Hitchin Ladies rugby head coach remembers his time with the Hedgehogs as players pay tribute to departing 'unsung hero'
PUBLISHED: 13:17 04 April 2019 | UPDATED: 13:37 04 April 2019
Hitchin Ladies head coach Dale Baines is leaving his role after four years at the helm. Speaking to CometSport, he recalled his fond memories of leading the side while his players paid tribute to the club's 'unsung hero'.
Baines ended his five-year involvement with the team after the Hedgehogs won the league title and finished the season unbeaten with a 83-7 win against Harringey.
Speaking to CometSport, an emotional Baines paid tribute to his team, saying: “They are a fantastic group of girls who just performed today. It’s quite emotional.
“Going unbeaten at this level doesn’t happen. We’ve had two promotions in five seasons and never come across anyone who has gone unbeaten in the league. I’m really proud of the girls.
“It’s massive family. They will do anything for each other. Even down to things like painting each others houses, doing their gardens, everyone gets involved.
“It’s like a mini community. You’ve got little Katie Allerton at 18 who calls some the girls her rugby mums. It’s just an amazing family.”
Baines has helped transform the club during his spell in charge and seen them rise up the leagues.
But, despite the two promotions and an unbeaten season, his proudest moment was getting a full team together for the first time before watching the ladies side grow.
“My proudest moment was when we got 15 players on the pitch for the first time,” he said.
“We started with nine and then got it up to 15 and from that point on it has taken off.
“Every year we get more players. Even through the course of this season we got five new players join us.
“We’ve had new players every year who have just come in and taken off.
“The likes of Jess Eden last year, she was a ballerina before joining us. Cara and Tracey Wäckerlin-Lavelle, they played hockey before but have taken to rugby so well. It’s just amazing how quickly they pick it up.”
His players were also keen to pay tribute to him, with captain Emma Cramphorn describing Baines as an ‘unsung hero’.
“He’s here early every game, putting out shirts, cleaning the changing room. He is the unsung hero,” she said.
“It’s just those little extras that make such a massive difference. He is going to be so missed.
“He’s so supportive, always checking on us with a little text here and a little text there, to make sure that everyone is feeling valued.
“We are going to really miss that level of commitment, as well as the fact he is an amazing coach.”
As well as a coach, Baines was also a great friend according to back Casey Burgess, who said: “Dale has been a rock for the team. It won’t be the same without him.
“We all love him. He’s there to coach us, critique us and push us forward, but he’s also there to support us. He’s an absolutely fantastic friend and we are going to miss him.
“I’m glad we’ve given him this season to go out on a high.”
One of the squad’s newer players, Melissa Ruffell said Baines was crucial in her return to rugby after a three-year injury layoff, and was keen to highlight his importance to Hitchin’s success.
“When I first joined Dale was so welcoming,” she explained.
“I was coming back from an injury after not playing for three years. He was so kind about everything, he said whenever I was ready, inviting me to come and watch the games, buying me a drink afterwards even though I wasn’t playing.
“It was so nice to join a team, train and not play, but have the coach make you feel involved that whole time. He was just amazing.
“He doesn’t the credit we all get, but behind our success is Dale, completely.
“He’s always behind us, he’s always got a smile on his face, and he’s great. He is going to be so missed, I actually feel a bit emotional about it.”
Another player Baines helped return to the game was Becky Bolter, who came back at the start of this season after giving birth.
“He was brilliant when I came back,” she said.
“He stressed the importance of not coming back too soon, and making sure I was happy and safe.
“He was just so inspiring, taking it step by step, building up and my game is probably better now than it was before.”
Backs Charley Hamilton and Jade Cooper spoke of the support Baines provides.
“He gave me confidence when I had none. He believed in me when no one else did,” said Hamilton.
“I was just lost in a sea of new people when I first joined, but he was always there to put an arm around my shoulder.”
Cooper added: “He’s always got time for everyone. If you have an issue, you don’t get something in training or there’s something in a game, he’s there for you which is great.”
Only two members of the team have been with the club longer than Baines.
One of those is Claire Crompton, with the unbeaten season being her 10th as a Hedgehog. She highlighted the departing coaches work behind the scenes and spoke about what things might be like without him.
“I’ve been here longer than Dale so I think for a lot of the new girls they haven’t known Hitchin Ladies without him, so it will be a big change,” she said.
“He does a lot of stuff behind the scenes that people just don’t know about and that he doesn’t get the credit for. We definitely all appreciate it though.”