Knightmare Rugby

The Hempfield-based Knightmare girls rugby team celebrates winning the Pennsylvania High School Girls Fall Sevens state rugby championship over Downingtown on Nov. 6.

When it came right down to it, the Knightmare’s season finale Nov. 6 turned into a dream come true.

The Hempfield-based girls rugby team capped an impressive undefeated season when it defeated Downingtown 24-5 at Weaver Field in Manheim to capture the program’s first Rugby Pennsylvania High School Girls Fall Sevens state championship.

Rugby sevens matches are 14 minutes long, consisting of two seven-minute halves. After competing in six tournaments and playing a variety of competition in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Virginia, the Knightmare ended their season with an unblemished record of 29-0 that featured an astounding 19 shutouts.

“The team defense was super strong this fall,” said head coach Joseph Capp, who has been the team’s coach ever since its 2006 inception. “At one point we had 15 shutouts in a row.”

Capp coaches the Knightmare with assistant coach Nicole Deely, who also coaches the organization’s Under-14 girls team.

“We started to think, well, if we keep playing this level of defense, we have a pretty good shot at making it to the finals,” Capp said.

The Knightmare sport a roster of 12 girls and contain the perfect mix of youth and experience. Seniors included Bre Wertman, Lauren Hoffman, Jennibelle Stringham, Cami Morongiello, Greta Nixdorf, Alivia Groff and Malina Fester.

Each one of the seniors served as captains throughout the season, which gave them game-management experience.

The team also welcomed new players including Neely Denlinger, Ella Bortz, Olivia Anderson and Ellie Crist this season. All played like they had been there before. Sophomore Bella Vogel handled the majority of the kicking duties and was a key playmaker for the team.

Though the team plays its home matches at Hempfield school district fields, it draws its players together from different Lancaster County schools, including Hempfield, Manheim Township, Elizabethtown, Warwick, Ephrata, Cocalico, Linden Hall, Lancaster County Christian school and some homeschoolers.

It seemed fitting that the Knightmare faced Downingtown in the championship match. The Dingoes were second in the season standings— and were the team who played the Knightmare the toughest throughout the regular season.

Describing his team as “fearless,” Capp said the Knightmare displayed that trait in the turning point of the title game.

“They were knocking on the door of our try line for the last two minutes (of the first half), and our defense was just resolute and stout, and we just recorded tackle after tackle,” Capp said.

The clock struck zeroes, but play must go on in sevens until there is a stoppage. That forced the Knightmare to continue to play defense. After another two minutes elapsed, the Knightmare were able to force a turnover and Bortz ran the length of the field to score a try heading into halftime.

“I think that really took a lot of energy out of Downingtown because they were fighting so hard to try and score and then we turned the ball over and took it the other way and scored,” Capp said.

Vogel recalled that once the final whistle was blown, she was elated to win her first state championship.

“It feels amazing. I mean, it’s almost unexplainable,” said Vogel, who plays flyhalf for the Knightmare.

“You’re like, wow, we just won the whole tournament and states, as a team, too, so I think that’s a crazy feeling.”

Vogel’s mother, Toby Thompson, said she believes rugby is a great sport because it singles no one out, no matter their background.

“The thing about rugby is it is all walks of life, everybody’s accepted it doesn’t matter size, age, anything,” she said. “It’s just a beautiful sport, the camaraderie, everything about it.”

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