History was made at Cardinal Stadium by one of Greenwich High School’s athletic teams Thursday night and the squad that did so happened to be playing the Cardinals’ newest spring sport.
An intramural/club sport the past three years, girls rugby was introduced as a varsity sport this spring and the members of the inaugural squad couldn’t be happier.
Coach Erin Martschenko has seen her team enthusiastically learn the fundamentals and nuances of the sport, which has drawn 53 players in its first season. As Thursday night’s match against visiting North Haven showed, the Cardinals are indeed, learning their lessons well.
Seizing control from the outset, Greenwich earned its first win in program history, registering a 62-10 triumph against North Haven on Senior Night at Cardinal Stadium.
The Cardinals’ first varsity rugby squad is captained by Djuly Fleurant, Olga Wilson and Janel Codjoe, all of whom can’t wait to compete in their new favorite sport each day after school.
“I feel completely blessed to be be playing rugby here at Greenwich High and the rest of the team feels the same way,” said Wilson a senior. “We are using this opportunity to show what we have and how a program that started out as a club team can develop into a varsity sport.”
Greenwich lost to Southington, which is regarded as the top squad in the state in its season-opener and Fairfield in its second game of the season, before beating North Haven on Thursday.
The Connecticut league includes teams such as Southington, Fairfield, North Haven, Simsbury and MidState. Remaining games for the Cards include Simsbury and MidState.
“This was an intramural sport at our school for a few years, so this year has been very eye-opening,” Wilson said. “We like to see what other schools can bring and we’re blessed to be experiencing the game and sport.”
Martschenko brings a vast amount of experience to her athletes. She played rugby at SUNY Stony Brook and SUNY Geneseo, then competed for the New York City Lions’ club program from 2000 to 20012, while also coaching the sport. Assisting her with the brand new GHS team is Joe Petrone, a Greenwich High graduate, who was an all-American while playing for the Cards.
“We were an intramural program for a few years and there was interest in starting a varsity team and Gus (athletic director Gus Lindine) was all for us putting together a varsity program if we had the numbers and the interest. So here we are this season.”
After dropping a 49-12 decision to powerhouse Southington in its season-opener and losing to Fairfield, 34-17, Martschenko liked what she saw from her team heading into Thursday’s matchup with North Haven — a game that saw the Cards put it all together.
“Most of our girls had not touched, or seen a rugby ball until a month ago,” Martschenko said. “But technically, the girls have looked good out there.”
Martschenko has indeed, been busy coaching up her rugby players.
“There is the on-the-field stuff and off-the-field stuff that goes into building a program. The on-the-field stuff is square-one — this is how you hold a rugby ball, this is how you go into contact, this is how you go down the field,” she said. “They have been great, considering the amount of information we have given them in a short amount of time. They are soaking it up like sponges. It’s impressive how they are receiving the information.”
Codjoe has seen the team make significant strides each time it takes the field.
“We recognize since we are a new team that we need improvement, but we’ve shown great defense and passing skills — which we’ve worked on in practice,” said Codjoe, who plays at the flanker position — a role requiring a lot of tackling.
Fleurant is a scrum half, who helps her teammates position themselves and get organized on the field.
“So far, I really enjoy it,” said Fleurant, a junior. “I am excited and honored to be a part of the team. From each game, we learned what we needed to work on and improve upon and we worked on those aspects in practice. There is so much we are still working on.”
As for Greenwich’s convincing Senior Night victory, Mariana Garcia, a flyhalf, scored three tries and completed six conversion kicks. Emily Walko at the 8-man position had a productive game, scoring a try, while providing strong play on both offense and defense.
Martschenko also credited Wilson and seniors Stevie Braverman, Falon Nethercott, Dolores Jonson, Maria Clara do Couto, Izzy Gutierrez, Silvana Carrion and Shannon Prong for also sparking the squad in its victory against North Haven.
“We have 53 players on our roster, which far surpasses what our expectations were going into the season,” Martschenko said. “This group is positive, hard-working and dedicated. It is a special group of athletes. Right now, there is a buzz around the school about girls rugby.”
Said Codjoe: “I’ve enjoyed the friendships I’ve made from being on this team. It’s amazing to see how people support rugby.”