Rugby in the spotlight

Jessica Wallace

Girls rugby has been a sport at  Curtis for eight years and has achieved great things in this short amount of time. Curtis is the only girls’ rugby team in all of Staten Island and currently, there are no boys teams from Staten Island in the PSAL. Despite having only four returning players this year, Coach Neto describes her team as “small but mighty; strong and committed, quick learners with a desire to achieve!”

Jerneva Summers, a returning player, and captain leads the team both defensively and offensively.  She is a huge factor in team cohesiveness. Rebecca Akindeko is not only the fastest on the team but also leads the team in tries. (scores).  Also a key player, Idaly Zosayes is a key component of the offense and also supports the defense.  Rounding out the returning players is Leila Placide who also is involved with Play Rugby  USA and competes over the summer in tournaments in the tri-state area.

Girls rugby at Curtis has already won two championships in their division. Because of their successes,  professional players and the “who is who” of rugby has reached out to Coach Neto. James Kennedy, the owner of Rugby United New York, took interest and reached out to the team. Coach Neto discovered that they share the same philosophy when it comes to coaching: “integrity, respect, teamwork and inclusion!… we are all equal in our own different ways and we work together towards a common goal.

Kennedy gave the girls VIP tickets to his home games at MCU Park in Coney Island, Home to the Brooklyn Cyclones as well. The girls attended the home opener and every home game after that as guests of RUNY. “We want to support our passion and hope to see more of rugby on Staten Island,” said first-year player, junior, Casey Garcia.

Tiffany Fa’ae’e, American Rugby Union player, also reached out to Coach Neto. Fa’ae’e was the captain of the US Eagles team in 2017, leading them to the World Rugby Cup in Ireland. She attended one of the team’s rugby practices collaborating with Coach Neto in drills, skills, and philosophy of rugby. “She contributed her knowledge and experiences to our team, sending our girls the message that they can achieve anything they want if they focus. “It’s a beautiful time to be involved with rugby as a female athlete. Many doors have opened up to the team. Opportunities for scholarships and professional advancement aren’t far out of reach for the girls’ rugby team. Every season since existence Curtis has had a rugby success story,” said Coach Neto.

“Since we are the only team on Staten Island, we travel to Randall’s Island to compete against the other four boroughs. It’s a great social atmosphere and community. We are all a family,” said Neto. Through the Randall’s Island Rugby Nights, coach Neto has met a number of professionals in the close-knit community.

“Everybody from Play Rugby USA, RUNY Coach James English, James Kennedy, Ryszard Chadwick from the developmental rugby academy, Dominic Wareing from Play Rugby USA, Phaidra Knight, an international Rugby player, and RUNY commentator, and our PSAL commissioner Jesse Sanchez are part of the community. We all go to the RUNY Matches at Coney Island. During halftime of these games, two PSAL boys teams played to show the public that rugby is a sport that has reached a high school level and is played safely,” said Coach Neto.

“It’s an awesome sport, and it teaches socialization, discipline, respect for all, and a lot of life skills. It really brings the girls together despite their diverse backgrounds. What they learn on the pitch carries over into life and gives them confidence. We focus less on technical stuff and more on fun and the team. The wins come through practicing every day, just keeping it simple, adding our own style.” says Coach Neto. “I want to get the word out on the positive aspects of Rugby, what it stands for, and the impact it has on our youth in Staten Island.”

Coach Neto summarized, “It’s important that young female athletes continue on the  path to success and be seen  throughout their years as positive role models for generations to follow, to pass along life long lessons that sports specifically rugby taught them.”

If you want to catch the rugby team in action, they’ll be playing their second annual alumni game at Curtis’ Spring Fling next month. Coach Neto’s alumni, some of which who play at a college level now, play against the current team.