Belmont Shore Varsity & me – a crazy few months.
There is a genuine feeling of excitement here as new High School rugby programs continue to sprout up, all over the country. Rugby is on the cusp of a significant breakthrough in the United States. Rugby players are becoming exposed to the sport at a much earlier age than before. To be part of this is incredibly exciting.
Before I started coaching the Belmont Shore Varsity and Junior Varsity sides at Wilson High School I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly never imagined that in the first year of their existence as a new high school rugby program, that we would go on to win the Championship!
The team was a mix of young players with a few years experience of the game and understanding of the basics and a group of keen but completely novice boys looking for a new challenge. Out of a squad of about 40 players, we only had 5 seniors. The majority of our players are sophomores and juniors. An exciting adventure lay in store!
Throughout our practice sessions the players always gave me their undivided attention. We developed a system and style of play which everyone bought into. We developed and built on our system as we became more familiar with our tactics. One of the areas we focused on closely, was the set piece. Scrums and lineouts are technical areas for forwards. It is imperative that forwards do not think of set pieces as a time to catch your breath and relax. Possession of the ball is key to winning rugby matches and restarts of play always start with a set piece. It is vital that every forward ensures that he executes his individual task within the set piece. Forwards must always be switched on at scrums, lineouts and kick offs.
In most of our games we were the smaller team, as we were the younger side. This makes the players’ achievement all the more noticeable and commendable. Our squad demonstrated gritty resolve and determination when physically outmatched. Heart won out when all sense said they be physically outmuscled.
As I look back on emails to friends about the journey I can see the progress made both teams.
“These boys are getting better every week. Incredible stuff!”
“My Junior Varsity XV are very impressive as most of them have barely played rugby before and are yet to be beaten! Amazing stuff.”“This is the first year of the rugby programme and we have the 2 teams in the SoCal semi finals! Brilliant!”
Belmont Varsity won their semi-final but the Junior Varsity side lost in overtime, by only a single score. Sport can be cruel. The players showed incredible character and I fully expect them to be back next year, with the finals in their sights.
So eight weeks work came down to one game. Belmont Shore v Cathedral in San Diego.
Champs!!! I am thrilled! Couldn’t be happier. Taking tomorrow totally off!!!!
Coaching Belmont Shore
As Head Coach, I had the great fortune of not only working with a fantastic bunch of kids but also of inheriting a very talented squad of rugby players.
I had no idea how the eight weeks of working with the team would affect me personally as we worked towards the title. Having enjoyed success at the highest level I didn’t think I could take such pride in the achievements of others when not on the field of play myself. Watching them learn the game, bond as a team and perform week in, week out was a revelation to me. It was a wonderful learning experience for me and I am thriving as a rugby coach. Since coming to California and immersing myself with US rugby, I have rediscovered my own love for the sport. This is grassroots rugby and it is simply fantastic.
Belmont Shore goes All American
As a result of the team’s success, I am delighted to say that Wilson High School/Belmont Shore Varsity has four players selected for the All American High School Team. Not since Sacramento Jesuit in 2004 have so many players from one team being selected to represent their country. A fantastic achievement for a rugby program that did not exist 7 months ago.
The players selected for the USA Rugby All American High School team are:
Bruce Yun – Tight Head Prop
Reed Heynen – Lock
Aisea Tongilava – Centre/Wing
Jeremy Lutali – Wing
Congratulations to these players and I wish them and the All American High School Team a very successful tour to England in April.
I recently discovered some of the difficult parts of bring a coach. It is never easy to tell a player that they did not make a squad that they really hoped to be included in. Two more of our team members were very close to making the All American High School Team but it was not to be on this occasion.
John Marti – No. 8
Hayden Sooter – Centre
These players along with others who are continuing their rugby education with Belmont Shore Under 16s and Under 19s will undoubtedly get another chance. All players get disappointments like this. I certainly did, on numerous time as a player. It is simply part of sport. The only way you can deal with a disappointment like this in sport is to use it as an incentive to educate yourself more in all aspects of play. Disappointment has got to be a driving force for success. Players must train so hard and be so dedicated that they put themselves into a position where the coach has no choice but to pick them the next time.
Everyone gets dispointments, but it is the ability to deal with disappointment as a sports person that can set you apart. Use disappointment as fuel to better yourself as a rugby player. It is the only way.
Thank you to Belmont Shore off field support
Finally, I would like to say a huge thank you to Coach Allan Law, Coach Ray Egan, Coach Andy Ward, Coach Jim Heynen, Billy Lopez and all the parents of the players. Without you the team simply could not have functioned. By taking care of all aspects of the team, you made my life very easy by allowing me to focus on coaching. You are as much a part of this rugby team as your sons. I am very grateful to everyone for all your hard work throughout the season.
And of course Eilidh for all your online help.
Last but certainly not least, I would like to say a personal thank you to Jessica for all your constant support and for dealing with my moods!
Wilson High School/Belmont Shore Varsity & Junior Varsity Squad 2012
I am lucky to have been part of such a great experience and I hope the Belmont Shore boys know the impact they had on me.
That doesn’t mean I’ll let them off with anything in training next year!
Gavin Hickie, The LineoutCoach, is a former Ireland, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now based in California and taking rugby to the USA. He writes for RugbyMag.com and other publications when not coaching for Belmont Shore and blogging on lineoutcoach.com