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Champions Jesuit

Wednesday May 20, 2009 in Grassroots Rugby High School

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(Brad Davis photos http://bdavisphoto.net)

May 20, 2009 – It looked easy, but it was anything but.

Jesuit High School won the national boys high school championship with scores that made it look fairly straightforward, dispatching Charlotte Catholic, Xavier and Christian Brothers by a combined score of 96-5.

“That is by far the best we’ve ever done,” said coach John Shorey. “But it took a lot to get us there. At one point we weren’t even sure we’d make it to the tournament.”

The defending national champs had it all planned out – fly out Wednesday night and use all of Thursday to acclimate and prepare. But Wednesday night their plane broke down. After a long, long wait they had to take a different flight, and ended up flying into Boston before doubling back to Pittsburgh. They ended up arriving 24 hours later than planned, losing a full day of preparation.

Rainy night in Pittsburgh. Above, Jesuit forwards graple with Christian Brothers. Below, Christian Brothers try to get something started. Brad Davis photos.

(Things didn’t go so well for Christian Brothers, either. Also flying out of Sacramento, they were diverted to Las Vegas, had a seven-hour layover, and then on to Boston and the Steel City.)

That all made the coaching staff very nervous, and while they expected to take care of business against Charlotte Catholic, the anticipated semifinal against Xavier would be a problem.

“They had come to our field earlier and beaten us, so yes we were concerned,” said Shorey. “But we have never lost to the same twice in one year, and we were determined to avoid that this time.”

Jesuit had made some adjustments since that loss in April. They had ramped up their kicking game, working long hours to map out precisely how to manage it. They had moved Brandon Kraft from center to flyhalf, and the move had proved masterful as Kraft won MVP honors (with flanker Jason Fry close behind).

“In shortened games you have so few scoring opportunities, you know first of all if you can get a try, convert it, and get a penalty, you’re probably going to win at that stage,” said Shorey. “We felt our best chance was to kick for territory, exert pressure, and force mistakes or penalties. We spent a lot of time on that, not just kicking but working on staying onside, and chasing effectively. We didn’t want players to just chase the ball – go to where you need to be so we can handle the counter or the kick.”

Openside flanker Fry was a crucial element to this. Overall the tactic worked well, and kept Xavier pinned in their own end – the New York team managed one try in the 27-5 loss.

Shorey gave much credit to center Auria Torshizi, who shut down Xavier’s potent midfield attack.

“Their centers are the best we’ve seen and we were very happy with how our guys handled them,” said Shorey. “We were very, very concerned about Xavier, so to see the guys execute the way they did was gratifying.”

So on to the final against Christian Brothers, their crosstown neighbors. Expected to fall off after an excellent season last year, Christian Brothers had an even better season despite graduating a large number of seniors.

“They are a super team, and we look at our [Sacramento Valley] conference and we know our top two can play with anyone,” said Shorey.

Jesuit shut them out 19-0.

Jesuit has won national titles before. Back when single-school teams played U19 clubs in the same competition, they even beat vaunted Highland.

“Winning in 2006 was special,” said Shorey. “And 1999 was just a shocker, nobody expected that. But this was very gratifying, the way the guys put it all together.”

- Alex Goff © www.erugbynews.com

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