By Matt Dresens
BU News Service
This article was originally published in the Cambridge Chronicle.
As the second season for Cambridge Rindge and Latin School rugby gets rolling, the team is led by a female captain, Emi Firth, a senior who traded in her pom-poms for a rugby jersey.
Frith, 18, joined the CRLS rugby team last spring in the program’s first official season under the state high school athletics governing body, the MIAA.
A year ago, her brother was a member of the Falcons rugby squad. He and a friend persuaded the cheerleader to come to a pre-season meeting.
“It looked fun and I liked the team community vibe and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll join,’” she said.
Cambridge does not have a girls rugby team, so Frith plays with the boys on a team that is also making history in another way, according to CRLS athletic director Tom Arria.
According to Arria, Massachusetts is the only state in the country to sponsor rugby as an official school sport. Before the 2017 decision, teams played as part of an association.
“It’s a newer MIAA sport,” Arria explained. “Rugby coaches and athletic directors across the state have worked really, really hard to build up rugby in the state.”
Advantages to sponsorship
Major advantages of being an officially sponsored sport include funding, athletic trainers, and overall institutional organization.
“It’s completely different in terms of resources and stability,” said assistant coach Dan Mason, who has spent years coaching summer club rugby. “The administration is fantastic. It’s just a completely different environment in terms of structure for the kids and coaches.”
Head coach Jesse Nocon is also pleased.
“The season is so much more structured than it has been. Everyone starts practice on the same day. Everyone has the same eligibility requirements,” he said.
Nocon, who played college rugby at the University of Southern California, has an optimistic outlook for this spring’s rugby season. With a handful of kids coming back from last year’s inaugural squad, there is a strong foundation for the coach to build off of.
“I’m looking forward to introducing some higher-level rugby concepts,” Nocon noted. “We have a dozen players who have played the game before coming back, invested and interested in the program. They are really great kids and really great individuals.”
Eye on postseason
In total, the team hopes to have about 25 players on the roster. Despite the cold weather, the Falcons have been practicing, first in the climate-controlled War Memorial gym at CRLS and now outdoors at Danehy Park, working on tackling drills and other fundamentals.
In the team’s first year, the Falcons went 1-3-2 in six games at the Division 2 level. The program’s lone win came against Malden Catholic. The team tied both Hanover and Catholic Memorial.
This year, CRLS opens its season on the road at Catholic Memorial on April 4 and has moved into Division 3 competition. Along with a rematch with Catholic Memorial, CRLS will face Hanover and Malden Catholic again this year. Blue Hills Tech, Algonquin and Weymouth round out this year’s slate of matches.
The goal for the Falcons this season is to qualify for the postseason. In order to make the tournament, CRLS must finish with a .500 or better record. This is standard tournament qualification procedure for all MIAA sports.
“It’s high school rugby,” explained Mason. “You never know what you’re going to get in front of you in terms of new players and different athletes. … We are hoping to make the playoffs. We have to take [the teams] one at a time.”