RIDGEFIELD — For the past 11 years, the scenario was the same at the Connecticut State Rugby Tournament, as Greenwich High School captured the title each season.
Aspetuck Valley Rugby Club was determined to change things up on Sunday, May 26.
Two tries and a pair of penalty kicks helped Aspetuck Valley do so.
Aspetuck Valley ended Greenwich’s reign with a 20-12 victory in the title game of the Connecticut State Division I Tournament final at Ridgefield High School’s Tiger Hollow Stadium.
Aspetuck’s victory marked the first time a team other than Greenwich had won the Division I state championship since the tournament’s inception.
“It means a lot to our program,” said Aspetuck coach Ray Weiner Sr. whose regional club draws players from all areas of the state. “We started the club seven years ago and we started with a youth program and built it up. Then we started a good high school program that’s done well nationally against good competition.”
Shelton’s Ray Weiner Jr., Matt Weiner, Shawn Nitsche, Mike Monaco and Ryan Perreira played key roles.
Greenwich received tries from Ian Foster and Paul Koullas.
Kyle Quinn and Pearson Hill each reached the try zone for Aspetuck Valley, which was sparked by two penalty kicks from Mate’ Kvirikashvili.
“They (Aspetuck) were hungry for this,” GHS coach Joe Kelly said. “They have a great bunch of talented kids over there. They brought a bunch of great players from all over the state and put a solid team together. I am so happy to have a team that’s so close to us that’s so good — a team that we can play evenly with.”
Aspetuck got out to a quick lead with a try from James Porter, but Greenwich tied up the match 7-7 at the 26:26 mark. Aspetuck’s Pearson Hill scored a try and conversion kick by Mate’ Kvirikashvil to make it a 14-7 lead with 4:55 left in the first half.
“We stuck to the game plan and we tried to slow the game down,” Aspetuck Coach Ray Weiner said. “Greenwich is a very explosive, dynamic team, so we tried to keep it out of their hands and play possession rugby. Eventually, they are going to score with their athletic ability.”
Aspetuck learned that the hard way earlier in the regular season. They were dominating play in the first half 21-7 only to see Greenwich leverage its speed against the outside wings to make a second half comeback win.
Trailing 7-0 in the title game after Quinn’s try at the 24:26 mark of the opening half, the Cards tied the score when Foster bolted up the middle for a try, following a long run by Emilio Camou with 20:46 remaining. Francisco Liguori added the conversion kick, making it 7-7.
Down 14-7 at halftime, Greenwich closed to within 14-12 when Koullas bulled his way into the try zone with 12:49 left to play. The two-point conversion kick was missed, so Aspetuck remained in front.
Aspetuck then dominated the game, nearly scoring several times. Greenwich prevented multiple try-line attempts from Aspetuck with its tough defense and untimely turnovers committed by Aspetuck.
But Aspetuck continued punishing their opponents, behind the lead of All-American Ray Weiner Jr., powering through Greenwich’s defenses with effective running and mauls after line-out throw-ins, gaining 5-10 yards at a time.
This slow but pounding play wore down their opponents, repeatedly getting within the 22-meter line. Aspetuck conclusively shut down Greenwich, and sealed the win, with two 3-point penalty kicks late in the second half by Kvirikashvili to make it 20-12.
The victors’ strategy entering the match worked, as they had the advantage in terms of possession throughout.
“We stuck to the game plan and we tried to slow the game down,” coach Weiner said. “Greenwich is a very explosive, dynamic team, so we tried to keep it out of their hands and play possession rugby. Eventually, they are going to score with their athletic ability.”
“Our last game against them we started off slow, but the second half we shut them out,” Koullas said. “Today, we expected to come out firing on all cylinders. We just couldn’t finish it.”
Aspetuck sealed the win courtesy of Kvirikashvili, who made a pair of penalty kicks late in the second half.
Coach Weiner said “I’m really proud of this team. They have come into their own playing some of the top teams in the country and never giving up. These boys have gelled as a team with outstanding play and determination, showing that they could play with the best and win. Today’s championship win against a great opponent like Greenwich, proves they are one of the best in the nation.”
Aspetuck recently returned for the second year to play in the High School Rugby championships in Salt Lake City in May 16-18, taking third place in Division II.
Notes: Aspetuck Valley Rugby Club (AVRC) competes in Division 1 of the Rugby CT High School League with a large and successful youth program for U10, U12, U14s. Aspetuck’s home field is located in Newtown. The club was founded in 2012 in Redding, with players from Redding, Easton, Weston, Wilton, Westport, Fairfield, Newtown, Bethel, Danbury, Shelton, Monroe, West Haven, Hamden, Woodbridge, Stratford, Oxford, amongst others. Aspetuck competes against a combined Fairfield HS team, Fairfield Prep, Greenwich, Simsbury and Staples. For more information, go to aspetuckrugbyclub.org.