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Grackles Retain State 7s Trophy

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Grackles Retain State 7s Trophy

The Grackles defend their fall 7s title. (Photo courtesy Rugby Oregon)

The Grackles were the favorites heading into the Rugby Oregon girls high school 7s championship last weekend, but the reigning fall and summer 7s champion had played some close games during its undefeated season. To boot, the Grackles’ best player – Sui A’au – was absent for an official visit tot Lindenwood University. If any team was going to end the Grackles’ reign, it was Valley Panthers Black, which had played the Grant-dominated squad to a 28-22 loss during Week 3.

All seven teams competed in the championship, but four went straight to the Cup semifinals. The Grackles eliminated the Crubarians (combination of Columbia County and Lady Barbarians) 24-0 while the Valley Panthers Black defeated the young Highlanders 12-5.

“They’re physical and really fit,” Grackles coach Eric Zimmerman said of the finals’ opponent. “Their coach, Jeremy Moore, focuses on a few basics, and they get low in the rucks and can beat us there sometimes. They’ve got some big girls, but they are a commendable rucking team. They’re also not afraid to tackle.”

Although Zimmerman was confident in his team, there was some concern around the absence of Sui A’au. The high school senior and her older sister, Naomi, were flown to St. Charles, Mo., during the championship.

“Sui is our star player and captain,” Zimmerman said of the power center. “Ever since she was selected to play in Canada [for the High School All Americans], she has taken on a noticeable leadership role.”

Sui’s sisters, twins Tiana and Tiara, stepped up their presence on Saturday. They, too, have higher-level playing experience and are devastating ballcarriers. Junior Rachelle Beaudoin displayed her natural athleticism and flourished during the final tournament.

In the final, the Grackles took a 21-0 lead at half. That left another 10 minutes for the Valley Panthers Black to respond, and they did. The underdogs outscored the Grackles 20-7 in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the eventual victors in a 28-20 decision.

“The standout all day was Elise Abrams,” Zimmerman said. “She’s a sophomore and only started playing 15s last season. We started her on the wing [in 15s], where she didn't get to do much, but she’s really confident now, really fast and making tackles. She’s going to be a big part of my [Grant] backline – maybe at fullback, because she can kick, too.”

2015 marks the third year in which Rugby Oregon has hosted summer and fall 7s seasons for the girls high schools. Prior to the fall 7s series, the state all-star team, the Red Hawks, would play area colleges in 15s. Most memorably, in 2011, the Red Hawks went 9-1 against Pacific Northwest colleges, defeating the likes of Oregon, University of Oregon, Washington, and more. While Zimmerman does miss those all-star 15s days, he knows that developing the 7s program is better for building interest and getting more players out on the pitch.

“If you watch some of the 7s now, they’re getting the concepts, instead of playing 15s with seven kids on the field,” Zimmerman said. “They’re avoiding contact and doing what we’re coaching.”

Additionally, Zimmerman and co-coach Val Burns are very active during these series tournaments, refereeing and coaching.

“We’re out there all day, trying to slot reffing between our matches,” Zimmerman said. “We get a run, coach the kids, push them to learn refereeing. They see us do everything.”

The players' schedules settle down for a few months, although interested parties can attend Saturday high performance clinics for the next two months. The Red Hawks have been regular attendees to the LVI 7s, and that tournament occurs in March next year.