The USA Rugby West Regional Club playoffs finished up in Austin, TX with the worst weather, thankfully, holding off, and five teams advancing to a national final June 1-2.
Five teams from the host city were hoping to make it to the finals June 1-2 in Obetz, OH, a tall order, but Austin did in fact see three teams make it all the way through a grueling weekend.
Here's how it all shook out:
Men D1: Austin Blacks
The Austin Blacks put a stranglehold on the Life West attack. The Blacks forwards, led by capped Eagle Chis Baumann.
Baumann was the king of the scrum in the game, facing penalties and putting the Gladiators under pressure all day. It seemed as if he had made that his mission, and it paid off for the Blacks. With the entire Austin pack a little quicker to the breakdown, especially late in the game, the backs—Jock Merriman leading the way—had some room to move and showed they can play a little champagne rugby, too.
The game was close almost until halftime. Austin almost scored an early try when center Levi Kereti burst onto a short ball from Jock Merriman and broke through. Life West survived that only to see wing Arturo Reyes charge in from 50 meters on basically the same play.
Life West’s decision to come up really fast on defense was backfiring.
The Gladiators adjusted, and with Merriman off with a yellow card No. 8 Siupeli Sakalia scored on an eighteen pick that was essentially a shove-over try.
That tied the game at 7-7, and leading into halftime it seemed that’s how it might all end.
But with time winding down in the first half, prop Rohhan Rebib charged through a tackle and was free and clear. He fed Reyes, who was tackled but somehow managed to offload to No. 8 Hayden Johnson, who was in under the posts.
It was a pretty try to watch, and then on the stroke of halftime Austin stuck the knife in—Merriman easily taking a cap that had been created by the work of the forwards in the breakdown.
Up 19-7 Austin wasn’t in control yet. Life West wing Tim Stanfill caught the second-half restart and went 80 meters virtually untouched, making it 19-14.
And the teams traded tries after that. Merriman was over for his second, and Sakalia got his boule to make it 24-21 with 20 minutes to go.
A close game, but Austin took control. For most of the remainder of the match the game was played in and around the Life West 22. Even when Life West got a lineout, the Gladiators’ failure to execute in that part of the game put them under pressure once again. Reyes appeared to score a try that would have sealed the game, but that was brought back for a forward pass. Finally Life West had one more period off sustained possession, but couldn’t break the Austin defense. Lock Tyler Terrazone was a force in the closing quarter for the Blacks.
Armstrong added a difficult, long-range penalty to make it a six-point game at 27-21, and the Austin defense finished it off.
So on to the Men’s D1 Club final for the Austin Blacks, and disappointment for Life West. But there were other playoff brackets to figure out, too.
Women D1: Austin Valkyries
The Austin Valkyries surged in the second half to beat HARC in the national quarterfinal. Sierra Jenkins scored two early tries and finished with three to book a spot in the semifinal on Sunday.
The Glendale Merlins also won fairly comfortably, going out to a 19-0 halftime lead and cruising 38-12 over Belmont Shore. Scrumhalf Jessica Dombrowksi had a big game, scoring the first two Merlins tries, and the last one. The midfield of Hannah Tennant (flyhalf), Emily Rodin, and Dani Ordway (both centers) were very effective. Tennant and Ordway were college teammates at Davenport and have picked up in Colorado where they left off in Michigan.
After Day 2 of the East and West Championships, the National Championship matchups are set. With the form these teams are in the National Championships can’t come soon enough! pic.twitter.com/SKuut7y7co— USA Club Rugby (@usaclubrugby) May 19, 2019
The national semifinal was a classic, as both teams were evenly-matched and wanted to play entertaining rugby. Austin was led by No. 8 Geraldine Thomas, who seemed to always be in the middle of the action setting up her teammates. The diminutive Dombrowski was the heart and soul of Glendale, with flanker Katelyn Houston right there with her.
Glendale struck first with a sustained period of pressure that ended with an inside pass from a forward back to Dombrowski, who was over for the 5-0 lead.
Austin replied immediately. Glendale muffed the restart and from the scrum, Thomas started a back row move that resulted in flanker Caitlin Reedy galloping over. Jordan Yanostra’s conversion nudged Austin ahead 10-7.
Midway through the first half, Glendale surged into the Austin 22 and after a series of phases, prop Valerie Romine stretched over to make it 12-7 Glendale.
Once again Austin replied quickly. Thomas linked up with wing Brenda Ramirez, who made meters before getting tackles. Thomas was there to rescue the ball and dish out of contact to center Karla Navarrete for a superb try and a 14-12 lead.
Less than a minute into the second half, Austin went down a player as they received a yellow card for a high tackle—it was a somewhat amusing moment as the referee sent off the wrong player, realized his mistake, and had to bring that player back on before sending off the correct culprit.
Glendale scored right after, with Tennant setting up wing Courtney Jessamy out wide.
And Glendale added to that lead when consistent pressure resulted in a penalty neat the Austin line. Tennant tapped quickly, was stopped, and fed Dombrowski who finished it off.
Up 22-14, Glendale seemed in control but it wasn’t to be. As with the men’s D1 game, the local team finished the strong.
Yanostra scored after a smart kick-through and chase. Strong passing set up Ramirez for a score in the corner—Thomas, of course, making the final pass. Ramirez howled in triumph.
Now up 24-22, Austin iced it with a try from Navarrete, and the Valkyries were through.
It was the work of that back row, led by Thomas, that did it. With more pace and more engine in those loose forwards, Austin was able to sustain its back play and share the energy load to win 29-22.
Men D2: Olympic Club
The Austin Blacks’ quest for a championship in three separate divisions died on the vine in D2, as the Wichita Barbarians got two tries from wing Louis Montoulieu, and one each from Timothy Absiez and Josh West, while center Dustin Fross added nine points with the boot for a 29-19 victory.
That set up a semifinal with Olympic Club, which beat the San Diego Old Aztecs 28-15. Tries from prop Stephen Salimi, scrumhalf James Stokes, and wing Paul Sacchomanno, with Todd Grant adding a conversion and a penalty, set up Olympic Club for a 20-0 lead, and they held on 28-15.
In the semi, Wichita ran out to a 12-0 lead, and the first half was back-and-forth as O-Club stormed back, only to see the Barbarians tie it up 29-29.
The second half, however, was all O-Club, with Mark Bowers and Josh Tucker leading a dominated second 40. Olympic Club won 74-29. Travis Moscone scored two crucial first-half tries, and Salimi was once again in the middle of it all.
Women D2: Sacramento Amazons
The Sacramento Amazons scored 144 points in two games to advance. Fullback Kristin Shum scored four tries in an 80-12 defeat of Las Vegas. Center Lindsay Palepale scored 30 points. Against the St. Louis Sabres, the ‘Zons were just as terrifying. Lock Heather Snyder scored two as Sacramento ran out to a 43-14 halftime lead. Fresh legs didn’t help for the Sabres as the Amazons cruised 64-24.
Men D3: Austin Blacks
The Austin Blacks will be able to play for two championships, as the club’s D3 team defeated Queen City and Kern County to make the June final.
Center Edrique Visser ran in three tries as the Blacks dispatched a tough Queen City team 48-15.
Visser was on the scoresheet against Kern County as well, as well former USA 7s star Justin Boyd, and the back row of Myles Hernandez, Dennis Walker, and Alex Adams.