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Ask a few of the high school girls who play rugby for the Chambersburg club team why they like the sport and you'll get a variety of answers.

Janet Juarez: "Rugby is the toughest sport, and you can make tackles without getting penalties."

Taylor Pierre: "I like that it's rough and you don't wear padding, but everybody – on both teams – shows everybody else respect."

Kendall Beltz: "Rugby is really about family. You get close to everybody else because it's so tough."

It's clear that rugby has caught on in Chambersburg, particularly in the high school girls ranks. The team has reached the state playoffs in its division in each of the last three years, including reaching the semifinals in 2014 and again this May.

For this season, Chambersburg coach Elicia Eberhart had a record 38 girls come out for the team, a new high.

And Chambersburg also has a famous alumna – Hope Rogers played on the USA Eagles women's national team last summer and has been part of four straight college championship teams at Penn State. She was named the MVP of the National Championships in 2013 and 14.

"What made it interesting this year is that of our 38 players, 20 were completely new to the sport," Eberhart said. "So the season was really a success because we had to work so hard to build, and the girls became a dynamic team. The progress they made demonstrated their commitment to learning rugby skills."

Chambersburg beat Kiski Valley 55-24 on May 9 to earn the No. 2 seed from the west in the Division 2 state tournament. In a May 16 semifinal match, they met the No. 1 seed from the east, Keystone, a team from the Philadelphia area, and were defeated 55-14. For the season, the team was 3-2.

Juarez, a senior flanker who has played for three years, said, "With 20 new players we still had a good season. All of the new players had potential and they picked up the game really quickly. A person has to have dedication and learn the rules of the sport."

Pierre, a sophomore inside center, took up the game for the first time in February, but it might be in her genes because her father Lionel Pierre, played the game.

"I knew a couple of girls who played the year before, and I thought I'd try it," Pierre said. "It's hard to learn, mostly because of all the new rules you have to figure out."

Eberhart said, "The complexity of the game makes it harder to learn the rules. When can you do this? What is a legal tackle? There are a lot of skills you need to learn. And you have to learn protection, too, because the only required gear is a mouthpiece. Some girls wear padding or a cap, but most don't."

"What happened was, everybody was dedicated to the team," Beltz said. "Rugby is a lot like being in a family because we are all so close to each other."

Juarez and senior scrum half Rebekah Colon were the head captains for the team and Jasmine Ortiz and Kylie Cook were assistant captains. Four Chambersburg players were selected to compete at the PA All-State Rugby Trials – Beltz, senior wing Mileysha Robles, junior outside center Jenae Nealy and sophomore second-row lock Magdana Dantes.

Eberhart was a late-comer to the sport, too. After school she lived for a year in England, where she was introduced to rugby, and "I fell in love with it," she said.

She is now an English teacher at CASHS and has been the girls rugby coach for the last three years. She also plays for a women's team in Frederick, Md.

Steve Wright, the dean of rugby in the area, started the girls team four years before Eberhart took over and is still the boys coach.

"Steve is just a legend, and a great guy," Eberhart said.

Wright also coached Rogers when she was just learning the sport and she has progressed at an amazing pace. The success Rogers has had is an inspiration to the team now.

"Hope is just an amazing player," Suarez said. "The coach brings her up in conversations a lot."

Pierre said, "It's nice to know that Chambersburg can produce such a good player."

"Hope is a huge motivating factor and we follow her closely," Eberhart said. "It's great for them to realize how well somebody can do."

Eberhart believes there are good reasons for girls to play rugby.

"I know girls who played in youth football leagues, and they loved it, but now don't have an opportunity to play a contact sport," she said. "Rugby can be that for them – there is no other sport women can play that allows full contact. I think girls who play get to see how strong they can be mentally and physically and that can be empowering. It can really help their confidence.

"Also, rugby is not always about just winning. There is a dedication to just playing the sport that makes it unique. Lots of times the girls are just playing the game and aren't worried about the result."

Fortunately for the Chambersburg team lately, those results have been pretty good anyway.

NOTE >> The Chambersburg girls and boys teams will be playing "sevens" games this summer, which is a faster version of rugby ... Players from outside of Chambersburg are also invited to play ... For more information on rugby in Chambersburg, contact Steve Wright (rugger@comcast.net).

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