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Fallbrook Surviving Game Drought

  • 28 Apr 2016

Fallbrook’s Miriam Friebe has moved into the forwards. /// Photo: Stacey Savin


Last year, a suspicion surfaced that Fallbrook was vulnerable. The former single-school team switched to club to combat an enrollment decrease. The league competition was lacking, and the reigning champion dropped an early-season tournament game to Danville, the weight of which carried through to national seeding. But it was all a hoax, and the Warriors were as strong as ever when it came time to win a fifth-straight national title. That title run proved that Fallbrook is resilient and driven, and those attributes have been called upon again, as this spring has produced another unfulfilling build-up to nationals.


In the past, Fallbrook has used the Las Vegas Invitational as a kickoff to the 15s season. But the LVI didn’t draw the higher-level Canadian teams, which instead opted for the newly launched and local Vancouver 7s the weekend following, and the 15s options were limited. To boot, top players Lilly Durbin (women’s elite division), Michel Navarro, Kayla Canett, Hannah Savin and Alyssa Henneberg (girls’ elite division) aligned with the Atavus All Stars. So Fallbrook played 7s and one 15s game (against Kahuku), and used the LVI as more of a developmental outing.


“That changed the dynamic right from the beginning,” Fallbrook co-coach Craig Pinnell said. “So it was not ‘business as usual’ when the year began.”


The Warriors got a good game out of Danville at the Fullerton tournament, and then turned to the SoCal Gold league.


“On paper, it looked good,” Fallbrook co-coach Marin Pinnell said. “Four teams – us, South Bay, ICEF and Fullerton – were supposed to field U14, U16 and U18 teams every weekend so we could have good competition at all levels. … But it’s only us and South Bay that are doing it the way SoCal wants.”


Fullerton fell off and only contested friendlies; ICEF was inconsistent with its three teams and didn’t have all of them competing throughout the entirety of the season. There wasn’t an option to integrate Green division teams – like the Coastal Dragons U14s or Aztec U18s – because only programs with the full complement of age-grade teams were considered for Gold division competition.


“Every union has its drama, but it seems to get more difficult every year,” Craig said of getting enough game time. “We used to have more teams in our league but there’s fewer every year.


“In saying all that, I don’t know how to fix it,” he continued. “The younger teams in the Green division, they’re basically left to slog it out for themselves. They arrive at a venue and play whatever they want depending on the numbers. Maybe that’s good for the first season so some interest builds. I just hope it grows and doesn’t remain static.”


The league could use more coaches who commit to managing an entire season, starting with the 7s pre-season to gauge interest and report accurate numbers to the SoCal youth staff. That insight alone could help craft better structured 15s competitions. In the meantime, Fallbrook will take a cue from Danville and start booking road trips, potentially to Canada, for better competition.


Fallbrook has been fortunate to have South Bay locally and will have played the nationals-bound Spartans three times before the spring is over. The two league games favored the Warriors heavily, but there is certainly value in these contests.


“That first game against South Bay was a big test – how far have we come [since Vegas],” Craig posed. “They actually stood up and did really well despite a few injuries. The first half was poetry in motion and really beautiful to watch. Our scrumhalf got injured in the second half and we went off the boil a bit, but we were totally in control.”


“South Bay gives us bigger players who come at you hard,” Marin said. “The Amazons and Danville come a little faster, but at least you’ve got an idea what’s coming and we’re not surprised at nationals.”


The Pinnells indicated that they have a good team this year, but typically have a better idea of the player group at this point in the year because the team’s played more games by now. Fortunately, there are some tested veterans perpetuating the fast, agile, skilled game for which Fallbrook is known. In the backs, it’s High School All American Kayla Canett, who will head to DI Elite Penn State after graduation. She directs the game from flyhalf and pairs with sophomore scrumhalf Bella Devore. Hannah Savin brings power and experience to the centers, while new sophomore wing Lily Ballif ticks up the pace out wide. And Atavus All Star Alyssa Henneberg has been doing a great job at fullback.


The forwards are rooted in Junior All American flanker Michel Navarro, who has committed to DI Elite Central Washington. She gets excellent support from hooker Destiny Arena in the front row, as well as Miriam Friebe, who has relocated from the backs to the forwards.


For a sneak peak at this year’s attack, tune into PRO Rugby’s May 1 match between San Diego and Denver. Fallbrook and Fullerton will play an exhibition 7s game during halftime.


The SoCal season will culminate on Saturday, May 14, as Fallbrook and South Bay contest the Gold division championship. The following weekend, both teams will head to Ellensburg, Wash., for the high school club championship.


“The competition is going to be top quality,” Marin said. “It represents the top eight teams that can organize themselves and play rugby at a high level consistently year after year.”


Sacramento, Danville, Kent, Pleasanton, East Coast’s Morris and newcomer United are among those heading to Central Washington May 21-22. Be sure to tune in as the country’s best fight for the first club title.


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