Thursday, May 16, 2013

Girls Rugby goes to, and hosts, National Championships

 from today's Waukesha Freeman -

Grabbing another berth in nationals
Catholic Memorial girls rugby team to play closer to home 
Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA – The location doesn’t matter to Eileen Lieb.

Lieb was in California for a national rugby tournament last spring, and she wouldn’t have minded another out-of-state trip.

But for Lieb and her Catholic Memorial High School teammates, the short trip to Franksville is going to make this year’s National High School Championships extra special.

“It’s been in California for a few years, but it’s nice to be close to home,” said Lieb, a senior. “There are so many more people who can come support you.

“It’s still built up for us as much as last year, but it’s nice to be home where everyone else is around you.”

The Crusaders finished fourth in last year’s national tournament held on the Stanford University campus. This weekend’s tournament, which features eight of the top high school teams in the country, will be played at the SCORe facility.

“The special part about it is all of their family can see them play,” CMH coach John Waliszewski said. “We play regionally in the spring so much that a lot of times grandparents, brothers, sisters can’t see us play.

“The girls are excited to play at home.”

The second straight trip to the national tournament is quite a feat for a program that began in 2007 in a school with an enrollment of 700. And many of the Crusaders’ players had little to no experience in rugby entering high school.

“I couldn’t even believe when I joined the team how well developed it was,” junior Alexa Jaeger said. “It
didn’t feel like something that wasn’t around a long time. That was hard for me to fathom.”

The majority of Memorial’s roster is comprised of players who don’t play other sports. The team plays a conference season in the fall and a tournament season in the spring, and some play only one season.

The Crusaders have a core that has built a winning program in recent years.

“We have a neat mix of kids who play for different reasons,” Waliszewski said. “Some are kids who always wanted to play football or did in grade school. This is an opportunity to play a contact sport on a girls team that fit what they were looking for. We’re also getting some other girls who maybe phased out of other sports or determined they were burned out of another sport and wanted to try something different.

“Then, we have more and more girls from rugby families where their parents and/or siblings played.”

The Crusaders are hoping last year’s experience pays off this season. Last year the team admittedly was wideeyed and somewhat overwhelmed by the atmosphere.

“Last year it was exciting enough to be invited to the national tournament,” Jaeger said. “We got a chance to learn about ourselves and the sport.

“Now that we know the
level of competition, we are more determined to perform very well. It’s not just, ‘Oh we got to nationals,’ but now it’s, ‘What are we going to do at nationals?’” CMH will play Summit, Colo., in its first game Saturday with the second round being played later in the day. The final round will be played Sunday.

“It’s one of the best opportunities I could think of for how hard we’ve worked,” Lieb said. “This little Catholic school from Wisconsin that has 30 girls in their
program, we’re up against programs with 60 girls in their program.

“Everyone works so hard, and it’s so exciting. We realize we have worked so hard to be here, and that puts us in a good perspective.”

Said Jaeger, “It’s obviously really exciting. The first time we went, we didn’t know what to expect. The national tournament as a concept is hard to make it feel real. We’re excited to do it again.”


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