DENVER — After a weird year full of change, the Summit High School varsity girls rugby team was in a familiar place Saturday, May 1, at Cook Park in Denver: playing for a state title.
With an 11-1 record entering Saturday, Summit was one day away from winning the program’s 13th-consecutive state championship. But the team on the other sideline, Monarch High School, was 11-1 themselves heading into Saturday’s three-game set. The Coyotes brought athleticism and discipline Summit hadn’t seen from a state championship foe in quite some time.
“They are super athletic and very aggressive and organized defensively,” Tigers head coach Karl Barth said. “They put you under a lot of pressure.”
Monarch put the pressure on Summit on Saturday, but each time the Coyotes seemed poised to challenge the Tigers, Summit responded to seize back momentum. The grit resulted in two victories in three games as Summit captured the state championship.
In the first game, Summit entered halftime with just a 5-0 lead thanks to a score from junior wing Olyvia Snyder. The Tigers broke the contest open in the second half thanks to stout defense and a great offensive pass from senior leader Bryton Ferrari to wing McKenna Orr. Summit ultimately put the game away further with a score from junior Jenna Sheldon and an interception and score from senior Maleena Mero.
But in the 26-0 win Summit lost their senior scrumhalf Brielle Quigley, who broke her nose when attempting to tackle a Monarch player from behind.
The loss of Quigley meant Barth and the Tigers had to shuffle the lineup around, ultimately settling on Ferrari, who in her final two high school games plugged and played Quigley’s all-important scrumhalf role.
With Quigley out of the lineup, the Coyotes controlled time of possession in the second game and slowly worked possession up the field for an early 5-0 lead. Summit’s Deanna Davidson tied the game 5-5 via a strong right-handed stiff arm before cutting to the inside of the pitch for a score.
Quigley remained with the team, bringing them water from the sideline, as the Tigers continued to battle versus Monarch.
“I wanted to stay and still support my team,” Quigley said. “This has been such a big part of high school and my life. I was staying positive and believing in them.”
The Mustangs took a 12-5 lead thanks to a try and kick conversion in the game’s final moments. But before the clock expired, Ferrari made a scoring play similar to Davidson’s, where she faked with her outside right foot and cut back inside to score a try and kick to tie the game at 12-12.
In the third and final game, the Tigers went into a deep first half hole after Monarch worked their way up the pitch and scored both a try and kick for a 7-0 lead. The Tigers finally broke through late in the first half on a run from Orr down the sideline. It led to an ideal 3-on-1 scoring chance for Summit. But the Tigers did not convert the opportunity, as they went into half not only down 7-0, but with momentum zapped.
The shorthanded Tigers — without Quigley, Lily Hess and Rila Long — regrouped at halftime. Namely, Sheldon responded after not converting the scoring chance at the end of the first half. To start the second half, Sheldon ran down the sideline for a touch down to draw Summit within 7-5.
On the play Sheldon said she heard Orr calling for the ball, but she opted to take it herself because she knew if she wasn’t successful she could dump it off to Orr. Ultimately, speed skier Sheldon didn’t need to pass on a crucial play in her first game back with the team. Sheldon texted Barth during spring vacation asking him if she could rejoin the team after her ski season concluded at nationals in Aspen. Her return for the season finale helped Summit win the state.
“She stayed patient and then she got the opportunity and took the corner and it was really nice,” Barth said of Sheldon’s score.
As the final minutes of the game and season ticked down, the Tigers had to remain patient defensively against the ever-deliberate Monarch offense. Trailing 7-5, Summit finally got a chance late in the game to seize the state championship.
With the ball deep in Monarch’s territory, Barth subbed out Millie Carleton for senior Ellie Francis. With the speedy Francis out on the wing on the wide side of the field, it seemed Summit may go in her direction for the game-winning chance.
But Ferrari — noticing how much pressure Monarch’s scrumhalf was applying to her — chose to run the ball back to the narrow, near side of the field — almost like a counter play in football. The strategy of trying to use her acceleration in 15 critical yards of space worked. Ferrari eluded Monarch’s edge defender and curled around and into the end zone for the game-winning try.
The 10-7 win sent the Summit girls to cloud nine for their return trip back to the mountains for their prom.
“This makes the celebration that much better,” Ferrari said.