Greenwich High

Greenwich High girls rugby team has its sights set on winning the state title

Contributed photo: Ashley Torres-Brown of Greenwich, red jersey in the center, is a senior captain of the Greenwich High School girls rugby team, which enters the new season with high expectations.

Ashley Torres-Brown and Nicole Winn joined the Greenwich High School girls rugby team as freshmen in 2019, which happened to be the squad’s inaugural season and like their Cardinals team, the duo have been forces on the field ever since.

The Cardinals finished second in the state tournament in their inaugural season of 2019 and won the majority of their matches over the course of their first three seasons. Now, they have a state title on their minds.

“One of our goals is definitely going for that state championship,” Torres-Brown said. “We want to go for that state championship, as well as bringing the underclassmen in and helping them learn the game and fall in love with it.”

Contributed photo: Nicole Winn is a senior captain of Greenwich’s girls rugby team.

“Winning states, I think that’s our biggest goal in our mind,” Winn said. “And we want to grow the program and hope all the players on our team come back next year.”

Greenwich is guided by head coach Erin Martschenko, who was instrumental in helping bring a girls rugby program to the school. The team has grown each season and this spring the Cardinals are fielding two girls teams – a Division I/varsity squad and a Division II/development team.

“We’re the only program in the state that is doing that this season,” Martschenko said. “We’ll have Division I playing a full league schedule and they’ll be vying for state championship. Division II will be a development program and JV. It will include getting the girls minutes and time in the game. That was one of our priorities, getting the girls more playing time.”

Photo by David Fierro: Greenwich’s girls rugby team practices its tackling technique on March 21, 2022.

After completing her rugby days at Greenwich High, Torres-Brown, who was also a member of Greenwich’s cheerleading and basketball teams, will continue her rugby career at Quinnipiac University. Her older brother played for Greenwich’s perennial powerhouse team and watching him gave her the idea to become a member of the girls squad in 2019.

“In eighth grade I would go to my brother’s game and I wanted to play,” Torres-Brown said. “People were saying I could do so well and I could excel in this sport.”

Upon joining the team her freshman year, Torres-Brown was inspired.

“It was fantastic to see girls wanting to try something new,” she said. “The boys program supporting us helped us to get to where we are today, so having that support and knowing that we can play just as good as them has motivated me since freshman year.”

Photo by David Fierro: Greenwich opens its girls rugby season on April 31 at Aspetuck Valley.

The No. 8 position – a position with a lot of responsibilities, is where Torres-Brown patrols the field.

“I am at the back of the scrum,” said Torres-Brown, who recently trained at the U.S. Olympic Training Site in San Diego. “I am behind the second row and help push everyone forward and try to keep the ball on our side. On the field, I have the most clear view to get my teammates to see where the gaps are.”

Said Martschenko: “We knew she (Ashley) was going to be an impact player. She’s an athlete, she’s strong and she’s familiar with the game, because her brother played. We’re able to use her as a ball carrier into contact a lot. Now, there’s a level of maturity as a senior, where she is in front of the girls, getting them organized, pushing them harder and picking up kids who are new to the game and making them feel good in there.”

Photo by David Fierro: Greenwich’s girls rugby team should be one of the top squads in the state this spring.

Winn has enjoyed seeing the program grow and experience success each season.

“I think we’ve created a bigger awareness of Greenwich girls rugby in the school,” Winn said. “When it started out, people didn’t even know we had a rugby team. Every time that we have a new bunch of girls they are there the next year, because they fall in love with the sport. It’s like no other sport here, the respect for your opponent, for your teammates is unbeatable. The bond that you form with your teammates is incredible, so I think that they really appreciate that.”

Winn’s father and brother played rugby in college and she decided to test her skills in the sport as a freshman in the spring of 2019. She immediately was impressed with certain aspects rugby offered.

“I like the fact that it’s a sport that defies a lot of stereotypes with girls,” Winn said. “Many people think that girls can’t be tough and tackle, but I love that it’s the exact same sport as the boys. There’s no limits on how we tackle, we play the same game and I think that breaks a lot of stereotypes, so I was really proud of that. It was something new for me and I had never played rugby before, so I enjoyed getting out and enjoying something new.”

Greenwich has two girls rugby teams, a Division I and Division II squad.

“When a play works out well, I think that’s the best thing,” she continued. “Because you work so many hours a week to perfect a play and you mess up so many times, but when it works out in a game and it involves a lot of team members, I think that’s the most exhilarating part of the game.”

Winn plays the flyhalf position for the Cards.

“Nicole is a solid tackler and heady player and has learned the game over time,” Martschenko said. “She has a presence to her – she’s cool-headed, she is heady and has a calm demeanor. She has a way with players and she gets them in the groove.”

Fiona Breier and Gene Nieuwondt are among some of Greenwich’s other senior leaders.

“Fiona has been with the program since ninth grade and was our best tackler, she would go head-to-head with anybody,” Martschenko said. “She works and works and is outrunning kids. We expect her to make tackle after tackle.”

“Gene is the kind of player that brings positive energy,” Martschenko continued. “She has an energy that people gravitate toward and is one of those players that will always do what is expected to her on the field.”

Erin Martschenko begins her fourth season as coach of the Greenwich High School girls rugby team.

Joe Petrone and Lara Vivola are the assistant coaches for Greenwich, which visits Aspetuck Valley on March 31, Southington on April 7 and Simsbury on April 28. The Cardinals’ first home game is May 3 against Southington. They will then host Aspetuck on May 12 and Simsbury on May 21. The state championship game is scheduled for May 26 at a site to be determined.

“The goal is yes, to win a state championship,” Martschenko said. “But more importantly, we want each of our players to play with confidence, to understand all that she is capable of, to learn the importance of taking care of and supporting each of her teammates, and to love the time she is out on the rugby pitch.”

Greenwich’s girls rugby team is getting ready for its rivals this spring.

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