Moving Ahead, Iscaro Looks Back
Moving Ahead, Iscaro Looks Back
Now two-time national single-school champions, Gonzaga can perhaps lay claim certainly lay definitive claim on being the best high school rugby team in the country.
Leading the charge for the squad has been HS All American prop/hooker Jack Iscaro, who moved to the #2 jersey thanks to the emergence of two massive props to hold him steady in the scrum. Iscaro, who qualifies for both the USA and Italy (his father played prop for Italy), will be attending Cal next year, and is a major prospect in rugby in this country, but as Gonzaga has wrapped up their season, he can afford a little time looking back.
“We definitely play a lot of our games at Gonzaga, and a lot of tough, competitive games,” Iscaro said. “That’s what we wanted. We wanted to challenge ourselves, and we kind of wanted to make a point. That’s what we’ve learned from going overseas. I’ve traveled with the HS All Americans and with Gonzaga, and it’s incomparable to what you get in the States. It’s very enriching. You learn things you’d never learn as a player.”
Gonzaga toured South America this spring, losing to Catolica, a rep team out of Santiago, 25-19, and beating three other opponents. That followed on Iscaro’s multiple trips with the HS All Americans, and multiple hard games with Gonzaga that, usually, ended up as victories.
Over the past four years, Iscaro, along with seniors Jack Carroll and Nick Skalka, won 59 games, tied one, and lost four. Those four losses were to Catolica, the Uruguay under-17 team, Capitolina, the top school team in Italy, and Jesuit in the 2013 national final.
“We learned a lot playing those teams - seeing what they focus on,” said Iscaro. “A lot of the South American countries have great scrummaging and they really emphasize the tackle contest. With the HS All Americans we always experience something and bring it back to the camps and work on that. Both kinds of tours are priceless as a learning experience.”
And it set Gonzaga up nicely for a run to the 2015 championship. Iscaro said the tournament was a punishing experience.
“The teams are all really great,” he said. “St. Thomas Aquinas gave us a great game in a great atmosphere. Then we played Herriman and we knew we were in for a battle. In the past, the semifinal hasn’t been so hard, but this year it was a dog fight. Having played with and against a lot of those kids from Herriman, we knew they’d be tough. They pushed us until the last second. I don’t want to say we escaped, but they really pushed us.”
So on to the final, which wasn’t the most thrilling game, but was impressive in the physical battle it became.
“We’re good friends with the guys from Jesuit,” said Iscaro. “It was not the prettiest game. It felt like an international. It was so competitive and so tough to get anything against them. If you didn’t bring everything you had in every tackle contest you were going to be beaten. They’d done their research, but we did well. We had Daniel Callahan and Patrick Sheehy at scrumhalf and flyhalf, and we’d lost Jimmy Ronan and Ben Cima last year and they stepped up and executed well.”
Rahshan Jones was instrumental in Gonzaga’s title run, and Iscaro praised the center for his speed and running.
“We needed him to get the ball quickly through the hands to the wig, and he did that,” said Iscaro. “And he took on tacklers and was constantly beating his opposite number.”
But is all started up front, with Iscaro, Dante Lopresti, an Carroll the front row of doom.
“We had like 800 pounds in that front row. It was an incredible thing,” said Iscaro. “Last year we toyed with the idea of moving me to hooker, and we looked at the Argentinean scrums of the past and we figured a huge push from the guys would let me get a better strike of the ball. It worked. We never really went up against a front row that was able to handle the strength we had.”
Iscaro will join the Cal Bears in the fall, and said his choice was based partly on getting an excellent education, and partly on rugby.
“I will get a great education, and I know I won’t start as a freshman, but you go to another program and you’re starting in your first year, and then what? I want to be fighting for playing time. Coming from a school like Gonzaga, you need to shoot for a starting spot. I expect it will be tough, but I also won’t settle for a reserve role. I will welcome the competition.”