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Breakout HS of the Year: United

  • 09 Jun 2016

Photo courtesy United Girls Rugby



When Orem disbanded in spring 2016, the state 7s and 15s champions’ players diffused through the league and realigned with existing teams. United inherited some Lady Stallions, mostly backs, and these gifted athletes lifted the team to new heights. Fast, cohesive and skilled, our Breakout High School of the Year raced to the top of Utah and beyond.


When word spread that United was receiving players like Kat Stowers, Charity Tenney, Addilyn Sorenson, Peyton Frazier and Lewanda Aspinall, the field understood how the team’s performance would improve. The former Orem players have been visible at big tournaments like the LVI 7s and regional fixtures like the Rocky Mountain Challenge, and their brand of full-tilt, adventurous play has been well documented.


The Orem alumni joined a solid cast of players who were also busy upping their play. Seini Ieremia and McKay Peisley (along with the four of five Orem alumni) are members of the Utah Lions Rugby Academy, an invitation-only program for elite players (that is traveling to the United World Games). Super-fast Frazier joined Addison Horsely, Maili Schaap and hard-carrying prop Cheyenne Nielson and the Utah Cannibals in pre-season all-star play.


In other words, coach Matt Kanenwisher had a team pushing for improvement, and the addition of new talent gave the field something more to worry about.


Early in the season, it became clear that United and Herriman were going to contend for the state title (United won 50-17). But it wasn’t until NorCal’s Danville Oaks traveled to the Beehive State for a two-game series against the leaders that their strength came into focus. United defeated Danville 34-26, knocking off a team that was ranked #1 nationally at that point in the season, and the nation officially tuned in.


“We were pleased with how things were developing this year but you never really have a good feel for how you are doing until you get a chance to play other high-level teams,” Kanenwisher explained. “Once we had a taste of that challenge, the girls really lit right up.”


That game essentially convinced the High School Club National Championship committee to invite United to the first club-only tournament in Ellensburg, Wash. United accepted and started imagining what three games in two days against the country’s best teams would look like.


Fortune placed United and Danville on either side of the 50-meter line for the opening round of nationals. In the teams’ first meeting, there was some sympathy for the Lady Oaks, which had driven from northern California and coped with elevation, but nationals placed the teams on a level playing field. The hoped-for battle evolved, and United emerged victorious 15-12.


In the semifinals, United fell 17-5 to Fallbrook, which had won the previous five national championships. The debutante then rallied with a 29-10 win over Pleasanton for third place. With the exception of Fallbrook (which advanced to the final in 2010, when USA Rugby first assumed the championship), no team has made such an impression in its first year at nationals.


“I think United has found an annual mission and purpose in the national tournament,” Kanenwisher added. “We felt like we could play at that level, and I think we found that we can compete. … While watching this year’s final was a bit of a humbling experience, we now know what we have to do to compete at that level.


“In the end, I think all agree that the most fulfilling part of the season was how they came together and really worked for one another, and that’s why we play this game.”


United is graduating some valued seniors but much of the team will remain intact. There is a good pipeline of younger players funneling through and that, along with more regional competition, will keep United in the hunt for years to come.



Since rugby seasons straddle the New Year, the term “year-end” encapsulates the fall 2015 and spring 2016 seasons. There are two exceptions: colleges and national teams. First, there are distinct fall- and spring-based college competitions that culminate in their respective seasons and warrant their own awards. Second, with the exception of one 7s series event, national team performances can be assessed during the calendar year, so those awards will feature in December. In short, the awards named during the next two weeks include:


High School: Year-end awards (fall 2015 – spring 2016)

College: Spring awards (spring 2016)

Club: Year-end 15s awards (fall 2015 – spring 2016)


In December 2016, the following awards will be named:

College: Fall awards (fall 2016)

National Teams: 2016


Additionally, an August edition will cover summer 7s activity.

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