Kent Crusaders win state rugby titles

The Kent Crusaders boys team scores during its state title game.  - Courtesy photo
The Kent Crusaders boys team scores during its state title game.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

The Kent Crusaders rugby club cleaned up at the recent state championships, with the boys and girls teams taking titles.

Kentwood senior Brandon Sytsma scored a hat trick to lead Kent to a 57-10 win in the state title game.

"It was a great game of rugby, there wasn't a lot of back and forth, but it was a fun day," said Tristan Ingold, 16, of Kent-Meridian. "Any time there were penalties, our players made every effort to get the ball out of their (opponent's) hands."

Coach Jeremy Torres attributed his team's victory to mastery of fundamentals and technique.

"We played a solid game, a more fundamental game than we played the entire season," Torres said. "We dominated them pretty much across the board in rucking, passing, tackling. Anything you can think of we did almost perfectly, and when you do things almost perfectly, everything just falls into place and points go on the board."

Torres was unwilling to single out a single good play, saying that many of the best moments were the culmination of several prior team efforts.

"Any time we had a 30 meter or 50 meter breakaway was because of great passing or rucking or scrumming," he said. "It wasn't a single player making a great play, it was seven or eight players making a series."

The lopsided game, while not as interesting to the players, was good for the coaches.

"It took a lot of the excitement out of it, but to see the kids and the hard work they did pay off, that was more excitement from the coach's standpoint," Torres said.

This is Torres's fifth year coaching the Crusaders Rugby, but his first as head coach. He says that it was easy to slip into the role having helped develop the group into the competitive team they are today. He hopes for similar results next year, and is optimistic for the team's success.

"I know how to keep it going," he said. "As long as we keep recruiting the way we are, as long as we keep recruiting players and coaching the way we coach, we'll get the same rewards."

"We built up to it," said Dominic Lindstrom, 18, from Kentwood. "Every game we had gotten better, but we had never played the perfect game we imagined. We played the game we always imagined," he said.

He agreed that the game was lopsided but cemented his team's mastery of the sport.

"It's always great to win state and have a lot of the coaches and referees from the weekend congratulate you and say that no matter what, we looked like the best team of the tournament"

The Crusader's girls team also won the state playoff, and continued on to a fourth-place national finish May 17-18 at Pittsfield, Mass.

The team got a jolt when it gave up seven points early in the state game, but came back with a vengeance to seal the game.

"We got scored on first, it was the first time anybody had scored on us since 2006," said coach Rex Norris. "We found ourself down 7-0, but we just talked about what allowed that to happen, and we stayed calm."

Norris attributed the success more to playing a solid defense than points scored.

"The biggest thing we focused on was defense. If you're going to go to nationals we had to play good defense."

"We focus on creating offense with our defense, like turnovers, stopping them deep in their end," Norris said.

Kent won its opener at nationals 15-10 over Catholic Memorial, lost 22-3 in the second round to eventual champion Fallbrook of California and lost in the third-fourth place game 27-17 to Divine Savior Holy Angels of Wisconsin.

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