Wednesday, December 18, 2013

WGR Classic Matches, part ii

 WGR Classic Matches, part ii
     The first part of our series on memorable matches in WGR was one of our most read pieces in some time.  We also had some nominations from players and former players.  Thank you. 
    Part ii of our series, “The modern” era of WGR features a greater variety of matchups. WGR has become a league with twice as many teams, sometimes split in conferences geographically or by level of play (Division 1 or 2). We’ve seen national-level programs come and go based on waves of strong classes or coaching changes.  We’ve also seen rivalries come and go based on team and coaching make-up.  
   Part iii of our series will have to be written in 2020, which really isn’t that far off.  We at WGR predict that we’ll have to discuss the memorable 7’s matches, how the Olympics have affected the game, and how the Fox Valley area has developed and affected our conference structure. There have been murmurs of girls interested in playing around the Green Bay area for years.  Will that come to fruition?  Will Wisconsin and Illinois form a mega conference with larger numbers in D1 and D2 conferences or maybe a northern (Fox Valley), and southern conference?
  But, for now, onto the GREAT games:
Fall 2006  Vernon v DSHA     
     Vernon was the second-place dominant girls team for several years during this period and this was perhaps their high-water mark.  Brittany Houston, an eventual u-23 selectside MVP, who eventually moved out to Colorado to pursue her rugby career, was the face of a team filled with good athletes.   A hard-running #9/10, she also possessed incredible skill, with a great #9 pass off the deck.  She once famously nailed a drop goal in the national semifinal in 2006 to come close to upsetting perennial finalists Kent, Washington.  
     Problem was, DSHA was unbeatable in this era.  At the time, and perhaps maybe even to this day, DSHA’s #10 and #13 combo of “Coogan and Haas” were unparralled and a part of the their running off six straight national championships at one point.  By far the biggest, strongest running midfield in the State, teams were stymied by their defense and overrun by their combo of speed and power.  While this match wasn’t that close, it was two outstanding teams facing off in the heat of a big rivalry and in that sense the score was irrelevant.

Fall 2007 Vernon v DSHA
This was memorable for being the first state tournament championship game and it was held at Naga-Waukee Park.  A huge crowd assembled that day, thanks to Jeff Noe’s visionary plan to bring all the teams together for a final playoff atmosphere showcase set of matches.   It also marked the end of Vernon’s run as they were soundly defeated in the final.

Fall 2008  CMHS v DSHA  Oct 29th   5-0.
CMH made a remarkable debut in the league in ’07, making the finals the next year.  In the most competitive match the Dashers had seen since they last lost, the Crusaders, many would say, outplayed DSHA, but just couldn’t get over the tryline.  A try in the corner by eventual Nationals MVP and speedster Sarah Chimelewski proved to be the difference. 

Fall 2009 Brookfield v Vernon   State Semifinals
     In the biggest upset in state playoff history, Brookfield under Head Coach Dan Chanen knocked off Will Traber’s talented Vernon Park 19-14.   Making the game all the more dramatic was the fact that Brookfield had never defeated Vernon until that moment.  Brookfield had quickly amassed a talented core of players who were stabilized and unified under the tutelage of Coach Chanen.  Players like Bri Klein at #7, an eventual USA u19 regular, and Kaissee Weissmueller, who would go on to earn a Higgins Scholarship to continue rugby in college, were part of a team athletic 1-15.  Brookfield’s heart and soul, though, seemed to revolve around their tough scrumhalf Rachel Santulli.  Santulli’s game, a nice mix of passing and sniping around the fringes, could at times carry her team and could at other moments just help get the ball in the hands of their other athletes, as any good distributor should.
    Vernon had more experience in recent state finals and especially playing in Midwest regionals.  Both their props made the All-Tournament team, and their standout wing, Emily Zemplinski was a strong defender and athletic finisher.  But it was Brookfield's time.
     In the match, Brookfield got up early and were able to punch in two tries.  Vernon woke up and fought back.  The match, with an unconverted try separating the teams the last ten minutes, was tense and intense until the final whistle.  The victory gave Brookfield its first and only finals appearance and a trip to the top division of the Midwest Championships.  It also marked the end of Vernon’s appearances in the Midwest Championship Division.

 Fall 2010  CMH v DSHA 
     The last time DSHA lost a match in Wisconsin took place at Minooka Park and was eerily reminiscent of their loss there in 2004.  In a match marked by a great defensive effort on both sides of the ball, the tackling on both sides left teams with few opportunities.  Crusader junior Maggie Armstrong dominated the midfield defensively.  The Dasher’s leading scorer, the speedy #13 Ellie Miller, was always dangerous with ball in hand, and #8 Elizabeth Linnemenstans, who’d also been tried at center some, was a force on both sides of the ball.  DSHA was oh so close to taking the match as they had a play in the try-zone, only to have it held up in defense.  The game’s deciding moment was a poor kick by the Dashers fielded by Memorial fullback Sarah Dillett at pace.   She burst through a gap and raced 60 meters for the deciding score.  She converted her own try and then the Crusaders held out for the last 12 minutes to secure a famous 7-5 victory.

Fall 2012 Kettle Moraine vs Vernon
    A short summary of the match was provided by one of KM’s former players and it captures the emotion of the day:
  “KM and Vernon have always had a rivalry, but this is where it came to a head.  Vernon had beat KM by a considerable amount a few weeks before in a mentally frustrating match that even resulted in a KM yellow card” ( a rare thing in the WGR league).   
     “This was Head Coach Jeff Noe's last game with the Knightmares, and we wanted to make him proud.  Marching onto the field in our brand new jerseys, almost a going away gift I guess, we knew this was going to be a tough and physical game, but we would not let it affect our attitudes.  I can't even remember what the score was at half or who scored what tries but it doesn't really matter because both teams fought really hard.  Our flyhalf Drea Mertins definitely scored at least once.  With about 5 minutes left we found ourselves winning 10-5, but backed against our try line with Vernon attacking.  Run the ball in, try held up.  Try held up.  Try held up.  We held up the score 4 times.  On the last scrum our rookie hooker Julia Scheckel stole the ball and our senior flyhalf Drea Mertins kicked it out to end the game.”
     Then there was a mad rush to Coach Noe and a big team hug of celebration.  It was a great game by both sides.
     “This stands as my all-time favorite game because we left our attitudes at home that day and just came to play rugby and that for me is what this game is about.”

Fall 2013  CMHS v DSHA  State Final
     Both their matches this year were back and forth, but this championship began ominously.  On the opening kickoff Jenny Baylon, the Dasher #7, suffered a knee injury as Memorial’s captain Maggie Wesolowski gave her a juke and she planted to react, only to twist her knee up.   First sub in, one minute in.  The ability of both teams to ‘bounce back’ from this and other adversity is one reason it was a great game. 
     As play continued, DS scored a try right off the bat.  An errant pass from Memorial’s scrumhalf got caught in the wind, hit the grass, bounced up in the air and into the arms of an on-rushing Dasher.  Try.    It appeared it could be a long day for the Crusaders.
   But they too bounced right back.   The Crusaders put team red under pressure and spent much of the half camped out in the Dasher Half.  Eventually, Memorial converted pressure from a five meter scrum into points, and the conversion found both teams deadlocked at 7-7, and it remained that way going into halftime.
     The deadlock continued and continued.  Neither side gave much ground.  For twenty minutes into the second half it remained tied.  Eventually the Dashers got a penalty.  Their improved goal-kicking this year proved valuable, as they nailed the penalty conversion to take a tense 10-7 lead.  That seemed to “break the seal” so to speak and the game opened up a little more.  Eventually they dotted down two times in the last few minutes and emerged with a hard-earned perfect record.
    Memorial Captain Alexa Jaeger was one of the players of the match nominations.  Her tackle and poach in the first few minutes was a sign of things to come from her as she was a defensive force all match long.  Dasher #6, Kayla Pavela was remarkable as well, earning a player of the match award. She upped her game even more, in the absence of their regular #7 and made tackle after tackle.
     Both flyhalves got nods as P.of  M.  They both play great defense and made it hard on each other as, of course, they are each threats to run and distribute.  It was one of the best flyhalf matchups in WGR history and a testament to how playing better competition pushes the great players to play even better.

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