PITTSFIELD -- Sunday's matchup between No. 1 seed Fallbrook, Calif., and the No. 3 seed Amazons of Sacramento, Calif., for the Division I national championship at the Girls National High School Rugby Championships appeared to be a classic bout of strength versus speed.
The Amazons showed their strength early, but Fallbrook had plenty of strength and ample speed, leading to a 27-17 win for their fourth straight Division I crown.
"We know they're bigger and stronger," Fallbrook coach Craig Pinnell said. "But we're faster, so if we can play a pressure game in the beginning, we can tire them out. That's the way we want to play those big teams."
Fallbrook gave up size to the Amazons, and the team from Sacramento looked to impose its will early.
After a penalty kick from Alex Beckett put the Warriors up 3-0 early in the first half, the Amazons marched down the field, powering in a try from the right side after a quick pass out of a ruck. The missed conversion left the score at 5-3.
Sacramento showed some speed in the first half as well, scoring a long try after winning a Fallbrook lineout and a player sprinted untouched down the middle of the field. The Amazons made their kick after the try, taking a 12-3 lead.
From that point on however, Fallbrook started to move the ball on Sacramento.
Casey Karl powered in a try late in the first half, cutting the Amazons' lead 12-8 at halftime.
Despite trailing and playing in a physical match, Pinnell said, he felt his team had Sacramento on the ropes.
"We're a fit team, so as far as the tiredness, that did not affect us," he said. "We knew if we could move them around the field, that we could win it in the end because we're fitter and we can move faster."
Fatigue started to set in for Sacramento in the second half, allowing Fallbrook to show off its speed.
Karl punched in her second try of the day, muscling in deep in the right corner and giving Fallbrook its first lead of the day at 13-12.
Karl showed some strength with her second try and from then on it was all about speed for Fallbrook.
Lilly Durbin broke off a long run, breaking away down the left side and scoring a try. MacKenzie Miller's conversion put Fallbrook up 20-12.
Richelle Stephens dealt the knockout blow when she took a pitch from her teammate running left, splitting through the middle of Sacramento's defense for and scoring a try. Lilly Durbin's kick put Fallbrook up 27-12.
Sacramento scored with about three minutes left, but the Amazons could not complete the comeback.
After the match, the Warriors gathered to sing Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' " in celebration. For Pinnell, their belief can now become relief, as their national championship journey is complete.
"Tiredness did not affect us, but more it was about [handling] the emotions of the final," he said. "Every year it gets more intense, more difficult and with more pressure. Everybody wants to take you down."
Tournament Director David Colli said the two-day tournament went very smoothly for himself, his staff and the volunteers. He credited the Berkshire parents as well for helping out.
Overall, Colli said he does not expect to make a profit from hosting the event, but he hopes the increased patronage of local businesses brought on by the out of area teams and their families helped the Berkshire County economy.
"For the community in general, hopefully it was a boon," Colli said. "With people staying at hotels, and I know there was food ordered all over the place, we brought 600, 700 to 1,000 people to the Berkshires. Hopefully they spent their money here as well."
Almost all of the Fallbrook players had never heard of Berkshire County or Pittsfield before making the trip to compete in the tournament. But a Berkshire County resident had an hand in making Fallbrook's trip possible. Fallbrook's sponsor Del Rey Avocado is owned by former Pittsfield resident Bob Lucy. Bob Lucy's brother, Don, is the owner of The Locker Room Sports Pub in Lee.
The development of organized youth rugby clubs is helping to spread the popularity of the sport around the country. With players getting into rugby at younger ages, youths can decide to focus and specialize in rugby early than ever.
Coaches such as Quinnipiac head women's rugby coach Rebecca Carlson prefer well rounded athletes on their teams.
"Some of the best kids you look for are the all-around kids. When they gravitate toward rugby it's because they've had some type of basketball or soccer skills," she said.
On the women's side, soccer, basketball, track and field and even gymnastics are some of the sports coaches such as Carlson like their athletes to have played. Each sport offers different skills that translate well to rugby.
"Every once in a while, you get that gem that's strictly just a rugby player," she said. "There's specialized positions that you look for, but [their background] can vary."
Sportsmanship is a big part of the rugby culture. At the adult level, teams might get together for a beer after a match. After each match, teams at the tournament named an opposing player the woman of the match. The teams shake hands and congratulate each other. The ability to carry themselves with such poise after such an aggressive game is impressive.
When the final game finished on Sunday, teams gathered to dance together and converse with other teams. That type of camaraderie is what Berkshire player Haley Korte loves about rugby.
"If it's a normal game, sometimes we have a barbecue or bring pizza after," Korte said. "Afterward we'll talk to the other team and normally they're really cool. They say sorry to something that happened during the game. It's really nice."
To reach Akeem Glaspie:
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