The La Jolla High School Viking Rugby team has arrived. It has had what coaches call an “explosive” couple of seasons, going from a budding JV team three years ago to taking this year’s division championship title.
The international sport — popular in England, Australia and South Africa — combines the tackling of American football, the quick-footedness of soccer and the continuous excitement of hockey.
Rugby is not sanctioned by CIF, which orchestrates mainstream school sports, and therefore local athletes play under the SoCal Rugby Union. Viking coach Bill “Chief” Leversee said it will probably be a few years before Rugby is under the CIF umbrella, but a plan is in the works.
In the SoCal Union, there are three divisions: Red, White and Green. Red division consists of teams whose players all come from one school and who have competed for at least three seasons. The White division, in which La Jolla High School plays, must have at least 75 percent of its roster from one school. Green division plays shorter matches, with multiple matches per game.
With the end of this season — the Vikings third — the long-term vision is to have the them play in the Red division because 100 percent of players come from La Jolla High School.
The first season, the Vikings just had a Junior Varsity team. But in that inaugural year, shy of a scrimmage in which they lost to Torrey Pines High School, the Vikings were undefeated. “They knew they had the makings of something good,” said Leversee.
“In year two, there were enough players for a Varsity team. Getting one team together can be difficult, so getting two teams can stretch your resources, time and players. They came out a little slow, but then went on to a five-game winning streak and made it to the playoffs! They got beat pretty handily in the first round of play-offs against Los Alimitos (which goes by Los Al).” Los Al, by the way, went on to win that year’s championship.
By year three, the defense was solid and the offense aggressive, and the team powered through the season, and was ranked No. 1 going into the playoffs.
La Jolla Rugby player Thomas Evans, 17, commented: “To go from just a JV team to getting to a championship in such a short time is pretty special. We’ve come a long way within three years.”
In the playoffs, Coach Leversee explained, “We beat a team from Servite (a Catholic school from Orange County) in the quarter-finals. In the semi-finals, we were against San Marcos. At one point, we were down 12-0, and came ahead to take the lead 14-12 by the half, and win it 21-12 in the end.”
And who would they face off for the championship title: Los Al.
“We came into the finals against this team who beat us so bad the year before. Everyone was thinking we had just made it to the finals, off a close semi-finals, and should be happy with that,” he said.
To make matters worse, the game opened with Los Al taking an early lead. But it wasn’t long before La Jolla came back, tied it up and take advantage of many scoring opportunities. By the half, the Vikings scored twice what their opponent’s had, 24-12. Keeping that momentum going, the Vikings fought hard and ended the game, also with a near-doubled score: 41-22.
“We avenged last year’s beat-down, it was very satisfying,” coach Leversee said.
All season long, the coach credits both offense and defense with creating “exciting” and “explosive” games.
“From an offensive perspective, we have some explosive runners … guys were making long plays and multiple scores. Sometimes we didn’t start so quickly, but we would come roaring back and flatten the other team,” he said. “On defense, we were ferocious. Almost every game, we were out-sized. But we have tremendous heart. That’s what’s exciting. We’re up against larger opposition and taking them down.”
Thomas added, “We persevere and we grind. Our grit is phenomenal. It’s a nail-biting experience to watch a game. There are no commercials, no stoppage and no time-outs. It’s 80 minutes of pure entertainment.” And a certain amount of grit would seemingly be required, as the uniform does not include protective gear.
“You have a jersey, shorts, cleats and mouth-guard,” Thomas said. “Players prevent injury by being more cautious of their body. You know if you make a tackle wrong or go into a hit off balance there is a greater chance for injury. Having the awareness that you will get injured if you mess up lowers the injury count. We have great body awareness, we’re agile and we’re quick. It’s all very exciting.”
While this season has come to an end, the next season follows with football, and starts in November.
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