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Vipers Vying for DI Trophy

  • 06 Feb 2019
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After back-to-back national championships in Division I, Life West is heading to the Women’s Premier League for fall 2019. As such there is renewed interest in who will rise in the western portion of the country, and the Utah Vipers are backing themselves as DI title contenders.

“No, our girls were looking forward to [a rematch],” Utah Vipers head coach David Shelledy contradicted the notion that the players were happy to see the Gladiatrix move on. “We’re looking to push this year. The goal is to win nationals.”

The team has better numbers this season, and the Vipers fielded full 23-player rosters when hosting Glendale (53-27 win) and traveling to Black Ice (77-26 win) in DI Rocky Mountain league games last fall. The teams will play each other again this spring, and then the second- and third-place teams in the standings will contest a play-in match to the Rocky Mountain final against the number one team. That victor then moves onto the western regional championship, aka, national quarterfinals.

“We like the split season, because you don’t have to scramble to get all the games in,” Shelledy said. “The spring is a difficult time in Denver and Salt Lake City with the weather. Sometimes you’re waiting until April for the fields to clear.”

The pack features several players who’ve taken Utah through the DI club post-season, like the incomparable Shannon Woolley, Eta Mailau, Te’O Soloau, Brittany Dunn and Vaimalo Manuo. Apaau Mailau is at that the heart of the backs, and the center is connecting nicely with new fullback Dallas McKee, a Snow Canyon and Dixie State alumna, and former USC standout Yesenia Camacho.

“Our girls are starting to get more time together – 3-4 years – and some are coming with high school experience,” Shelledy spoke to the team’s cohesion. “Even the newer girls have 2-3 years together.”

Filling the ranks are a nice group of new players, and they ramp up their development with game time against the local Slugs. Last weekend’s trip to California was also important in building the rookies’ experience.

“California’s a little farther for us but we just wanted to get games in, play different DI teams, and that helps everyone out,” Shelledy considered Utah’s SoCal counterparts, who also play in a small league. “We were looking at the new girls and seeing what they could do. Some were playing in, really, their first rugby games.”

The teams were fortunate to miss the rain, and Saturday produced an 80-0 shutout against Santa Monica. The Dolphins are 1-0 in the DI Pacific South, having defeated Tempe 50-33 the weekend prior. On Sunday, the Vipers beat Belmont Shore, which has not played a league game yet, 36-12.

“We were able to figure out what they were doing in the first 10-15 minutes, then we just played our game – lot of support. We’re pretty physical anyway but we just kept coming at them,” Shelledy said of difference-makers on the weekend. “But both teams didn’t give up at all.”

Shelledy noted that Santa Monica had taken some injuries to starters during the Dolphins’ league game and Belmont Shore was working in new players.

“They’re still trying to figure out their teams and who can start where and who gels together. It’s the same for all the teams, and it’s fun figuring out where different girls fit in,” the coach added.

Intel wise, the trip was important for the post-season, as SoCal, Rocky Mountain and Red River teams will meet in the western regional championships.

In the near future, Utah will compete in the LVI 7s and then face Tempe in Las Vegas for another SoCal friendly. After the Black Ice and Glendale rematches, the Rocky Mountain teams will name its rep to nationals.

“I think we’ll do really well,” Shelledy looked ahead. “The girls are starting to get everything arranged for the season – games and practices, things like that. We’ve been traveling well – instead of tottering on 18, we took 27 to California. … I’m just really excited to get everybody out and running.”

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