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Atlantis Repeats as LVI Champ

  • 04 Mar 2018


Atlantis repeated as the Girls’ High School Elite 7s champion at the Las Vegas Invitational, defeating BC Rugby 12-5 in the final. Josie Ziluca served as head coach and sorted the 24-player pool into an Elite team and Open team, which won the Plate in its 28-team division.


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“I had more of that pressure [to defend the title],” said Ziluca, who coached her fourth Atlantis girls’ tour. “I got really lucky that I got a bunch of level-headed girls who bonded really quickly. They just wanted to get out there and play some rugby.”


Six athletes in the Atlantis player pool represented the USA in the Youth Olympic Games qualifier in Vegas, and only two players returned from the 2017 LVI-winning squad. Ziluca used the three training sessions in advance of the tournament to familiarize herself with the 2018 group, and looked toward high school seniors Alie Ramage and Julia Riekena to set good examples.


Outside of Canada, there wasn’t the international representation akin to last year, including New Zealand’s Tahi Kaha, the 2017 runner-up.



“The challenge we battle is that they have more time to train together,” Ziluca said of some of the international teams. “We have girls from all across the country, and they’re top players on their clubs. They come in, are humble and recognize: I’m good at this, you’re good at that, how can we make this puzzle piece work? I try to explain it to them that we have this picture to paint, we just need to figure out what our colors are.”


In pool play, Atlantis defeated Utah Cannibals 21-12, USA South 29-12 and Rugby Oregon 17-7.


Red Hawks gave Atlantis all it could handle in game three. / Photo: Jackie Finlan



“Day one we were lucky enough to win all our games, but our third game was a challenge for us, and I like that we had that,” Ziluca said of the Red Hawks match. “Winning is the ‘light’ side, and even though we won that third game, we kinda felt like we lost because we knew we weren’t clicking – and that’s the ‘dark’ side. So now we have that good vision.”


The players trusted each other and the continuity followed. The knockouts started with a plan-affirming win against the Rocky Mountain Rebels and then a Cup semifinal victory against Atavus. Ziluca has some Atavus (then Serevi) coaching background and was involved in the USA prep for the Youth Olympic Games qualifier in Vegas. That left British Columbia (BC Rugby) in the final.



BC Rugby against Atavus on day one / Photo: Jackie Finlan



“The biggest challenge is the factors of the wind, sun and fatigue throughout the whole tournament. Going into [the final], they managed their energy really well and that’s something I let them handle,” Ziluca said.


“Something that I was really proud of them for: If something wasn’t working on the field I didn’t have to say anything, they were able to fix it – not even when there was a stop in play but on the fly. And that to me is a very mature thing,” the head coach added. “The BC girls are a really strong team and they have a really great skill set. You can tell that they do have that continuity.”


It was a staunch battle, but Atlantis prevailed in a 12-5 win.


“It was such an awesome game because it was goal line to goal line,” Ziluca enthused. “If BC had a breakaway, we fought all the way, and we stopped two tries that were going down the sideline.”


There was some controversy at the end of the match, as the BC coaching staff contested that the result was actually a 12-12 tie. There were multiple recordings of the match, and so the referees reviewed the film. The 12-5 scoreline stood.


Refs taking advantage of the sliver of shade and recorded final. / Photo: Dave Ramage



“They kept close to each other. They felt the victory and we let the coaches and staff handle the situation that was happening. It was nice to be able to celebrate twice,” Ziluca said of the effect on players. “Whatever situation their coaching staff might have brought up, we wanted the BC girls to know it was a great game and fun was had. But I’ve never experienced anything like that before.”


There were many standout performances over the weekend, but Ziluca pointed to a few players who stepped up their contributions.


“Tiyanna Hooker, who has been on the Open side in the past,” the coach praised. “She’s a big power runner and you could see the confidence, being able to have vision for offloads and everything.



“We still have that English connection,” Ziluca referenced last year’s MVP, Ellie Kildunne, who is killing it for England in the Women’s Six Nations. “We got two other English players who were big assets on our team: Emma Sing and Jessica Cooksey. Emma was a great speed on the wing for us and really completed a lot of our tries.


“And Bella Devore, at scrumhalf, is one of the smartest players I’ve coached,” the coach added. “I’ve coached against her [in SoCal] and was really proud of her and how she stepped up.”


Atlantis will reboot for some summer fixtures, and then watch for a new college-age team to pop up in the near future. Plenty of playing opportunities for those looking for select side 7s.



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