BERKLEY — It wasn’t until nearly the end of the match with Traverse City that the Berkley High girls rugby club coach David Skidmore let himself believe that a state championship was awaiting his squad when the time ran out.
“There was probably 10 minutes left in the game, and I thought we might have it won,” Skidmore said, adding that Traverse City can turn a game around in an instant. “It could have been a whole different ball game, but our girls just kept going.”
Berkley scored three more times in the final seven minutes of the game, putting to rest any worries Skidmore might have had and finished with a 35-0 victory May 31 in West Ottowa for the Michigan Youth Rugby Association Division 2 state championship.
“I thought we would win but that it would be close. They only came close to scoring one time. We dominated them,” Skidmore said.
Berkley’s path to the title was one of redemption. The team beat Grandville High in the semifinals after it had lost to them in the regular season and also avenged a regular-season loss to Traverse City.
Last season, Berkley lost to Traverse City in quadruple overtime for the state title.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of scores against us. We just held tough,” Skidmore said. “If there was a missed tackle, or even not, all the girls were running to where they had to be. As the old saying goes, we came together at the right time.”
Berkley finished 8-2 overall. Its last state title came 15 years ago, but Skidmore said there were only three teams playing rugby then. Now, there are 10 clubs participating.
To get more teams involved across the state, rugby is moving to the fall next year so it doesn’t have to compete with spring sports, though getting numbers isn’t a problem for Berkley.
The squad had 50 players, with the vast majority being students at Berkley High and one member in middle school, and another who attends Beverly Hills Detroit Country Day.
Berkley also has history on its side. Skidmore said the program was the first in the state in girls rugby.
“I think it’s the only sport, besides lacrosse, that the girls have contact. You get your bumps and bruises, and that’s just part of rugby. They just love it,” he said.
Berkley had 11 seniors on the team, so the coach expects to return the vast majority of his players and may even consider two teams if the numbers are there.
Skidmore thanked the senior class for everything it had done, including fundraising to help the program grow.
“They were strong leaders, all of them, even the girls that were brand new. They just cared about the program and were a great group,” he said.
For Skidmore, the icing on the cake came just following the title game when there was a moment to take it all in.
“It was great seeing the girls, and especially with their families,” he said. “The parents had a picnic waiting for them after the game, and the kids got to take pictures of themselves with the trophy and their families. I just sat back and smiled.”