The Glendale Raptors Women made the Emirates Airlines USA Rugby Championships for the first time in team history, and in the final round finished second in the nation. The 5-13 loss to CR2 league rivals Chicago North Shore was a bitter disappointment. However, reaching the finals as the top-scoring team in the country indicates huge progress for the women’s game development at Glendale.
“Chicago was extremely disruptive and did not allow us to play our game plan,” Head Coach Lisa Rosen said. “At times we lost our composure and they bested us, but we need to keep in mind that our most important match this season is still to come.”
Rosen refers to the Dec. 4 challenge match against the Minnesota Valkyries, who finished last in the Women’s Premier League this season. A Raptors win means that Glendale’s DI team will be upgraded into the Premier League while the Minnesota Valkyries will be dropped from the WPL. The challenge match will be played at Huns Rugby Field in Austin, Texas.
Raptors number 8 Jillion Potter won MVP of the national championship final. “It was a really great honor winning MVP, but I could only have done it with the support of my team. And it‘s really nice to have a full team that challenges you with every practice and every game, and keeps you on your toes 100 percent.“
Potter came to Glendale from the Minnesota Valkyries and she says she's looking forward to facing her former teammates at Sunday’s challenge match. "It’s kind of ironic that we end up contesting my old premier side for the spot, but it should be a good game."
Having made it to the USA Rugby Championships finals as the nation’s top scorers, the Raptors Women have certainly sharpened their competitive edge since Rosen took the helm in the 2010 fall season.
Rosen says that a lot of teams have one or two “go-to” players that look to score for them, and the better teams have four or five go-to players, but that every player on the Raptors is capable of scoring tries.
“I think that’s what has contributed to just how many points we put on the board. Having that many players who are fast enough to score on a breakaway means that we don’t have to design a game plan to get the ball to one person. That if an opportunity opens up, every player is empowered to take that opportunity.”
Potter has only played for the Raptors one year but she feels she’s in the right place. “We’re very lucky and fortunate to have the support of Glendale and the local rugby community, and Lisa’s done a great job bringing Glendale up from the roots and transforming it to into something that’s going to be great.” She apparently has no doubts about how the Raptors will fare at the challenge match. “I’m excited for the potential of the program and I foresee us doing very well in the premiership.”
The transformation of the Glendale Raptors Women has gone beyond the success of the Division I team. Their sevens team, led by Laura Hertel and Tracy Gola, were the plate winners at the inaugural USA Rugby Women’s Club Sevens Championship in 2011. The new DII program, started last fall with Angie Cranmore, has also been an ambitious addition to the program.
Glendale has contributed to the local rugby community by setting up a Collegiate Women’s Clinic last January, drawing about 100 players.
Rosen was enthusiastic about that effort. “Being that in Glendale we have resources that other rugby teams don’t, we thought it was important that we put that together for the local rugby community.” She explains, “It’s the greatest sport in the world and we want everybody to play.”
Game development for women in Glendale Rugby has been jump-started this year at the youth level as well. Glendale Youth Rugby Director Jenna Anderson and Rosen worked together on the new girls camp, an intensive training program for girls aged 13 to 18, launched last July at Infinity Park.
Anderson was named DII Coach of the Year for her work with the Girls U19 team. “This year has been by far the best for Glendale girls rugby,” said Anderson. “With a combination of the fantastic girls on our squad this year, and the help from the rest of the coaches, we have built the strongest team yet.”
2011 has been a great year for rugby in Glendale and the Raptors have raised the bar to great expectations at every program level. Rugby fever is hotter than ever in Colorado and the Raptors Women have stepped into the limelight in Rugbytown USA.
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