Club rugby’s biggest prize will flicker in the far-off distance when Tucson’s Old Pueblo Lightning women’s rugby team takes the field in today’s national tournament quarterfinal at the Kino Sports Complex.
The Lightning, winners of five straight, including a 27-24 come-from-behind win over Pasadena in injury time for the Southern California union title, can bring the USA Rugby Women’s Division II championship trophy into sharp focus if it can string together back-to-back wins this weekend.
Old Pueblo will face the Frontier Union champion St Louis Sabres today at 10 a.m., with a ticket to Sunday’s final four up for grabs. Winners of both women’s divisions and all three men’s divisions will play their counterparts from the eastern part of the country in the Denver suburb of Glendale next month.
The Lightning lost in the round of 16 last season, and coach Old Pueblo coach Swing DePoint said his team used that experience as major motivation.
“Last year we lost in the league final, and everyone sat in the stands and watched the championship game.” he said. “Then we realized we can compete at this level.”
DePoint added while he’s proud of his team’s never-say-die attitude, they have shot themselves in the foot on several occasions with unforced errors and costly penalties.
“To win, we need to focus on quality tackling, protecting the ball in the ruck and better decision making,” he said. “The games have been so close because we’ve been under pressure and we’ve made poor decisions.”
Lightning flyhalf Alex Rath, whose late penalty kick propelled Old Pueblo in another late-season win, pointed to her team’s attitude in its success.
Teammate Morgan Haggerty agreed.
“Positivity and the mentality that the game isn’t over until that final whistle blows and working as a team and not individually [is key],” she said. “Every try made is a team try.These may seem trivial but I think they are easily forgotten and are the main building blocks to winning.”
The Sabres, who used a five-try performance from flyhalf Kate Kloster in a 38-24 victory over the Kansas City Jazz in the Frontier Union final to set up today’s match, have played several games bogged down in muddy field conditions, but are looking forward to the sunny and dry conditions forecast in Tucson today.
“We are aware of the heat, and hot games are always a struggle for teams who don’t live in that environment. We are conditioning and practicing in our currently hot and humid Missouri weather,” team president Danielle Lopez said. “Our team is enthusiastic to show what we can do on a dry field. We played our first playoff game for the Frontier Division in a mud pit during flood warnings.”
Keith Jiron is a former Arizona Daily Star sports reporter who has an extensive background in rugby.