ST. GEORGE – While some people love watching March Madness this time of year, rugby players are busy creating some of their own madness at the moment as they run around the pitch dodging, tackling, scoring and making lifelong friends along the way.
With the high school rugby season officially underway this month, here is a look at how each high school has fared so far, what is to come and what to expect over the next two months.
Cedar Redmen (1-2)
Even though things didn’t go the way as planned during the Redmen’s game against No. 7 Snow Canyon on Saturday — a 90-12 loss — Cedar coach Bryce Bishop still loves his boys and the program they continue to build up in Cedar City.
“We are in our third year and the number of players coming out for us just keeps on getting bigger and bigger each and every year,” Bishop said. “We have close to 40 players on the team this year, and I have five wonderful coaches who help me out also.”
Aside from Saturday’s rough outing where several starters were injured at the start of the game, the Redmen have played great together. After beating Las Vegas Rugby Academy, the Redmen fell short by just a try against the Las Vegas Aces.
“We have steadily improved, but the league has too,” Bishop said. “We’re in a very competitive division and that makes our players better.”
With the top two teams from each of the three conferences qualifying for a playoff spot, Bishop and his team still believe they can get that second and final playoff spot.
If they do, it will all start against rival Canyon View next week, before taking on Hurricane and finishing the regular-season up against Pine View.
Canyon View Falcons (0-1)
While most programs in the Southern Utah Nevada Conference (SUN) have had a couple of years under their belts, Canyon View is in its first year and players and coaches couldn’t be happier.
“We are in our first year and I couldn’t be more pleased with where we are at right now,” Canyon View coach Ryan Skinner said. “I’m so proud of each and everyone of them. They don’t quit, they play as hard as they can, and they will only get better.”
Cody Pedersen, is the only Falcon who came into Saturday’s game with some game experience after playing with Cedar last year.
“Cody has been great,” Skinner added. “He’s a great leader and is always working and doing whatever it takes to help out his teammates.”
Although Hurricane spoiled the party with a victory on Saturday, players and coaches are just grateful for the opportunity to play and aren’t basing wins and losses as a measure of success.
Although rugby is a physical sport, the lessons gained before, during and after the game is what the sport is all about, and the Falcons are living proof of this.
“We have 18 players on the team and everyone has pitched in and done their part,” Skinner said. “We’ve done yard sales and car washes to help raise the money to play this year, and everyone has helped make it happen.”
Next up for Canyon View is a road game against Pine View on April 8, at 6 p.m.
Pine View Panthers (2-1)
The Panthers are entering their fourth year playing rugby, but didn’t know if they were going to play this year until right up to the last minute. Literally.
“It was crazy, Pine View coach Paki Tiatia said of the last minute decision. “Everyone finished signing up on Friday, and the very next day we were playing Snow Canyon.” “I wish we would have had more time to prepare for them,” he said laughing.
Pine View has 20 players on the team this year — with six returning players — and although they didn’t have a lot of time to practice for the upcoming season, the talent has helped carry the team early on to wins over Hurricane and Las Vegas Academy.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the way our guys have played and battled throughout the year,” Tiatia said. “They are terrific kids, and were are looking forward to seeing what the rest of the season brings.”
Snow Canyon Warriors (3-0)
There is a reason why Snow Canyon is ranked No. 7 in the nation. While some programs still struggle to field a team, the Warriors problem is trying to find enough time to play everyone. With close to 160 players in the entire program — from seventh to twelfth grade — and only 25 available slots during a game, getting everyone in is always a challenge.
“If you are going to have a problem as a coach, there is no better problem than that, “Snow Canyon coach Jay Day said after the game against Cedar. “I wish we could play everyone because rugby is a team game and nobody can take more credit than the next guy.”
Cedar coach Bryce Bishop had high praise for Snow Canyon saying, “We are trying to build what Snow Canyon has been able to build over the last five to six years. We have a lot of younger kids who are excited to play and we are looking to start a seventh and eighth grade team next year.”
Snow Canyon has been one of the pioneers of the sport and has seen the impact of the community’s support and participation from players and coaches.
After winning the state title last year, the Warriors have high expectations again this year and believe they have the talent to do it again.
“We lost some guys last year, but we have a lot of talent this year, Snow Canyon captain Sam Slivers said. “I love playing with the guys, the brotherhood that we have developed and are always looking out for each other.”
Before the Warriors start thinking that far ahead, they will have to be prepared for a good Hurricane team when they play Wednesday at Three Falls Park at 6 p.m. The Warriors will continue their road trip to San Diego, California to take on rugby powerhouse No. 24 Torrey Pines.
Follow Justin Giles on Twitter @Justingiles22.