California fires impact team at Girls National High School Rugby Championship


PITTSFIELD -- The fires blazing in northern and eastern San Diego County and other parts of California may seem like they're a world away to Berkshire County residents.

But, as the Fallbrook Warriors prepare to face the Amazons of the Sacramento Rugby Club at 12:15 p.m. today in an all-California Division I final in the Girls High School National Rugby Championships, the team's trip to the Berkshires has offered a pleasant distraction from the dangers back home.

"This is definitely an escape for us right now because it is quite stressful," Fallbrook coach Marin Pinnell said. "School was closed for Thursday and Friday, because the two [fires] were so close to the school and the air quality was really bad."

For Fallbrook juniors Kendall Mericle and Jennifer Smidt, the fires literally hit close to home. Mericle and her family had to evacuate their house and Smidt dealt with heavy amounts of ash falling onto her family's home.

"It was scary because I had to evacuate before the 2007 fires in California, so I knew the drill, but it's still scary no matter what," Mericle said.

Mericle added that the process of evacuating forced her to pack up her some of most precious belongings. Along with her pets, she said taking items with sentimental value that cannot be replaced is key when packing.

"I make sure that I get pictures that are important to me, and special jewelry that I've gotten from my grandma or anything that I can't get back because they're gone," she said.

After a rainy day Friday, clear conditions for the first day of competitions were in doubt. Berkshire United coach and tournament director Dave Colli said, " 'the rugby gods' provided a clear, sunny day for competition on Saturday."

For the Fallbrook players, a clear sky is not something they'd be enjoying back home.

"We couldn't see fire from our house, but the smoke was covering the sky," Smidt said.

"The clouds and the sky are really ashy," Mericle said. "You can't really go outside much because you can barely breathe. So it's really nice to be in the fresh air, with all the green trees. It's a stress reliever."

As the team prepares for today's national title game, Smidt said it's important to block out what's going on back home and to focus on rugby.

"It's do or die," she said. "You have to do it. You can't be worried about [the fires]. You have to stay focused on your rugby and keep going."

So far, its apparent Fallbrook has been focused on the field. Fallbrook defeated North Bay, Md., 57-0 and Kent, Wash., 22-3 on Saturday.

Meanwhile, in Division II, the 12:15 final will feature Pleasanton, Calif., will face Morris, N.J.


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