tap the ball back into play. But Belmont had two players covering the kick, and the ball bounced once straight into Wilgren’s arms, who walked over the try line in what the left wing said is “the easiest try I’ll ever score.”
With Belmont up 24-7 and time draining, St. Johns’ was looking to the always dangerous Rinklin to spark a final comeback. And when Prep scored through senior Ryan Albano’s three-meter run with 12 minutes remaining, the Eagles would only cross the midfield line with less than a minute to play. When the final whistle blew, the team received their medals, and Rosenmeier and Cornelius raised the trophy aloft.
Girls’ Dominating Win Results In Five-peat
Just one word describes the championship game and season for Belmont High Girls’ Rugby.
Belmont pocketed its fifth consecutive MIAA state championship (completed in seven years), defeating a young Brookline High squad 59-0, placing a capstone on a 9-0 undefeated season.
“The team wanted to make a statement about defense, and I think they really came out in the first half and did what they needed to do,” said Head Coach Kate McCabe, who received a celebratory drenching at midfield.
Belmont was only threatened once in the season by a rapidly improving Weymouth squad in the Division 1 tournament semifinals. The Marauders fell behind 7-5 at Harris Field before scoring 26 unanswered points on four tries for a convincing 31-7 Final Four victory.
“The girls walked away from that semi-final match saying the defense and the spread that we were doing wasn’t enough. It really motivated them,” said McCabe.
Already without star Number 8, senior co-captain Val Detheux, on the pitch – lost to a knee injury suffered during the fall soccer campaign – Belmont would suffer a second blow when its all-around commanding presence, junior right flanker Alek Townsend, left the field with a knock to her knee in the first half. But the team didn’t miss a beat Sunday, as there was no loss of skill and talent with the substitutes who were sent in.
“Honestly, the privilege that I have with the depth of this bench is unbelievable,” said McCabe. “The ability to turn around and know exactly who you can put in and make a difference is amazing.”
In a game in which the weather changed by the minute – rain, sun, a dose of showers – Belmont began scoring in the first two minutes with a driving run from junior lock Rowan Dragon with the conversion from junior fly-half Lucy Kabrhel, – who went 7 of 9 in conversion attempts – as the team began a masterclass on all aspects of the game.
Brookline couldn’t string the passes needed to stretch the Marauder back line, forcing them inside where they could not make headway against a physical Belmont front. When the Warriors attempted to push the ball out wide, their runners would meet Townsend, who laid out several crushing tackles before she departed.
On offense, the Marauders were much stronger up front while Belmont’s passes, starting from senior scrum-half Shelby Ball, were quickly delivered and on the mark.
Belmont junior lock Sally Amer punched in Belmont’s second try at the 10-minute mark, followed by junior inside center Olivia Mann diving across the line at 19 minutes to give the Marauders a 21-0 lead at the half.
The Marauders’ junior full-back Mia Taylor finished the game early in the second half with two scores, including a 45-meter solo gallop and a 30-meter run around the edge.
“I was committed to finding the openings as I got the passes from my teammates,” said Taylor, who garnered a second-half hat trick. Taylor saw her sister, sophomore flanker Sadie score her try while senior prop Elise Conroy finished her career with a pair in the final minutes.
And for the fifth time, Belmont took home the state tournament winners trophy as an emotional Detheux raised the silverware with senior co-captain Number 8 Sage Tonomura-MacDonald in front of their ecstatic teammates.
Losing just a handful of senior starters from this year’s first 15, McCabe said the program is on track to continue its impressive championship run.
“We’re building from a good place,” she said.