Kiski Valley girls rugby team hoping for breakthrough

Saturday, April 27, 2019 | 10:42 PM

After three years of seeing the Kiski Valley girls rugby team finish as the state runner-up, Rilee Roach is ready to break through.

“Honestly, I’m just so sick of getting second place at this point,” said Roach, a junior captain. “I think our other captains, Autumn (Trempus) and Kelsie (Magill), are in the same boat as me. The three of us have been playing together for a while, and it’s their last year, so we want to get states for them. We’ve been second way too long.”

The Titans are hoping the fourth time is the charm.

They put themselves in good position to try to get that elusive first state championship with a 3-0 record, and Sunday’s match against Chambersburg will go a long way toward deciding its postseason seed. The game, which also is senior day, is 1 p.m. at Davis Field in Vandergrift.

Both teams are undefeated, but Kiski Valley has one more point (15) than Chambersburg. If the Titans win, they’ll be in the pole position for the top seed in the playoffs.

“Chambersburg is going to be an important match for a lot of reasons,” Titans coach Erica Houlihan said. “We’ve played them every year, and we enjoy playing them. They are a talented team, and when we’ve played them, the scores have always been very close. It’ll be an exciting weekend for the girls.”

Chambersburg leads the Division II East Division, and Kiski Valley is tops in the West.

“When we play them, we really have to bring it, because they have rugby knowledge, they’re fast, and they play very well,” Roach said.

Kiski Valley has been building toward this match all season.

The Titans have a core of experienced players with backs captain Magill, forwards captain Trempus, Jessica Ayres, Macy Booker, Charity Halldin and Sophia Beining all being seniors, and Roach, a three-year starter, a junior. But they started the season with uncertainty after graduating four seniors.

Like they have in the past, they found a talented crop of first-year players.

Amber Bigler, the younger sister of Kiski Valley boys captain Andrew Bigler, and Madison Prenni are among the newcomers who are making an impact.

The Titans showed their potential with an 84-27 win over North Pitt United in the opener.

“Somehow every year when our girls recruit, they find athletes that have everything we’re looking for,” Houlihan said. “They’ve been great. We’re teaching them the basics, and they’re getting them down really well.

“The first match was a bit of trial and error to see if they put them in the right places, and they just came out and crushed it. One of our captains (Magill) scored four tries, and the rest of them were scored by newbies.”

Roach and other returners spend the offseason using different methods such as social media and posting flyers to get new girls to come to winter workouts.

“At our indoor practices in December, we’ll get girls that play soccer, softball (and) even swimming or gymnastics,” Roach said. “When they show us what athleticism they have, it’s always impressive. We’re always a wacky bunch, but we’re amazing.”

Magill was once one of those newbies and has a wide-ranging sports history. She was a figure skater in elementary school, as well as a cheerleader who participates in equestrian competitions. But she fell in love with rugby after she was coaxed to come to a practice.

Now she’s helping newcomers learn a new sport.

“It’s a lot of information to take in at one time,” Magill said. “It’s a fast-paced game, and practice doesn’t really mimic how the game will run. Practices break it all down, but once you’re thrown into a game as a first-year player, you don’t really know what to expect. That’s why communication is so important.”

The Titans have one more match May 5 at Woodland Hills before postseason play begins, but they’re excited about the test Chambersburg will provide.

“We’re really hoping that this is the year that we get (a state championship) because every year we seem like we’ve been getting a little bit closer,” Houlihan said. “Last year we were only seven points away from a win. We’ve closed the gap each year, and we’ve played some high-level teams. The first year we played a team that was a Division II team that should’ve been in Division I, and every year since then, the team we’ve lost to has moved up to Division I.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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