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Highland, Herriman To Face Off for Utah School Title

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Highland, Herriman To Face Off for Utah School Title

Herriman hasn't lost yet, but will have a tough time vs Highland. Andrea Syddall photo.

Highland and Herriman are set up for the Utah Youth Rugby school final, and it's an interesting rivalry.

Highland, many will remember, dominated high school rugby for almost 30 years as a HS Club. That designation, as a U19 or HS Club team, Highland drew players from all over the Salt Lake City region. Highland won the National Championships (back when clubs and school teams mixed) in 1983, again in 1986, and in the 18 years from 1988 to 2005 they won it all 15 times (!). Overall, from 1983 to 2011 Highland won 21 out of 29 national championships, including four out of five HS Club championships when after the competition was split in 2008.

Boys HS Historical US Champions

But after longtime Head Coach Larry Gelwix left the program to run an LDS Mission in California, the program split up. After a couple of shaky years, the upshot was a boon to high school rugby in Utah. Herriman, East HS, West Valley, and Olympus all came out of the Highland diaspora. Herriman's school district split, with Mountain Ridge now active. Highland has reemerged as a strong presence, but as a school team. (There's a lesson in there somewhere about how large clubs can further growth.)

And now Highland faces Herriman, coached by former Highland players, in the state school final.

"I am feeling good about our chances," said Highland Head Coach Dan Berg, who has a young, athletic Highland team that tested Herriman in their last meeting. "We need to clean up a few mistakes and adjust our strategy vs Herriman."

Last week in their win over Olympus Highland got a big game from prop Taine Vea and No. 8 Justin Rhaihauti. In the backs they have plenty of talent with outside center Viliami Esikia a major threat. In the semifinal last week they did get a red card to center Peizge Mailei, and it is being appealed as if it stands he would not be able to play.

Utah Youth Rugby Enters Playoffs

Earlier this season, after losing to Herriman, Berg said "I believe we can beat them. Our starting 15 has chanced a bit since we played them ... our first 15 can compete with anyone."

"We feel good," added Herriman DOR Jeff Wilson. "Highland is a very talented team that has put together some very nice results since we saw them earlier in the year, so we know that we will have to be prepared for a tough game. But we feel like we are hitting our stride and starting to peak at the right time. Our challenge has been to play more complete games—last time we played them we played a good first half and a poor second half."

But last week in a win over Mountain Ridge they put together two pretty consistent halves. 

"We have some players back from injury that were not able to play them the first go-around," said Wilson, "so we like where we are at currently and bring a bit more depth to the table as well.  But you always need to be wary of the combination of talent and momentum that Highland has going into this game as well. They've looked really good, so we have to make sure that our boys are dialed in."