San Fernando flyhalf Gill Chance. /// Photo: Rusty Wortman
San Fernando Valley is heading to the DII SoCal playoffs and capped its regular season with a 26-17 win over Ventura to finish second in the standings. The victory and post-season spot is particularly special for team founders Christina Alatorre and Adriana Conrad-Forrest, the driving forces behind the three-year-old team.
Alatorre and Conrad-Forrest are Humboldt alumni and formed San Fernando Valley as a means to play after college. Once the duo started coaching DI CSU Northridge, San Fernando became a natural landing for those graduates entering the world of senior club rugby. Player-coaches Alatorre and Conrad-Forrest ease the transition by mirroring Northridge’s style of play in San Fernando’s game, and this year’s influx of college graduates has benefitted greatly.
Numbers are still an issue (the team traveled to Arizona with 14 players and played 70 minutes with 13), but when the commitment is there, San Fernando Valley is good. After two losing seasons, the team finished 5-2 and earned home-field advantage in Saturday’s SoCal semifinal after leap-frogging Ventura in the standings.
San Fernando took the first lead last Saturday as prop Nora Rogers barreled over the try line and Gill Chance converted. Ventura tied it up at the end of the first quarter with a Danielle Robottom try and Desiree Leaupepe conversion. San Fernando regained the lead before half as lock Conrad-Forrest scored and Chance converted, 14-7.
Right after Northridge alumna and outside center Jasmine Mims scored in minute 65, Ventura flanker Corey Lott dotted down and wing Nycole Cole followed with five, 19-17 to San Fernando with 10 minutes remaining. But in the closing minutes flyhalf Chance scored and converted her own score for the bonus-point win, 26-17.
“We did a really good job of using the space that we had, but we didn’t recognize some overload opportunities or didn’t move the ball quick enough,” San Fernando player-coach Alatorre said. “Our back line did a lot of work on defense attacking their offense. Ventura has traditionally played a physical forwards game, but they played a different game on Saturday, more of a back line attack. We were a little more balanced and our forwards did a better job of spreading the field. They were going into contact a lot.”
When Ventura did go into contact, Conrad-Forrest was there to contest the breakdown. The second row’s work on the ground turned over several rucks and produced more possession for San Fernando. A good scrumhalf battle between San Fernando’s Jade Law and Ventura’s Leaupepe evolved around the base, but Law held her own and was able to move the ball into space. That’s where fullback Sabrina Amaro was particularly effective. She inserted into the back line at pace and directed the open-field attack.
The knowledge that both teams banked on their own performances and the opposition will come into play this Saturday, as the teams duke it out in the SoCal semis. Both sides will return some players missing from the league-ender, and San Fernando is feeling the effect of post-season play on numbers.
“We started this team just to play rugby as the overall goal,” Alatorre said. “But now, with the amount of talent and experience we have, there’s potential to move forward. There’s been a jump in commitment because everyone wants to be part of the push for nationals. For those of us who have stuck around these three years, it’s a big deal. When we first started, we were wearing a high school’s jerseys and now we have the opportunity to play up. It’s awesome.”
San Fernando has received a boost on the sideline, as Vince Smith has joined as coach. The extra set of eyes alleviates a ton of pressure for the player-coaches, and he’ll lend some more perspective and guidance to San Fernando’s game.
On the other side of the bracket, #1 Tucson will host #4 Fullerton in the other semifinal. Saturday’s two victors will meet at a neutral location on May 7 to determine the SoCal seed to DII nationals.