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Pac North Names Reps to Nationals

  • 28 Jul 2019

Berkeley, Life West and Washington Athletic Club (WAC) will represent the Pacific North at the USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship in Kansas City, Mo., on Aug. 10-11. The Mid-Atlantic is the only other competitive region (CR) with three berths to nationals; however, the Pacific North placed three teams in the top eight last year.

RELATED: Club 7s Nationals Field Finalized

The top-three teams were operating at a level befitting nationals, and that divide showed itself in the opening rounds. Life West shut out ORSU and SFGG 29-0 and 44-0, respectively; Berkeley beat SFGG 38-0; and WAC topped ORSU 50-0. In its game against the All Blues, the Jesters put the first try up on the board and only trailed 14-5 at the break, but then tries from championship MVP Evan Hoese and Maggie Simpson pushed out the final to 26-5.

From that point on, the games got good. WAC scored two quick tries against Life West, with captain Megan Sanders in the middle and putting the attack on the front foot, and finishers like Christa Banks and Central Washington product Jenny Johnson scoring from in close. Sanders added both conversions for a 14-0 lead.

The Gladiatrix finally responded and got on the board after a big Nicole Strasko hit jarred the ball loose in front of WAC’s try line. Elizabeth Cairns was on top of it and scooped up the ball for the centered try that Amy Naber Talei converted. Cairns returned the favor, pinning the defense off a penalty play long enough to give Strasko room on the sideline for the diveover in the corner: 14-12 into the break.

Neariah Persinger, who ended the day with six tries, scored the go-ahead points and then Strasko dotted down again for the 24-14 win.

Persinger scored six tries / Photo: Jackie Finlan / TRB

WAC then turned around to play Berkeley and struggled to recreate the positive start in had against Life West. The All Blues, on the other hand, were picking up pace, and three first-half tries gave the local team the space for a second-half response from WAC. Bulou Mataitoga (2), Shelby Lin and Christina Ramos all scored for Berkeley in the 22-12 win, while Stefani Bergerhouse and Jennine (Duncan) Detiveaux dotted down for WAC.

Life West and Berkeley were scheduled to meet in the final stage of the round robin, but both were entering that game undefeated and thus guaranteed a berth into the title match. So instead of playing back-to-back games against each other (they see each other regularly on the NorCal circuit), they opted for one winner-take-all showdown.

Life West scored three minutes in, as Welsh Lewis attacked weak off a scrum and into the corner. The Gladiatrix were, arguably, the favorites heading into the tournament. The team had won the NorCal qualifiers and featured Eagles fresh off the Super Series – Naber Bonte, Cairns, Persinger, Strasko. But the All Blues had stayed in step with Life West and was only getting better as the Pacific North tournament progressed.

Elena Clark broke away and the ball moved wide to Erika Granger, who shook out of a tackle and scored down the sideline. Another series of breaks and connecting passes eventually put Mataitoga within five meters, and the Super Series vet went weak off the ruck for the try, 10-5 to Berkeley into the break.

The All Blues started to work the bench in the second half and there was an adjustment period that saw some penalties follow. Cairns scored to tie it up and Persinger’s conversion sailed over for the 12-10 lead after three minutes. With fewer than two minutes on the clock, Hoese manipulated the defense and sliced through two would-be tacklers to score up the middle. Mataitoga converted for the 17-12 lead.

The Gladiatrix had one last possession to turn it around, and they team put itself in position for a comeback by holding onto the ball for the rest of regulation. Life West pushed its way to mid-field and then moved the ball to Persinger on the sideline. The finisher did her job down the sideline and put in the extra effort to center the try. But the pressure saw the easy conversion sail left of the goal posts, ending regulation 17-17 and necessitating a five-minute overtime.

Berkeley was lucky to have a second chance at the win and did not hesitate to put its mark on extra time. Thirty seconds in, Hoese broke free for a long-range try, which Kat Chasakara (who was the All Blues’ most consistent dropkicker) converted, and padded the scoreboard after a tackle-breaking run from five meters out, 29-17. Berkeley takes the number one seed, and Life West takes the second.

But the rest of the tournament still had to play out. ORSU and WAC beat SFGG handily, and then WAC topped ORSU in the third-place match and berth to nationals.

All three teams have title-winning potential at nationals. Hoese and Mataitoga are the well known entities that push that aggression in the contact area and make things happen around them offensively. Hoese especially shined in the final. Shelby Lin might have been our favorite player all day all tournament, and was really confident attacking around the ruck and super solid cleaning up breaks in the open field. Simpson was another good finisher, and Ramos and Serena Liu were excellent off the bench.

Naber Bonte / Photo: Jackie Finlan / TRB

Life West is dense with familiar talent. Cairns and Strasko do really good work in tight and make offense out of their defense. Naber Bonte’s work rate is a standard setter. Persinger and Kelsi Stockert bring a special pop to the pitch and are fan favorites. Lindenwood’s Sativa Tarau Peehikuru and Wales’ Ffion Lewis have also settled in nicely. Come WPL season, Life West will also have Hope Rogers, who is in the Bay Area this fall. The team might not have Jess Lewis, who ended the day early with an injury but was walking under her own power; and Sarah Buonopane was on the sidelines with crutches as well.

With the first touch of the ball, Bergerhouse hit the line at pace and scored an incredibly fast try against ORSU. She, along with fellow Chico State alumna Darby McFall, is a great addition to this squad. Again, Sanders is an important playmaker, as is former Eagle Anne Peterson, and next to Carly MacKinnon, all three are stellar kicking options. Christa Banks had a good day, as did the powerful Detiveaux. We renewed our fandom for Erica Legaspi, who is one of the smaller players on the pitch but just goes after it.

Legaspi / Photo: Jackie Finlan

Stay tuned for nationals pools, which USA Rugby will announce.

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