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Warrior girls reach national rugby finals

Fallbrook High School’s girls rugby team reached the finals of USA Rugby’s Under-19 National Invitational Tournament.

The Warriors beat six-time defending national champion Divine Savior Holy Angels (DSHA) of Wisconsin in the semifinals May 22 before falling to the Amazons team of Sacramento in the May 23 finals. Fallbrook had upset Amazons to win the state championship on May 15.

The Warriors played three matches in two days during the national tournament in Sandy, Utah. Their first game was a 74-0 victory May 22 against Utah’s Lowland team, which like Fallbrook was in the national tournament for the first time. “It was a good game for us to start the competition,” said Fallbrook assistant coach Craig Pinnell. “We used it as a warmup game.”

Four hours later Fallbrook matched up against Divine Savior Holy Angels. “That turned out to be our big game of the weekend,” Pinnell said. “That was a huge game for us.”

Fallbrook advanced to the finals with an 8-5 victory over DSHA. “We went into that game knowing that we had to do everything and give everything that we had,” Pinnell said.

Ellen Grantham scored a try to give Fallbrook a 5-0 lead, and although the conversion was unsuccessful the Warriors maintained that 5-0 lead through halftime. In the second half Lauren Bell’s penalty kick gave the Warriors an 8-0 margin, and although DHSA was able to score a try their conversion attempt failed.

“Everybody was expecting them to just keep moving on,” Pinnell said of DSHA.

“That was a beautiful game to watch,” Pinnell said. “We had some really standout players in that game.”

Pinnell cited lineout jumper Megan Pinson as one of the standouts. “I think she stole about every single lineout,” Pinnell said. “She disrupted their lineout totally.”

Katie Speck also contributed to Fallbrook’s success. “She stole nearly every one of their balls in the scrum,” Pinnell said.

“Our back line play was very good,” Pinnell said. “It was overall a very good team game. Everyone played really well together.”

The back line includes fullback Jamie Garcia. “She loves to attack from the back,” Pinnell said.

Center Tara Burke also contributed. “She can read the game pretty well. She can be in the right place at the right time,” Pinnell said.

Bell is a vice-captain of the team. “She’s basically the general in the back line,” Pinnell said.

Captain Sammy Pinson plays the #8 position for Fallbrook. “She can make very good decisions on the field as to what’s going to happen next,” Pinnell said.

Fallbrook’s 13-10 win over the Amazons for the girls under-19 state championship gave the two teams experience against each other for the following weekend’s matchup. “We knew what they were about,” Pinnell said.

Amazons also learned something about Fallbrook in the previous match. “The second time around you know your opposition. It gets a lot tougher,” Pinnell said.

Pinnell knew about the physical-oriented play of Amazons. “They’re a big team,” he said. “That’s basically the type of game they play.”

The championship game was played in Rio Tinto Stadium, which is the home field of Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake. “That in itself was really exciting,” Pinnell said.

Amazons led Fallbrook 12-10 at halftime. “We were looking good. We were on our way,” Pinnell said.

Bell’s penalty kick in the ninth minute opened Fallbrook’s scoring. Victoria Gonzalez scored the Warriors’ try near the end of the first half, and Bell’s conversion attempt was successful for an additional two points. Amazons had two tries during the first half, one of which had a successful conversion.

Amazons made adjustments after halftime and won the championship with a 32-10 victory.

The all-California final was not lost on Pinnell. “It looks like rugby’s shifting to California,” he said. “That’s really nice for rugby in this area.”

While boys rugby has a high school league in California, girls rugby has no high school division and the Fallbrook High School girls play under-19 club competition. “All our girls come from Fallbrook High School, so we could beat a high school club if that division ever opened up,” Pinnell said. “That was beautiful to have a team like that where everybody goes to the same school.”

The fact that all of the players are affiliated with Fallbrook High School also familiarizes the rest of the school with the rugby team. “Everybody now knows what rugby is,” Pinnell said. “At the school it’s really putting rugby on the map.”

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