Thoughts on Boys HS National Championiships
Thoughts on Boys HS National Championiships
Goff Rugby Report Opinion/Analysis—Here are a few thoughts from the Boys HS Rugby National Championships.
In no particular order:
The Moose Rugby Grounds is one of the most beautiful rugby facilities in the USA. The underlying solid is not sandy, which means it stays relatively soft even in dry conditions, but it drains (or holds water) sufficiently so heavy rains don't pool there. This was in evidence over the weekend as much of the month before in Indiana had been wet, and the day this writer drove to Elkhart, which was the Wednesday before games began on Thursday, the trip was made in a solid wall of rain. That told me that the rain had already passed over Elkhart.
Despite this, the fields were in excellent shape and stayed that way. The players loved the 70-meter-wide fields and the lush grass. It meant fewer scrapes and pitch-related injuries, and it made for some exciting rugby.
Should the Moose Rugby Grounds host the National Championships every year? We actually think they should, but not everyone does, and we're not even sure the venues grand jefe, Bart Bottorff, thinks that. But USA Youth & HS President David Pool was very impressed because the venue has the fields, the space, the place for teams to rest up, and the town has a lot of hotel rooms that are inexpensive. (Elkhart is right on I-90 and an overflow town for fans of Notre Dame Football, and so there are a lot of hotel rooms.)
Yes, the venue does require a bit of a drive from Chicago or Indianapolis airports. For some that makes it a bit tough to get to. However, most venues are far from an airport (Salt Lake City's RAC is not—it's very close).
The competitive balance of the games was pretty impressive. Of the 36 games played, 14 were decided by a try or less, and 10 more were decided by two tries or less. So two-thirds of the games were close or very close. The seeding, of which this writer is part of the committee, was pretty spot-on. The first-round games you'd expect to be closest: #6 vs #6 and #4 vs #5, in the School and Club brackets produced scores of 26-22, 19-17, 17-12, and 36-19.
Of the big winning margins (three tries or more), there were only 11, three of which were in the first round of Tier II, four of which were won by St. Ignatius or Gonzaga.
Goalkicking was much on the minds of teams, especially after the SOC Raptors passed on a kick at goal that could have tied the game (or possibly won it—there remains some discussion about the final score, 20-17 or 18-17). That was a lesson for the Raptors, one they took to heart as they kicked three goals in their next game to ensure they kept their lead. Other teams were smart about going for goal and you got the impression that several of them had taken Day One's events as a reminder.
So it was that Thunder won their Tier II semi on a late penalty goal from Solomon Williams. Penn won their Tier II semi on a clutch (and very difficult) conversion to force overtime and then a clutch penalty in OT, both from Saeed Kiruu. So it was that Granite Bay iced their semifinal with a penalty goal that turned a 14-7 game into a 17-7 score that required San Diego to score twice. So it was that Staples won 7th thanks to a kick at goal, and St. Ignatius nailed down their school championship thanks to three Bobby Voth penalties.
Play of the tournament? We asked St. Ignatius players about that and they noted the late scrum against the head that game them the ball with the score 20-14. The Wildcats then moved down the field, got a penalty and made it a two-score game. That may well be it, although John Reddy's airborne catch of a restart that led to a penalty goal is another big one, or maybe Tim Putka's Charge of the Light Brigade up the middle when St. Ignatius couldn't kick into the wind might work.
Had Gonzaga won, perhaps it would have been Joey Ries's desperate cover tackle of Isaac Gingerich and then forcing a holding-on penalty to save a sure try.
Or maybe it was Aki Pulu's tap penalty where he beat four guys to score the game-winner over Woodlands. Or Belmont Shore's game-winner over Aspetuck. There were a lot of candidates.
Missed it this year? Check back with GRR on how to apply around December. We'll have details then. Or you can always check this link for the HS Nationals landing page>