Fort Mill’s Dragons to play for S.C. rugby title

Special to the Fort Mill TimesApril 9, 2013 

— After dismantling the Aiken Lions in their 99-5 victory in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday at Jack Hughes Memorial Park in Pineville, N.C., The Carolina Dragons Rugby team is now headed for the South Carolina State Championships.

Under Coach Edward Worrall, this band of teenagers has been busy winning in dominating fashion all season long, and now have a wave of momentum and swagger carrying them to a championship matchup in two weeks against The Charleston Stall in Columbia.

Though pleased, Worrall was a bit surprised with the outcome.

“We were expecting a bit more resistance,” he said.

As the match got underway, the Dragons established their on-field abilities early on. Upon receiving the first kickoff, Aaron Keers showed an elusive style of athleticism and poise as he beckoned the Dragons back field into high gear.

With wide formation lateral passing that helped manufacture sizeable gains, the Dragons charged up the field for their first score. They continued to add to their lead quickly, going on to score on their second and third possessions as well.

“We came out here a bit cocky, but we woke up in the first five minutes, started off scoring well, forwards were working hard, backs were passing it wide…overall it was just a brilliant start and just a good game,” Keers said.

For anyone who has never actually been to a rugby match before, you might say that the experience is similar to American football, only faster, with ball possessions interchanging quickly and often. And even though it’s a bit frenetic and foreign, there’s nothing quite like seeing a sport that offers a balance between power and finesse. Fans are treated to hard hits and both teams regularly interlock in scrums to battle for loose balls, all while intermingling with glimpses of acrobatic elegance as teammates hoist one another up to snatch the ball in the air when it is sent inbounds from the sideline.

But perhaps the most electrifying performance of the afternoon belonged to Demetree Hardison, who rumbled his way to a game high six scores for his best output of the season. In rugby-speak, when a player crosses the goal line, or “try line” with the ball, he or she scores and that act is referred to as a “try.”

One play in particular seemed to set the tone for the entire afternoon. Sprinting towards the goal line as the end of the first half neared, Hardison served up a blistering stiff arm to an Aiken defender attempting to bring him down.

As ooohs and aaahs rose up from the crowd on sidelines, the message was clear: the rout was on.

Hardison, who lives in Mint Hill, N.C., goes by the nickname “Fluffy,” primarily because when opposing players try to tackle him they oftentimes wind up being deflected in another direction, the way lawn chairs might fare if they were to be placed in the path of a moving freight train.

“Our whole style of play is to come out and hit hard and set the tone…Fluff did that,” Worrall said.

Leading 45-5 at halftime, the Dragons poured it on in the second half and cruised to a lopsided win that was never really in doubt from the opening whistle.

Now the Dragons look forward to an opportunity to take home the title in Columbia.

Whether they win or lose, Worrall promised that his players would be treated to additional rugby. With plans to take the entire team to Florida, every player will get a chance to play in even more matches sometime in May.

While trips like this don’t come cheap, the tight-knit family of parents and coaches are more than happy to find a way to make it happen. Generous donations from around Fort Mill and the surrounding communities are a big reason why.

Jennifer Conrad was at the game, orchestrating sales of T-shirts, raffle tickets and baked goods in support of the squad. She has lived in Fort Mill for eight years now and has been instrumental in coordinating not only the team’s fundraising efforts but by also promoting the sport of rugby as well.

Both of her sons, Ty and Tucker, ages 16 and 17, were on the field competing. And although she indicated that they both plan to play rugby in college, she reflected on the course of a season that offers a highlight reel of many personal returns.

“They’ve grown up a whole lot during this. They’ve had great teammates…these guys, they’ve got a special bond,” Conrad said. “I’m very proud of them, every one of them. I don’t have just two children out there, I’ve got like 27;, at this point they all call me ‘Mom.’”

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