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Penn Impresses in Victory(s)

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Penn Impresses in Victory(s)

Inoke Moala (in support) was a powerful presence for Penn. All photos courtesy Lindenwood Rugby.

Perhaps the most impressive element of the Lindenwood HS tournament wasn’t Penn HS winning the Elite Division, but Penn’s JV team winning the Super 12 Division, shutting out three opponents and beating a team’s top side (Jefferson City) in the final.

Top to bottom: Will Vacalahi in space. Moala leaving a trail of tacklers behind him. KC Jr. Blues showed some skill, especially at halfback (two pics). Penn HS celebrates.
Will Vacalahi Penn HS
Naki Moali Penn HS
KC Jr Blues
KC Jr Blues
Penn HS Wins Lindenwood Tournament

Penn certainly showed why Goff Rugby Report has them ranked #2 among single-school teams, as their depth is impressive. Their JV squad was almost entirely sophomores and freshmen, with six freshmen on the roster for the weekend, and three of them playing every minute of every game.

Head Coach Bart Bottorff chalks up the JV team’s success to the work of former Penn HS standout Chris Shelley, who played for the USA U19s in 2002 before entering into a career in the military, has “done a fabulous job,” said Bottorff, in getting the younger players ready.

Several of those players put their hands up to challenge for a spot on the 1st team, but they have competition. The Penn varsity squad went 3-0, beating Eureka 46-5, St. Thomas Aquinas 17-3, and the Kansas City Junior Blues 20-12 in the final. They won despite a series of dropped balls against Aquinas - the product, perhaps, of trying to play too much rugby in cold, wet conditions in St.Charles. 

Leading the way was No. 8 Inoke Moala, who was just a powerhouse runner and all kinds of problems for defenses. 

“He dominated,” said HS All American Head Coach Salty Thompson, who was in attendance. 

At center, Cedric Vakalahi was the cornerstone of the defense.

These two, along with Cedric’s brother, William, who played fullback, are an interesting addition to the Penn program. Normally a team of big, powerful players, Penn has benefited from the arrival of two Polynesian families to the Mishawaka, Ind. area. Those families played rugby and wanted their kids to play, too. They have added a little flare to the Penn attack.

But it’s not all them. Flanker Jack White is a rangy loose forward who is effective in the lineout, and Satch Carmine a powerful man in the second row. Hooker Zach Biggs threw accurately and consistently despite snow and ice on his fingers.

The younger players, such as Will Vakalahi, who qualifies as an U15 player, and Gabe Yeoman at hooker, weren’t too bad, either.

It wasn’t all Penn. The Jr. Blues were impressive in their own right, and pushed Penn in the final. They buckled down and did the job and weren’t about to back down against anyone. Brownsburg showed a lot of desire to run the ball even when the conditions said keep it tight or kick. And they didn’t seem affected by the cold at all.

But in the end, it was Penn’s weekend, twice over, and perhaps a warning to other teams around the nation.