Rowe-Clark Girls' Rugby Returns to Dominance



Rowe-Clark Girls' Rugby - 2016 Noble Athletic Conference Champions

Chicago, IL - If you’ve attended a Noble Athletic Conference Girls Rugby Championship in recent years, chances are you’ve seen a team from Rowe-Clark or Pritzker.  After Pritzker ended Rowe-Clark’s NAC record-setting six-year title run in 2015, the Jaguars and Masai Lions once again met for the 2016 crown in front of a near capacity crowd at Speer Field on the campus of Speer Academy.

In a fierce, defense-laden, grind of a match, Rowe-Clark and Head Coach Ryan McBride returned to their championship platform, defeating Pritzker, 5-0.  The Masai Lion Rugby tradition has laid the foundation for success, but the humbling 2015 loss created a new level of motivation and tenacity.  A central theme emerged: “a relentless pursuit of perfection.”  A significant part of that process involved immersion and development, especially for their younger players.  “We decided an increase in exposure to the game was necessary to develop last season’s younger, inexperienced squad”, which included four juniors, five sophomores, and eleven freshmen.  Said McBride, “to develop our youth we registered for the 2016 spring state tournament, a second season for the girls (in 2015-16) and another huge commitment, in an attempt to provide additional development time. As a team, the girls decided that it would only be worth it if they were all onboard and willing to dedicate their time to searching for perfection.”

Rowe-Clark's Breanna Harrell

Rowe-Clark’s dominating defensive performance in the championship game was a continuation of their central schematic theme all season, one that saw the Masai Lions outscore opponents 382-10 overall.  Going into the championship game, Rowe-Clark had only conceded points to two other opponents.  “Defensively, we focused on prevention and limiting our opponents.  Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of our possible championship opponents, we spent months building up to a potential championship showdown. The ‘relentless pursuit of perfection’ included the ability to nullify an opponent, winning the game with our defense.”

Rowe-Clark's Danielle Thompson

The Masai Lions were led by dynamic senior duo, Danielle Thompson and Brianna Harrell.  Thompson and Harrell were named NAC Co-Players of the Year.  First team NAC selections Kenya Jarrett (junior), and Shanya Jones (senior) were also key contributors throughout the season.

After the victory, McBride and the Masai Lions were very complimentary of their Noble Athletic Conference rival – Pritzker – and head coach, Mary Sweeney. “Ever since I started coaching at Rowe-Clark, 8 years ago, Pritzker has been the best prepared opponent. Regardless of their squad or coaches, they're always our most competitive game. Their culture and commitment to girls rugby is exemplary. On the night of the championship game, following the final whistle and trophy presentation, several Pritzker players took the time to speak to me privately - not an easy conversation to have following a championship loss. Their kind words and well wishes exemplified how well their girls are coached in Rugby and life.”

Rowe-Clark (left) and Pritzker (right) shake hands before the NAC Championship.

Coaching at Rowe-Clark and in the NAC has been a special experience for McBride and other league coaches.  “Rugby is still in its infancy in America but I believe the Noble Network is leading the charge and development of high school girls rugby in the state of Illinois. I hope the push continues in years to come”, said McBride.  “Special mention to Brenda Cora and all the staff at Rowe-Clark for allowing the flexibility and autonomy to facilitate our girls’ rugby program. There have been many times when our staff have helped facilitate the crazy practice and meeting schedule the girls endure. Without their support the position of coaching would be much more difficult.”

The Masai Lions have won 7 NAC titles in 8 seasons, with a 60-3 overall record during that time period.

Championship Celebration