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KOT: Little Bit of Everything Rugby NorCal

  • 05 Feb 2024
marin rugby

Robertson Park (Livermore, Calif.) saw a flurry of activity officially kick off the girls’ high school season in Rugby NorCal. The Pleasanton Cavaliers served as host and accommodated 13 high school sides playing 10s, 12s or 15s, and eight middle school teams playing 7s. The regular season begins this weekend and continues through the May 11 championships outside of Sacramento.

RELATED: Rugby NorCal KOT Preview

The Kickoff Tournament has a long history in NorCal and used to in the Sacramento region, but Livermore has become a destination the last several years for its facilities. The Lady Cavs have been a constant in terms of hosting and, with the aid of other Bay Area teams that have fluctuated in stability, used to host a 15s tournament in April that drew talent from Hawaii, to SoCal, to Utah. Back then, the tournament was viewed as a nationals warm-up and there have been whispers of reviving the West Coast showcase.


Pleasanton rugby

Lady Cavs on the move / Photo: Jackie Finlan/TRB

In the meantime, Pleasanton has done a great job filling that space as organizer and was at the center of Saturday’s event given the passing of longtime coach Ben Williams. He had lots of admirers and mourners at the pitch, and the tournament as a whole assembled midday for a celebration of his life.

On the pitch, there was plenty to entertain, and the tournament lured Harvard head coach Mel Denham, Princeton head coach Josie Ziluca, AIC head coach T Fletcher and Dartmouth assistant coach Lisa Jackson to California. Jackson then took a redeye flight North Carolina, where Raleigh was hosting its collegiate combine. Seven clubs (some clubs fielded multiple sides) provided scouts with rosters, jersey numbers, age/grade, etc., and that makes the scouts’ lives easier, especially when viewing a tournament live in person. (Related: College Rugby Recruits: Fall 2024)


Rugby scouts

College scouts tuning in / Photo: Jackie Finlan/TRB

Five teams played 15s, although Danville needed some Oaks-for-a-day to fill out its roster. Nevertheless, it was good to see Danville back on the pitch with a U18 team – it had been a couple years – although Lamorinda has now taken its place as a team in hiatus. Mya Dunne is one of many players who has shifted with the ebb and flow of programs, and now wears the Oaks kit. The attacking scrumhalf is as impactful as ever and an important piece while Danville finds its form.


Mya Dunne rugby

Danville’s Mya Dunner / Photo: Jackie Finlan/TRB

The Oaks started the day against Pleasanton, which has lot of weapons. Chief among them are openside flanker Aidan Bursey and No. 8 Mariah Lisala. The former drop-kicks, gets around the pitch really well, and has take-the-corner speed. Lisala has the power to really straighten up the game with hard, piercing runs forward.

SacPAL Amazons and San Mateo Wolverines drew attention and represent the two NorCal teams that participated at high school club nationals last year. The Amazons, of course, have a decades-long history at nationals and had arguably the best 10-12-13 combination running on Saturday. Louie Toia had moved from scrumhalf to flyhalf and is such a great attacking 10 backed by a solid pass. Lola Maafu and Nia Kaihea in the centers run with such confidence, and Kaihea also has a nose for the intercept.


SacPAL rugby

Amazons flyhalf Louie Toia / Photo: Jackie Finlan/TRB

The backs are able to express themselves due to the hard work of the forwards, and that is also the case with the Wolverines. Both teams have punishing ballcarriers, and then Yona Allouche and Lola Unga served as excellent distributors to release San Mateo’s outside attack. Unga is arguably the most recognizable player in NorCal right now and she did a great job of setting up teammates around her and showcasing their talent.


Lola Unga rugby

Wolverines’ Lola Unga / Photo: Jackie Finlan/TRB


Sacramento (formerly, Land Park) Harlequins also played fun rugby. There’s some young talent to track in the pack, and No. 8 Sophie Diaz is setting the tone for that aggressive mindset there. Favorite play was flyhalf Emily Hartman wrapping around center Anna Wright and then hitting fullback Dana Greer just striking the line at pace. The Harlequins were the most dedicated to the kicking game and Greer had the best boot off the tee. The Quins have a number of seniors heading to NCAA varsity teams in NIRA — Harvard, Quinnipiac, Bowdoin and more — to keep the tradition alive.


Harlequins' Sophie Diaz rugby

Harlequins’ Sophie Diaz / Photo: Jackie Finlan/TRB

Teams that teetered on the ability to play full 15s were able to play 10s or 12s in a separate division, and given the extra space on the pitch, those games were also pretty wide open. Bishop O’Dowd and Carondelet kicked off the day against each other, and they’re pretty familiar with one another. They’re the two stand-alone high school teams in the Bay Area, and so they won’t necessarily have the player transfer that one might see between the fall 7s season, which is for single-school teams only, and club 15s (or 10s, 12s) season in the spring. They played 10s, were well paired, and got leading performances from Bishop O’Dowd inside back Taylor Cohen, who is heading to DI Long Island University in the fall, and Carondelet scrumhalf Pilar Rodriquez, who runs with no regard for her size.


BOD rugby

Bishop O’Dowd rugby / Photo: Jackie Finlan/TRB

Profile wise, Marin, Mother Lode and Liberty fit into a similar category as Bishop O’Dowd and Carondelet. They don’t necessarily boast a lot of size, and their 10s style is more about speed and evasion. Again teams played a mix of 10s and 12s, and that’s how the regular season is going to go, too. There’s also plans to do a couple of combination 15s teams – i.e., teams join up to form one 15s team – to guarantee that exposure and keep that growth point front of mind. Remember: NCAA varsity rugby is 15s. But even more important, 15s encourages a wider variety of participation, since a range of athletic gifts and body types are needed to play the traditional version of the game.

The Highlanders went 2-0-1 on the day, beating Liberty and Amazons, and tying Mother Lode. Evie and Bea Littler, and twins Lucy and Lily Perez impressed as opportunistic ballcarriers. Mother Lode’s Claire Patterson was a calm presence and solid leader, and Maggie McGaughey had a good day operating out of the flyhalf spot.


EPA rugby

EPA’s Nightingale Kalo Fakava Ma / Photo: Jackie Finlan/TRB

East Palo Alto and Oakland Ikuna filled out the 10s/12s bracket, and their match against each other showcased good physicality and connectivity. The Razorhawks’s Nightingale Kalo Fakava Ma and Anaiah Latu were really fun to watch and controlled the game well. Oakland is a first-year team but they inherited some players who lived closer to the city than to their previous clubs, and hit the ground running. Ilisa Alatini was particularly strong. 

Not everyone was present in Livermore, and so there is some anticipation as to the status of other teams that are featured on various schedules this spring. There doesn’t appear to a comprehensive schedule uploaded in Xplorer or on the Rugby NorCal website, but from social media, the following is penciled in for opening day (TBD on the versions being played Saturday):


Pleasanton @ Sacramento Harlequins (15s)
@ Sacramento: Danville, Chico, SacPAL Amazons
@ San Jose: Marin, Lanu Olin, Berkeley, Liberty
Mother Lode @ Carondelet

TBD on BOD, EPA, Oakland, Wolverines

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