BRISTOL - Bristol Centralâ€™s Sophie Hale and Aubrey Kelley saw all their hard work in the sport of rugby come to fruition.
Hale and Kelley have committed to continue their rugby careers at the collegiate level, Hale at Sacred Heart University (Division I) and Kelley at Molloy College (DII).
Their decisions mark the first pair of Bristol Central athletes to sign their letter of intent to play womenâ€™s rugby in college.
Rugby is still a developing sport, with just 20 varsity programs offered in 2017.
For Hale and Kelley, signing together on the same day was something theyâ€™ll always remember as they go their separate ways. Sacred Heart and Molloy will play each other next season, despite one being Division I and the other being Division II.
â€śIt was kind of bittersweet,â€ť Kelley said. â€ś[Sophie and I] have gotten pretty close playing rugby. It was nice sharing that moment with her, but it was kind of difficult, because it was deciding that we were going our separate ways and will have to play against each other next year.â€ť
Hale started her freshman year and Kelley took up the sport a year later. Both play with the Cheshire Rugby Club.
Kelley plays scrum half and is the second-leading scorer for Cheshire.
It is her third season playing rugby, and she was also the starting goalkeeper for Bristol Centralâ€™s girls soccer team since her sophomore year.
The sport has helped her not only on the field, but off as well.
â€śRugby has helped me become a better leader,â€ť Kelley said. â€śI have to lead more on the field and talk more and help out others.â€ť
She will join Southingtonâ€™s Kaitlyn Demaio on the Molloy College rugby team.
Hale plays number eight for Cheshire and is the teamâ€™s leading scorer.
As a gymnast and a cheerleader, Hale was hesitant at first to play the sport, but was inspired by her older sister Hannah, who plays at Ithaca College.
Since taking up the sport, Hale has seen substantial improvement and has fallen in love with the physicality of the sport.
â€śOnce I got that first hit, I knew I liked the sport,â€ť Hale said. â€śI knew I wanted to play rugby in college and I was told I was good enough to play at that kind of level. I basically made my college decision on whether I was able to play rugby or not.â€ť
Hale will have familiar faces at the school as teammates Kaylee Hale (a cousin), Isabel Cuddy, Camryn Zhesper, Nicole Lopes and Kaitlin Lazase will all be playing for Sacred Heart next season.
â€śIt gives me more support than if I went somewhere where I didnâ€™t know anyone,â€ť Hale said. â€śIf Iâ€™m having a hard time, I can rely on them and have them help me get through anything.â€ť
Cheshire is one of six girls rugby teams in the state, the others being Greenwich, Fairfield, Simsbury, North Haven and Southington.
With Hale and Kelley going on to play in college, the club has now had seven of its athletes earn college scholarships.
With just one division in Connecticut consisting of state teams, much of the competition in high school came at out-of-state tournaments. Cheshire has played teams representing Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., California, Michigan and Virginia.
Sophieâ€™s dad, Mike, has coached them throughout their rugby careers and seeing both decide to continue playing was a memorable moment.
â€śIâ€™m so proud that theyâ€™ve done the best they could and got to this level,â€ť Mike Hale said. â€śAnd all the work that theyâ€™ve put in paid off for them. To have them both succeed and get to that level is real special.â€ť
Hale and Kelley hope to pave the way for other athletes in Bristol to garner interest in the sport.
â€śUnlike other sports, Rugby is for everybody, thereâ€™s a position for everyone,â€ť Kelley said. â€śItâ€™s a great atmosphere. I hope it keeps growing. I love it.â€ť
Dan Orencole can be reached atÂ 860-973-1811 orÂ firstname.lastname@example.org