Photo: Summit Lights Photography / Atavus
It’s been five years in the making, but there is a new high school champion. Sacramento capped a perfect spring by going 3-0 at last weekend’s national high school club championship, which was held at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash. Sweetening the outcome, the Amazons defeated five-time reigning national champion Fallbrook for its second-ever title.
“This was a very special year for us,” Sacramento coach David Tausinga indicated. “The seniors this year were part of the 2010 national championship team, and now they’re aging out. Also, I was honored that [former coach] Sefesi [Green] believed in me to keep the Amazon legacy going. And the overwhelming support from our community and SacPal made the girls want to prove that their time invested in them was not wasted.”
The NorCal champion entered the club championship seeded second and faced SoCal runner-up South Bay in the quarterfinals. The Spartans were making their second consecutive showing at nationals, having won Division II in their debut last year. South Bay’s 2016 nationals campaign began a couple of hours earlier than Sacramento’s, as the 10-team field necessitated 15-minute play-in matches ahead of the quarterfinals. South Bay beat Morris 10-7 for the berth.
“We wanted to play as if each game was the championship game,” Tausinga spoke to mindset. “The plan was to keep the ball in our possession and put pressure on them with minimal mistakes. We also had to believe in each other.”
Maryjane Pasioles, Gabriellelani Finau, Eti Haungatau and (Central Washington commit) Jaida Kafovalu scored a try apiece, and eventual MVP and flyhalf Melelea Tausinga kicked two conversions for the 24-7 victory.
“South Bay is a very physical team just like us,” Tausinga relayed. “We look forward to playing them again in the future.”
South Bay went on to finish sixth, defeating Kent 12-5 and then losing 22-20 to Danville in the fifth-place match.
Meanwhile, Pleasanton defeated Kent 13-10 in the quarterfinals and lined up against familiar opponent Sacramento in the semifinals. The pair contested the NorCal final and compete against each other frequently.
“Pleasanton is always a good game,” the coach explained. “Our girls know each other and kind of know what to expect.”
Finau added to her try count with another two scores, while Pasioles, Tausinga, Alysha McMoore and Heavani Tupou also dotted down. Tausinga’s two conversions afforded the 34-12 victory.
While the Cavaliers moved onto the 3rd place game, where they lost 29-10 to United, Sacramento returned to the final after several years’ absence. On the other side of the bracket, Fallbrook was having an equally sharp day. The Warriors shut out Idaho’s Capital 41-0 in the quarterfinals (Capital defeated Land Park 5-0 in the 15-minute play-in game), and followed with a 17-5 semifinal win over United.
Although it’s been some time since Fallbrook and Sacramento have played each other, they have distinct styles to which they remain true. The Warriors are slight, fast and highly skilled. They are led by two of the best high school rugby players in the game today – All Americans Kayla Canett and Michel Navarro – and the SoCal side has been setting the standard for the first half of the decade.
Sacramento has some size, but its athletes can move. They are terrifying ballcarriers with mighty fends and excellent footwork. They’re unpredictable at times and show-stoppers often. Both sides knew what they were getting into and had their game plans set well in advance.
“Fallbrook has a lot of speed, and we wanted to contain their All American players and keep the ball away from them,” Tausinga reported. “All three games we put points on the board early and held them on defense.”
Sacramento ran in four first-half tries, and Tausinga tacked on two conversions for a 24-0 halftime lead. Both teams got their breaks, but the Amazons did an excellent job of nullifying Fallbrook’s momentum. The defense was continually in the passing lanes and picked off several passes, one of which ended in an intercept try. Canett’s many kicks were fielded and returned well. McMoore in particular was excellent in the counter-attack, returning two kicks for tries. Kafovalu and Haungatau accounted for the two other tries, and with Ana Polaulu led the pack in defense and hard carries.
“The backline did an awesome job in containing Fallbrook’s backline from getting out into the open,” the coach praised. “Maryjane Pasioles put a lot of pressure on their scrumhalf and did a great job getting the ball out. Melelea Tausinga did a great job controlling the tempo of the game and placing the ball with kicks and setting up plays. Gabriellelani Finau and Naomi Tupou ran the ball very well and defended Fallbrook’s centers from getting the ball out wide.”
Fallbrook came together for 15 points in the second half, but Sacramento held on for the trophy.
“It’s bittersweet,” Tausinga reflected on the goal accomplished. “Now we’re losing a group of seniors who have been a part of this team since 2010.”
The final highlighted some of the most highly sought-after talent in the country, and the college scouts were there to scan the 10-team field that hailed from as far as New Jersey, to Idaho, and all along the West Coast.
“We would like to thank Atavus, Central Washington University and Coach Mel [Denham] for putting on an awesome tournament,” Tausinga added. “We also want to thank our coaching staff of Etueni Samate and Siu Green for their hard work and dedication to the team. The team couldn’t have done it without them. Special thanks to our community, Joe Bailey and Mark Scurria and the whole SacPal team for believing in us and helping us get the Washington.”
HIGH SCHOOL CLUB CHAMPIONSHIPS
QF Play-in: South Bay 10-7 Morris
QF Play-in: Capital 5-0 Land Park
QF: Fallbrook 41-0 Capital
QF: United 15-12 Danville
QF: Sacramento 24-7 South Bay
QF: Pleasanton 13-10 Kent
SF: Fallbrook 17-5 United
SF: Sacramento 34-12 Pleasanton
9th Place: Land Park 19-15 Capital
7th Place: Morris 19-17 Kent
5th Place: Danville 22-20 South Bay
3rd Place: United 29-10 Pleasanton
Final: Sacramento 24-15 Fallbrook