Brighton rugby end up on top despite inexperience
Zach Lowry gains ground against Genesis in March with support from Carson Petty. Rocky Marks, left, Anthony Suarez, and Bubba Anfinson follow closely. (Duard Peterson/ Brighton Rugby)
Gallery: Brighton rugby end up on top despite inexperience [3 Images] Click any image to expand.
Brighton rugby boys team finished their third season this spring while the girls team finished their first. Though both teams were young and inexperienced, they were able to finish second and third in their state tournament divisions, respectively.
Brighton rugby is a program independent of Brighton High School, but the school does have a rugby club that is run by the Christine Yee, who teaches at Brighton and is the head coach of the Brighton girls team.
Early in the school year, a few girls started begging Yee to start a team, but she told them they would have to recruit enough players to play before they could start a team.
“I think the cool thing about it is that it was driven by a desire from the girls,” said Yee. “They came up really early in September and asked if they could start a team. I told them ‘If you can get enough players then we can talk about it, but you’re going to need at least 15 for a season.’”
Before the team was officially formed, the girls started practicing on their own and were able to recruit 25 to 30 girls.
Because Brighton rugby is not part of Brighton High School, the teams have to raise their own funds to play. With funds being tight, the girls had to wear the boys team’s old, oversized uniforms.
The team was very inexperienced with only a couple of the girls having ever played rugby before, but they were dedicated to becoming better.
“In our season this year everybody was so green and we were baptized by fire by Herriman in one of our first games, which is one of the best teams in the state,” Yee said. “We got killed that game, but there was no point in that game where our girls didn’t play hard or they gave up. They pretended like the score was 0-0 throughout the whole game and I’m so proud of them for that.”
By the end of the season, the team had improved dramatically.
“When we went to the state tournament, they came out and seemed like a completely different team,” said Yee. “Watching them it was clear they finally understood the game and they were finally able to improvise and play from their gut and still do things technically sound, and they had a great win. The other team was a bigger team. I think more people on that team had experience. Our girls just really came together. They were closer than they had ever been before. They lifted each other up, you know, they supported each other until the very end.”
The team was made up of a diverse group of girls who meshed together well, including two foreign-exchange students from Europe.
“I would say every girl brought something unique to the team and I know a lot of people say that,” Yee said. “What I love about this team is that it is so diverse, not just experience wise but also from the different groups that hang out at school.”
The team even had two former cheerleaders on the team who surprised Yee by becoming two of the best players on the team.
The first of these girls was Brooke Burns, who had just finished winning a hockey state title with the boys hockey team she played for, helping her transition to the physicality of rugby. The other was Brooklynn Segura.
“I think that what is so great about (Brooklynn) is that she asks great questions and is always looking for feedback,” Yee said. “I think one of the reasons that we didn’t have a lot serious injuries is because our girls wanted to learn to do things technically right.”
A player that Yee singled out as being the most dedicated on the team was Bianca Arroyo. Arroyo would go back and run with other players after she had already finished her conditioning and would do extra conditioning at home so she would be ready to help her teammates. She also would text her teammates regularly to check in with them and make sure they were doing all right.
After losing 17 seniors to graduation the previous season, the boys team came into the season young and inexperienced.
“This year, for the boys we were basically starting from scratch,” said team manager Teresa Petty. “We had maybe 10 returning players that were young and a lot of new players.”
With so many inexperienced players, the team’s season was a struggle at the beginning.
“We definitely didn’t start out successful this year, but we just kept our nose to the grindstone and really came together as a team and just pulled it out in the end,” said team MVP Rocky Marks.
The team finished the season strong and headed into the playoffs, where they played in the championship game and lost by a point in the final 10 minutes of the game.
“We didn’t have as many wins this season as we did last season,” said boys head coach Peter Black. “This was a building season for us. They came together as a unit and jelled and did very well for the amount of time that we had together as a group. The amount of skills that we acquired over the season, especially from beginning to end, was very impressive that these kids could learn the game. Be humble enough to listen to their volunteer coaches and make progress as a group to finish the season very strong.”
Black said he appreciates Brighton High School and Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center for letting the team use their facilities.
Although they are two separate teams, Brighton rugby has a special bond throughout the program, including spending time together and having a special dinner each Friday.
“It’s cliché, but it really did feel like a family,” Yee said. “It didn’t matter who was playing — it was that we were all part of Brighton rugby.”
Often the teams would play at the same location where they would cheer each other on, and when the boys didn’t have practice many of them would come and help the girls better learn the sport of rugby.
Since many schools in the state don’t have a rugby program, the team is allowed to recruit players who don’t go to Brighton High. There are players on the team from Jordan, Murray, Alta and a couple of private schools.
“I think when you hang out with a rugby player their passion is so contagious it’s hard not to love it, and so if anybody is curious about it I do invite them to come out. I invite kids to come to my room all the time and just learn about rugby,” Yee said. “It does feel like family and it’s kind of an exciting thing to be a part of.”