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Harvey Girls Tour of Bermuda

As a 2008 graduate of the Harvey School in Katonah, NY, I was thrilled to learn that a girl’s rugby program was added in 2014. Although when I was a student, females weren’t allowed to play, my actual attendance and interest in Harvey came from rugby. Growing up, my sister and I used to figure skate at the school’s Evarts Rink, and often when I wasn’t on the ice I could be found at the nearby rugby pitch. Later on when I was interested in transferring to a new institution, I thought back to my time with the Harvey students while watching the boy’s rugby program practice and play.

Although I left the school with eight varsity letters, I was always disappointed that I wasn’t actually able to play rugby myself. The Boy’s Coach, Phillip Lazzaro, encouraged me to try and start a team, so I gathered a bunch of girls’ names and tried to attend a meeting for the boys’ spring season. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it happen but as a consolation prize, Lazzaro gave me my first rugby ball, which I still have today.

Since my departure from Harvey, some major changes have made the sport’s addition possible. In particular, two significant staffing promotions occurred: Lazzaro became the Head of the Upper School, while Mark Brandon, another boys’ rugby coach, became the Athletic Director. Meanwhile a further push for the program came when the Harvey boys’ team won the 2014 Tier 2 Rugby New York State Championship.

The newly hired  Head Coach Luigi Loiola (a former Serie A Italian League professional) explained, “This is Mr. Lazzaro’s brainchild. He asked if I would support him and of course I told him I would 100%. He saw the success of the rugby program with the Championship win and what that did for the team’s self-esteem and their sense of self-worth. That was the catalyst for him to say, ‘I think we really need to do this for the girls.’”

In the spring of 2014, Harvey added girls’ rugby without cutting another sport, a large statement for a school that in 2007 eliminated girls’ field hockey to bring in volleyball. The girls’ first year roster had 20 CIPPed players, which expanded to 30 the following year. Many of the players had never participated in athletics, let alone a full-contact sport. The new change is an attractive admissions platform to allow Harvey to say it is one of only three high school girls’ rugby programs in southern New York. In only its second year, the team has already brought in two local transfer students.

Harvey rugby is played in the spring in 15s matches, and while most high school programs in the area start in March, Harvey has a two-week spring break during that month. Although Harvey’s official season doesn’t start until April, when rugby is in season; the team practices every weekday to make up all of those lost winter hours. Aside from practice on the pitch, the rugby program has also been a great opportunity for the female students to take advantage of the new weight training facilities in the Athletic Center built in 2012.

Moving forward from only two matches in their first season, the girls will be playing five games in the spring of 2015. In preparation for this Head Girls Coach, Ciara Lehane, was able to make Harvey history by establishing the first ever spring training trip for a girls’ team to Bermuda. The boy’s rugby team has gone on various trips including travel to Italy.

Through Lehane’s own personal connections playing rugby in Bermuda, she was able to get in touch with Kelli Nusum, the Head Coach of Bermuda Girl’s Rugby. Nusum helped the Harvey squad arrange transportation, accommodations, and activities along with the Bermuda Department of Tourism. The country’s U18 girls rugby team played 7s and 10s matches during their time together with Harvey.

Lehane said, “Since our team has a lot of rookies, I knew that this was going to be another building year. Our trip to Bermuda worked out perfectly because its program is still relatively new, so the teams were at an even skill level. This was fantastic because we’re up against some very experienced girl’s rugby programs this spring.”

The Harvey Girl’s RFC  first game will be held this Sunday against the Monmouth Rugby Club at Thompson Park in Lincroft, NJ. For more information about rugby at Harvey visit www.harveyschool.org.