Girls rugby squad wins second Division II state championship in four years

by John Benson

Considering the inherent toughness required in the game of rugby, the Hudson Girls Rugby Club wasn’t about to let a pandemic stop the 25-member lady Explorers from ending its season with trophy in hand.

That’s exactly what the team – which finished 7-2 and went undefeated in their division – accomplished this season winning its second championship in the last four years. 

At a recent Hudson City School Board meeting, club head coach Adam Wheaton said the overall season was marked by a number of challenges with COVID, including losing its 2020 spring season. 

“We lost quite a few recruiting opportunities,” said Wheaton, who has coached the team for seven years. “Because of that at the end of the season, we had lower numbers [and] we struggled to find a consistent practice schedule.”

Hudson High School rugby players (l-r) freshman Gabrielle Shainoff and Alyssa Schwan and senior Jenna Ito attempt to take down an opponent. Photo submitted

He said the team had to be creative holding practices in not only the hallway of Hudson High School but also in parking lots and different fields.

“Despite those challenges, the team came out of the gates really strong,” Wheaton said. “We put two big wins on the board immediately, but the next round up we struggled to perform to our standards and dropped the game to a tough team that we should have (won).

“The following game, we dropped the biggest loss in school history for Hudson rugby, so that, for us, was a big turning point in the season.”

The coach said the team could have folded, but instead the girls doubled down on their focus and determination.

“We came together as a team, we came together as a program and we cleaned up our mistakes,” Wheaton said. “We chilled within our game plan, and we proceeded to go on and win our second state title.”

The Hudson Girls Rugby Club captured the state championship in convincing fashion over the perennial power and varsity program Saint Joseph Academy from Rocky River. After defeating St. Joe’s in the regular season, with an epic comeback to win 46-45, the lady ruggers dominated the state championship game winning 31-12.

Hudson Girls Rugby Club Director Ryan Regan said team was led by a small but strong senior class that included: team captain Anna Walters, playing the inside center; Jenna Ito, playing 8-man; Laurel Seberg, playing lock; and Grace Safarz, playing scrum-half.

The team’s leading try-scorer this season was Marie Hawthorn. Individual season accomplishments included MVP Anna Walters, Best Forward Jenna Ito, Best Back Rachel Nodar, Rookie of the Year Quinn Regan and Most Improved Player Anna Sturley.

While the lady Explorers have been a powerhouse program in girls rugby for more than 15 years, Regan credited Wheaton and assistant coach Sam Huffman for helping the girls close the gap.

Regan also pointed to the first meeting with St. Joe’s –  the winner would determine the top seed in the state tournament – as a microcosm of the challenging yet ultimately rewarding season.

“The meeting was a back-and-forth game where Joe’s would go up by a try and Hudson would come back to tie it,” Regan said. “However, Joe’s scored a try with what looked like to be the nail in the coffin, putting the Jaguars up 45-34 with about eight minutes in the game.” 

Junior fullback Rachel Nodar, however, answered, scoring a try with a minute to bring the score to 45-44, according to Regan. Then sophomore wing Anna Sturley “kicked the pressure-packed conversion to put Hudson up 46-45, which was the final score,” he said.

The Hudson Girls Rugby Club also included 11 juniors, five sophomores and five freshmen.

“Not enough can be said about this team and the dedication and the support from their parents, their family and their friends,” Wheaton said. “We’re never the biggest team, the strongest team, the fastest team out there, but what we do have is a great culture where these kids bond every single year.

“We take any and all individuals who are ready and willing to play. If you want to work hard, you belong on our team and you become part of the Hudson rugby family. Because of the culture that we’ve built, that’s why we’re able to drive that success.” ∞