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West End Upends Ft Hunt

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West End Upends Ft Hunt

Elizabeth Wilson is an important returner for the Ruckettes.

The Rugby Virginia girls high school league began last weekend, and all eyes were on West End and Fort Hunt, as the teams played out the rematch of the 2014 state title. What evolved, however, was a 75-5 victory for the Ruckettes.

“It took about 15 minutes to click, since it was our first game of the season, but once we did, it turned into a great game,” West End coach Matt Estes said. “Fort Hunt is physical, has big forwards and some backs that tackle well. But we moved the ball well between our backs and forwards, and ground it out in the forwards.

 “I would have said that that was the game to watch, seeing as Fort Hunt was a state finalist last year,” Estes surveyed the season’s tests, “but we caught them a little off guard and took advantage of yellow cards to some of their key players.”

West End is now looking toward this weekend’s match against Heritage to lend more perspective to the team’s relative strength. Heritage joined the Peninsula division last year but has improved quickly under good coaches and the injection of size of speed to the roster. The Ruckettes are young, too. Now in its third year, West End has 40 players to field DI and DII teams.

“It’s been a collaborative effort between coaches and players,” Estes explained the growth in participation. “I’ve been actively looking for players, and the juniors and seniors have really stepped up. They’re being pragmatic in their approach, too, only talking to girls who could potentially help the team.”

The lure of competing at the state and national levels has attracted some quality athletes, and West End used a few pre-season assemblies to evaluate new players. Those first-years and underclassmen, who came up through the middle school program, fuel the DII side.

“But the reality is that we lost nine starters,” Estes countered. “Last year, our strength was in the backs; this year, it’s in the forwards. But comparatively, this squad is more well rounded than last year’s.”

Leading this year’s campaign is flyhalf Madison Pennell. She’s been the only player in Virginia to score more than 100 points the previous two years, and after her 35 points on Saturday, she’s on track to repeat the feat.

“She’s an amazing 10,” Estes said. “She’s a phenomenal kicker, too, and can hit anywhere inside the 50 meter.”

Pennell demonstrated as much last year, when her two penalty kicks helped the Virginia All Stars to a RAST Pittsburgh Challenge Cup title.

“I was shocked that she wasn’t selected to the Stars and Stripes camp last year,” Estes said. “In my opinion, she was the most active 10 out there. This year, there’s no way she’ll be overlooked.”

In the forwards, look for Melesa Morrissette, who comes in at about 5’10”, 205 lbs, and runs like a back. The junior was named MVP on Saturday, as she set up five tries for her teammates. Morrissette leads a pack that includes six players over 175 lbs. – in other words, there is some size and power in the West End tight five. Second row Carly McMahon is chief among them. The size is countered by agile loose forwards and speedy weakside wing Kerry Stevens.

Which means that Saturday opponent Heritage should be a good test for West End, and Estes and squad will be able to classify the 70-point win against Fort Hunt as a fluke or a sign of things to come.