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Utah Lions Roar at Rocky Mountain Challenge

HS Boys

Utah Lions Roar at Rocky Mountain Challenge

Utah is known throughout the USA as a breeding ground for talented young rugby players, so it’s no surprise that their high school all-star team won the Rocky Mountain Challenge, but maybe it is a surprise, given the strong programs in Aurora, Colo., that they swept both the Varsity and JV divisions.

The varsity victory is noteworthy in part because the Lions were just coming off winning the Boys HS Rugby Challenge 7s in Philadelphia,  and there was precious little doubling up in the lineups. Haloti Liava’a, who coached the 15s team, still had a powerful squad for Colorado.

“We had a couple of goals for the weekend,” said Liava’a. “Number one was to give the kids exposure to a higher level of player, and by doing that exposing the players to the national team coaches. Number two was to win the thing.”

A balanced squad with a solid group of forwards and speedy backs, Utah expected to overwhelm up front with their strength. But then they faced some of the other teams. 

“I thought we were big until I saw Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. We looked small compared to them. Nebraska was really tough.”

After beating Colorado convincingly, Utah had to wait to face Nebraska because of lightning. 

“We accepted it,” said Liava’a. “You can’t control the weather. It was a really well-run tournament and everyone had to deal with the weather. I think, though, our guys were just itching to play.”

Nebraska was very tough and tested Utah in a game that ended up 19-12 for the Lions.

Next up was another tough team, Heart of America. In a game that came down to defense and who might make the biggest mistake, Utah won 17-8.

Leading the way for the Lions in the pack were Jesse Cowden,  Jesse Afuvai,  and Tyler Ringwood. In the backs, the halfback combination of Jake Kartchner, Matt Miner was key, with center Dominik Toluono also playing well. Fullback Jack Carlstom was perfect in his goalkicking.

“I am proud of the guys,” said Liava’a. “They really wanted to compete and we even had to rein them in a little. It was tough, but they did well.”

One interesting aspect of the Utah team was that two of them, Afuvai and Riley Rohloff, have seven years’ experience in rugby. That number will only grow as the JV program continues to perform. Utah won the JV bracket as well, beating Colorado 33-10 in the final.

Coach Kama Muti said it was the perfect venue for his young kids, who thrived by being able to stay within their age group (mostly freshmen and sophomores) and still compete at a high level.

The big weapons for the Lions JVs were flyhalf Kelsin Pupunu and center D’Arman Notoa. Lupunu saw the field very well and continually found spots to put Notoa into space. There, the center did the rest, combining speed, power, and shiftiness to score several tries. The team was captained by Charlie Baggett.

“Overall our forwards were very solid and we did really well in the line outs,” said Muti. “The guys showed a lot of potential and we’ve got a whole program set up now so they can move up and keep playing.”
 

Utah Varsity Squad

 

First Name

Last Name

Connor

Whalen

Brandon

Jensen

Tyler

Everett

Matthew

Miner

Briant

Razo

Osaiasi

Tuifua

Tosh

Wilcox

Jesse

Cowden

Elliot

McDaniel

Riley

Rohloff

Jesse

Afuvai

Chaz

Gray

Dominik

Toluono

Jeff

Payne

Jake

Kartchner

Evan

Wilson

Jaden

Rugg

John

Halaeua

Dawson

Ruegger

Marquez

Randell

Jonathan 

Moore

Jack

Carlstrom

Albert

Toa

Tyler

Ringwood

 

 

 

Utah JV Squad

 

First Name

Last Name

Samuel

Nathan

Ian

Abbott

Keagan

Barnes

Jordan

Larson

Amanaki

Lavaka

Luke

Buttars

Mason

Wooden

Cole

MacKay

Tyson

Astle

Nainoa

Isaacs

Charlie

Baggett IV

Taylor

Litson

Maxs 

Tupai

Kelsin

Pupunu

Ahmad 

McDaniel

Terrell

Levy

Terrence

Levy

Stone

Criddle

Eli

Williams

Bo

Johnson

D'Arman

Notoa

Cory

Swapp