Dudley in December / Photos courtesy OP Lightning Instagram
The Pacific South Division II club season began on Jan. 12, 2019, and with a rematch of last year’s championship: Old Pueblo Lightning vs. Las Vegas Slots. After falling behind early on, the Tucson squad pulled ahead for the 36-19 win (see full stats).
Old Pueblo head coach Swing Somerset DePoint pointed to fitness as the main difference-maker in the win and credited the players’ off-season dedication as well as the involvement of partner Body Central. The coach, who is assisted by Matthew Quay and Jourdain Richter, saw improvement in the team’s execution of the 2-4-2 attack, which is a difficult structure to master. He also noted Las Vegas’ reluctance to capitalize on its size advantage, but that shouldn’t be the case next weekend, when O.P. faces Pasadena, a team that plays well in tight and utilizes the maul.
“An early test gives us confidence but also keeps us humble because we had so many errors and left a lot of points on the table,” Somerset DePoint said. “The game gave us a lot of things to work on. We’re set for the next six weeks.”
Las Vegas traveled with just 17 rostered players, and home team Lightning was equally light. The overall numbers are lower this year, but 10 of Saturday’s starters are veterans with post-season experience, and they’re all motivated to take that final step to the DII national championship (O.P. has lost in the national semifinals the previous two years). Of the five starters who did not return, Tina Aprahamian is arguably the most prevalent. The scrumhalf spent the summer with ARPTC and then flourished at scrumhalf for Beantown in the Women’s Premier League. Aprahamian is currently playing for the Suttonians in Dublin, Ireland.
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“Frankly I’m surprised at the success that we’ve had just because of the turnover,” said Somerset DePoint, who heaped praise on the administration for diligent recruitment that produced quality newcomers. “I think we have enough core returning players who understand the system, and the new Lightning people – not new to rugby – have been able to get on board quicker because they have people to shepherd them around.”
As for Lightning rookies, Somerset DePoint called out inside center Judith Gramajo, who not only did well in a new position but has also been selected to the SoCal Griffins 15s team. The all-star squad, which includes nine Lightning players, will play the South-based Phoenix selects at the Las Vegas Invitational. Somerset DePoint took over as Griffins head coach and is assisted by Anita Bradbury, Ashley Loftus, Leah Wills and Julie Gould.
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The former eight-team league has divided into a four-team DII and four-team DIII (Northern Arizona has replaced an absent San Luis Obispo). The DII teams (O.P., Las Vegas, Pasadena, San Fernando Valley) play each other home-and-away; however, a late realignment meant that there are now a couple of schedule holes, and Lightning hopes to fill them with friendlies against DI Tempe. Come playoff time, the top seed will earn a bye to the Pacific South DII championship, to be held at a neutral location, and the #2 and #3 seeds contest a play-in match.
“We were always wondering whether Team X, Y, Z was going to give us a game,” Somerset DePoint said in favor of the DII/III split. “We heavily recruit every year and get new-to-rugby people, and they need games. And the starting XV, they need games to hone their skills. [The former DII and now DIII teams] are proud clubs but they allowed variability.”
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Inconsistencies stymie a team’s progress, but that doesn’t preclude a measure of preparedness. For example, after several years as a women’s head coach in the Pacific South, coach Somerset DePoint has introduced phases to the team’s training.
“I specifically structure our game plan around the fact that we will face a different quality of referee in the playoffs versus the league season,” Somerset DePoint said. “The adjudication around the breakdown during the league season is poor in general, so I structure our tactics to account for that.”
Counter-rucking is not a big part of O.P.’s game, until April. Somerset DePoint indicated that the players love defensive rucks and are eager to get involved in the breakdown, so they’re not too far behind once the team re-embraces the tactic.
The league season ends on April 6, so there’s still plenty of rugby to play before focus shifts toward knockouts. SomersetDePoint is feeling good about the team’s start, and although numbers aren’t as robust as years past, the returners are knowledgeable, fit, and motivated to take another step toward a trophy.