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Panthers Eager for Oregon Playoffs

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Panthers Eager for Oregon Playoffs

Valley Panthers play the Lady Barbarians in one state semifinal. (Photo courtesy Rugby Oregon)

The girls high school Oregon state semifinals get underway this weekend, and if the tension of the spring season carries over to the playoffs, then expect some thrilling games this Saturday. The team to beat is Grant, the reigning 15s champion and undefeated in Rugby Oregon this spring. But the Generals have played some close games, most notably against the Valley Panthers and Lady Barbarians. The latter is the 2014 runner-up, but this top-four post-season is new ground for the Panthers.

Three seasons ago, then-active parent Jeremy Moore took the 200 level coaching course at the behest of the former Valley Panthers head coach. Moore had no previous rugby experience  playing or coaching  and two months into his first season, the head coach quit. Moore was faced with a team in the penultimate place in the standings, and yet, his leadership helped the Panthers to a Plate runner-up finish in 2014.

“They’re playing more rugby than they ever have,” Moore explained the turn-around. “They’ve played in two fall 7s seasons, and we’re planning on our first summer 7s team. The team as a whole has come together, too, and seniors and juniors are passing down their knowledge to the freshmen. That’s big for me because I don’t have to teach them as much, and they’re progressing a lot faster.”

The Valley Panthers have good athletes as well. Seven players boast more than three years of experience, and junior scrumhalf Samantha Barker is chief among them. She’s a two-year Red Hawks veteran – hoping for three-year – and is a major team leader. She directs a backline infused with basketball crossovers, all of whom have great ball-handling and quick decision-making skills. Inside center Heather Bissonette is the most versatile of them all, and excels in any position in which the team needs. In the forwards, watch for senior Genesis Vilorio, who leads the pack from loosehead prop.

“We have a little bit of size, but nothing like what’s around us,” Moore explained the team’s playing style. “So we try to play fast hands and quick rucks, so we don’t have to exert that energy [in the breakdown]. We’re quick on the ball, and it’s worked well this season. During the past few weeks, we’ve introduced some new techniques and it’s helped us defensively, preventing those high scores [against].”

The Valley Panthers went 8-2 in the regular season, and learned valuable lessons in their 28-21 loss to the Lady Barbarians (Saturday’s opponent), and 43-31 defeat to Grant.

“Against the Barbarians, the weather beat us,” Moore said. “It’s always raining when we play them, and they were better in the rain. We were beating them in the scrums, but they were getting us in the rucks. … I like Greg [Tracy] and their team; we coach a similar style. It’s going to be a good match.”

Moore is not looking past the Lady Barbarians, but the Valley Panthers want another shot at Grant. Last year, the league-leader dismantled Moore’s team, but the Panthers stayed within one try during a 35-minute pre-season game in 2015 and felt good about their progress. On April 18, the pair met in the regular season match and entered halftime tied.

“We even held the lead for a little,” Moore said. “To be able to do that against Grant – which has been undefeated for two years running [in Oregon] – boosted our confidence level. But after halftime, they came out furious and ran up three tries on us, and we couldn’t get it back. You can’t let them get that far ahead.”

Grant kept its undefeated record intact; however, the Panthers posted the most points-against them than any other team in the league. The team is entering this weekend with its full squad and hoping to rectify one of its season losses this Saturday. Stay tuned for the Lady Barbarians preview.