Last weekend in Minneapolis the Armstrong Girls sealed their undefeated league season with a blowout at the Minnesota State Championships. The girls defeated Orono 62-0 for their 4th consecutive state title.
Coach Jimmy Hanson credits the win to the backline, saying there was no single stand-out player.
“The whole backline played as a unit,” he says. “Each try was a product of two or three girls.”
Amy Schroeder, outside center Genna Joyce and wing Carley Brugnoli each scored three tries, while MVP Paige Sorenson dotted down once. Sorenson was particularly impressive in that killer backline, playing through a strained MCL to make key defensive hits.
The win came as little surprise to Armstrong, who has been crushing in-state competition the whole year. The team put up a whopping 928-10 scoreline during the 2013-13 season, and those 10 points were scored by a team that had to borrow Armstrong players due to lack of numbers.
It seems like Armstrong has gone unchallenged; however, while this may be true of the Minnesota league, the girls did see some great competition earlier in the year. They traveled to the Midwest, Las Vegas Invitational (LVI), and Girls High School National Invitational Tournament (NIT) to experience a higher level of play. They were most challenged at NITs, where they lost to Fullerton in the DII final.
“We weren’t sure what to expect from Fullerton or anyone else in the bracket for that matter,” Hanson said. “We knew we were there with people who are on our level. We’re disappointed we lost, but it was what we went there for – for competition. We look forward to going back next year and finishing higher.”
So what is it, exactly, that Armstrong is doing so differently than everyone else in Minnesota? Their diverse schedule is one major influence. While Minnesota league play was snowed out for the first month of the season, the Armstrong girls played their first outdoor game in the Midwest and then faced Canadian sides and three-time high school champion Fallbrook (Calif.) at the LVI.
“The ability to go play competition [so early in the season] kept us sharp,” Hanson says.
Hanson credits that Orono is traditionally a good team, and that this year was no exception, “… but we had the advantage of playing against top-level competition. We might not have dominated the same way had we not gone.”
But that’s not all that makes for a winning team like Armstrong, Hanson says.
“I have a really, really great group of kids, a great bunch of competitors. I couldn’t ask for a better team as a coach.”
Obviously the team wants to win, but the ultimate goal is to compete. They do not measure their success against other teams as much as themselves. They work for intrinsic goals, constantly trying to better themselves as players.
It doesn’t matter who they face, they’ll try their best from beginning to end, their coach says. “They play the same game when they’re up by 50 or down by 50.”
The team is led by 13 seniors, seven of whom are starters. Three girls have been playing since freshman year: Rachel Marston, a utility player ironically nick-named “Speedy”; Patricia Harris, a scrumhalf who made the all-tournament team at NITs; and Jenna Joyce, who has started all four years, started all four state championships, and also made all-tournament at NITs. These girls really drive home the attitude of, “We don’t practice to play teams we can beat; we practice to play teams that can beat us.”
And with this kind of encouragement from older players, the success will live on. While Hanson is sad to see his graduating class go, he is confident in the team's depth. There are many promising juniors, sophomores, and even a few freshmen moving up.
But there is another factor in Armstrong’s success that has not yet been mentioned – their coach. Recently announced as an assistant coach for the Girls’ High School All-American Stars v. Stripes program, it is clear that Hanson has a lot of talent and promise for the future, as well.
With a great team and a great coach, continued success for Armstrong seems inevitable. Keep an eye on them for not only another State title (or two, or three), but quite possibly a national title, too.
See full match video of the final here:
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