Kent Patient in the Rebuild
Kent Patient in the Rebuild
Why is Kent well known? The Crusaders have won the last 15 Washington state championships, competed in five national title games, and continue to send alumni to national teams and scholarship-awarding colleges. Some of the program’s most impressive accomplishments aren’t acknowledged by awards, but they are nonetheless noteworthy.
Kent is in the process of replenishing its depth, a process that has been at work the previous two years. In 2013, when Kent finished second in the nation, 15 of 21 players were rookies; in 2014, 18 of 26 were first-years. 2015 has shaped up similarly, as the 38-player roster is composed of 28 rookies.
“That’s a problem,” Kent head coach Rex Norris said. “We have to recreate the wheel every year. Next year, we’ll have 20 returning starters, and that changes a lot of things. Last time we did that we went on a three-year streak going to the national finals. I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but it really helps to have a lot of depth coming back.”
But there’s another issue other than experience. When newcomers join rugby, they often come with baggage, i.e., non-rugby commitments.
“We still haven’t played our starting side yet. It’s a little frustrating,” Norris confessed four weeks into the league season. “New players, they don’t understand the commitment of the game. They have soccer or other commitments, and when they start falling in love with the game, they can’t change everything. … One is singing at Carnegie Hall this weekend, someone has a wedding, another is taking college trips. There’s a couple of [injured] ankles thrown in there, but I’d say the closest we’ve come [to a full side of starters] is 11.”
Norris won’t have his full team together until the end of April, and in the meantime, he works the ranks at out-of-state tournaments.
“We’ll lose games on tour,” Norris was frank. “And that's because as long as we can field a side, we’ll travel. We’re going up to Canada without our flyhalf, inside center and outside center – not many teams can do that. We’ll have a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing. This is all for them.”
Although challenging at times, the inconsistent lineup allows the squad to adjust to missing personnel and figure out means to victory. That said, there is plenty of talent on the team. The most prominent leader is junior Emily Prentice, who played for the High School All Americans in the program’s first-ever competition. Joining Prentice at the Las Vegas Invitational were Kaira Martin, Paige Wyatt, Megan Dupree and Mckenna Strong, who all played for the Washington Loggers. Seniors Leah Ingold and Kassandra Reynolds have both accepted rugby scholarships to Lindenwood University. Norris is also very excited to have Joanna Moreira back in rotation. After playing against Fallbrook in the 2013 national final, the now-senior missed last year due a shoulder injury, but now the flanker is making up for lost time.
Kent is 4-0 in league so far, defeating Budd Bay twice, Chuckanut Bay and Shelton by a combined 254-7. A true test of character arrived on March 27, when Oregon powerhouse Grant booted up a day before the Spring Fling tournament. Neither side was at full strength – most notably, Grant center Siu A’au covered flyhalf for the absent McKenna Davis, and Kent was missing four starting forwards – but a close game evolved. Entering the half down four tries, Grant mounted a big second-half comeback only to fall short 47-36.
“To me, the keys of the match were unforced errors by Grant and only converting three of our tries,” Grant coach Val Burns reported. “We dominated physically but Kent maintained composure, made almost all their kicks, and had really smart play.”
“If Grant was able to play out of state more, then they’d be very competitive,” Norris said. “They have these two sophomore twins [Tiana and Tiara A’au] who are unbelievable – really physical.”
Kent’s next big competition will come from Rainier, which is also 4-0, outscoring opponents 167-25. Rainier lost to Kent in the state final last year, but its five points were the first points against the Crusaders in the last five state championships. A small victory, but that’s what league opponents are working with these days, considering Kent is 106-2 against Washington teams since 2005.
So what’s next for Kent? Aside from building toward states and nationals, watch as Norris, who was a varsity football coach for 23 years, becomes head coach of Serevi’s football program. As graduation nears, watch as seniors accept rugby scholarships and follow alumni to Central Washington, Lindenwood, Quinnipiac and beyond. And next year, watch as Kent enjoys a big returning class and whether that will begin another banner year.