High School boys rugby rivals Greenwich and Staples split their two previous games this season, with both teams recording convincing victories and Thursday’s state final between the Cardinals and Wreckers followed the same pattern.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Thursday’s matchup saw the Wreckers cruise to victory in convincing fashion.
This third and final game between the two teams with the coveted state title at stake was controlled by top-seeded Staples, which seized an early lead and never looked back on its way to registering an impressive 35-7 win over second-seeded Greenwich in the finals of the Connecticut State Boys Rugby Tournament in Westport.
The triumph gave Staples, which has steadily risen in the ranks over the past five seasons, its first state rugby championship. The Wreckers finished the season with an outstanding 13-2-2 record for coach Neal Seideman.
Staples entered halftime with a 16-0 lead on Greenwich, building its decisive advantage with three penalty goals and one try. They advanced to the tournament’s championship game by beating Trumbull, 42-21, in the semifinal-round.
“All season, we have been a good second half team,” Seideman said. “Our second half against Trumbull in the semifinals was our best half of the season and the momentum we gained from that half carried over into today’s game. We really built off that half and we were able to take advantage of Greenwich’s penalties in the first half.”
Greenwich dropped a 28-16 decision to Staples on April 30, but avenged the loss by defeating the Wreckers, 30-12, at the Boys High School Rugby National Championships in Elkhart, Indiana on May 20 – a win that earned the Cards a fifth-place finish in the national tournament. In Thursday’s state final, however, the Cardinals did not possess the ball enough and when they did have the ball, it was tough for them to make a strong push toward the try zone or generate rhythm offensively.
“Staples plays a tough brand of rugby, they are not the type of team that tries to fool you, they come straight at you,” Greenwich coach Mike Fina said. “They really showed up today and played great. “They’re a very well-coached team that’s very physical. We knew it was going to be a tough, physical game.”
The Wreckers capitalized on three Cardinals penalties and relied on the powerful leg of David Sedrak to jump out to a 9-0 lead. Sedrak’s first three-point goal kick from approximately 40 yards out following a GHS penalty came during the game’s first four minutes. His second penalty goal at the 23:15 mark put the host Wreckers in front, 6-0. With seven minutes remaining in the opening half, Sedrak kicked the ball between the uprights again, putting Greenwich in a 9-0 hole.
Staples seized a double-digit lead when brothers Brandon and Devon Saunders combined for a try, with Brandon passing the ball to Devon, who broke loose and dashed approximately 40 yards to the try zone. Sedrak added the conversion kick and Staples went into halftime with a 16-0 advantage.
“We came out ready for them, we know they have a lot of speed,” said Greenwich junior JB Meier, who helped ignite the squad’s 41-7 semifinal-round win against Fairfield Prep with two tries. “They capitalized on some line breaks on our defense and we missed way too many tackles today, myself included. We have to do a better job of tackling than what we showed out there today. But credit to them, they ran hard, they were tough to tackle and they took advantage of their opportunities.”
Said Charlie Beney, one of the Cards’ senior captains: “We had too many penalties in the first half, then it was difficult for us to get any type of momentum going.”
When the second half began, Staples continued to carry the momentum and control the ball for the majority of the half. George Engels had one of the Wreckers’ three second-half tries. Trailing 35-0, Greenwich avoided the shutout, when senior Thomas Foster used his breakaway speed to sprint to the try zone with 5:32 remaining in the game. Nico Figueroa added the conversion kick, completing the Cardinals’ seven points.
“We felt it was going to be a tough game, they just played better than us today,” said Figueroa, a junior. “They played very well today and they were tough to stop.”
Greenwich finished its 2022 campaign with a record of 9-7. Prior to Thursday’s loss against Staples, the Cardinals defeated Fairfield Prep and Trumbull. The Cardinals were going for their 12th state championship on Thursday against the Wreckers. Their last state title came in 2018. They were defeated by Aspetuck Valley Rugby Club in the finals in 2019.
“Our senior class has meant so much to our program,” Fina said. “They have been through a lot the past few seasons, from having a modified season last year to not having a season two years ago. They did a great job of providing leadership to our younger players and they have put our program in the right direction.”
Said Figueroa: “The seniors helped us a lot throughout the season, we’re going to miss them.”
Indeed the team’s many seniors are leaving the team with a wealth of memories they experienced on the field.
“I’m so proud to have been a part of this team,” Foster said. “I played with a lot of kids on this team from when we were kids playing rugby at OGRCC (Old Greenwich-Riverside Community Center). To develop as players with them over the years has been special.”
“As a member of the team the past three years, I’ve had so much fun,” Beney said. “I’ve created so many bonds with my teammates and it’s been a memorable experience.”
Categories: Greenwich High, Spring sports
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