A Reunion on the Rugby Pitch
By Tom Haley Rutland Herald
STAFF WRITER | November 04,2015
Saturday hundreds and hundreds of Vermont high school football fans will arise thinking of state titles and wall-to-wall action at Rutland High’s Alumni Field, the site of all three state championship games.
Not everyone. There are other things happening on the Vermont sports landscape that day including the biggest women’s college rugby game of the year for Stonehill and St. Michael’s College as they meet with the division title on the line at SMC.
Among all the purple worn by the supporters of Stonehill and St. Michael’s supporters will be a liberal sprinkling of maroon. Stonehill player Nicole Valach and St. Michael’s player Ashley Cook were teammates at Proctor high school on the soccer and golf teams.
Now, they are on opposite sides in the showdown for league supremacy.
“The game is huge,”Cook said.
Stonehill and St. Michael’s are in a first-place tie in the Northeast Rugby standings with 7-1 records. The league also includes Holy Cross, Bryant, Merrimack, UMass-Lowell, Bentley, Providence, St. Anselm and Southern Connecticut.
There will be family and friends there to cheer them on. Valach said former Proctor teammates like Carisa Elrick and MacKenzie Hickey, attending nearby UVM, and St. Michael’s student and former Proctor teammate Erin Keefe are among those planning to attend.
“Our old gym teacher Tiffany (Corey) Esslinger will also be there. It’s going to be fun,” Valach said.
“I think Mr. Bloodworth is coming up to film the game. He wants to be on the 50-yard line,” Cook said.
Arlen Bloodworth, a retired Proctor High science teacher and athletic director, is a staple at Proctor athletic events, filming games every season.
Valach went to Stonehill with the idea of concentrating on academics as she was tackling the rigors of a pre-med curriculum.
It didn’t take long to notice a void.
“I needed to play a sport and the only club sport at Stonehill was rugby. It’s really not my kind of sport but I enjoy the team and the coach so much,” Valach said.
Cook, pursuing a double major in business and environmental science, went out for the women’s soccer team when she arrived at St. Michael’s.
“It really wasn’t a good fit,” she said.
But like Valach, she found she missed playing a sport that fall. SMC also has rugby tryouts in the spring so she went and has been on the team ever since.
“It’s been fun,” Cook said. “This team is just so much fun. A lot of us were soccer players so we have that in common.”
The day will also have a bit of a Marble Valley League reunion to it. Former Poultney High standout athlete Nicole Bogucki is also a member of the St. Michael’s rugby squad.
Cook said the game is not at all like soccer.
“It’s much more physical. Soccer is physical too but in a different way,” Cook said.
Both juniors, Cook and Valach are members of the Proctor High Class of 2013.
The 2013 yearbook’s senior prophecy had Cook playing four years as a striker for the University of North Carolina.
Soccer was an important piece of her high school years, flying down the wing and making effective crosses.
But it looks like she has found her niche in college with rugby as her outlet.
“It’s a lot of fun. Being a club sport, it’s more laid back,” Cook said.
Cook said she gains more of an appreciation for rugby all the time.
“I learn something different about it every day,” she said.
Valach and Cook are excited not only because the game is for the top spot in the league but also because a big slice of the Proctor athletic fandom is going to be there to see them, just like when the two of them were wearing the maroon and white.
“It is going to be exciting to have a bunch of Proctor people come up and see us play,” Cook said.
“Rugby is pretty new in Proctor. It will be interesting to see how they adjust to watching the game.”