Two years ago, the United rugby program were HS Club national champs. A year later, they were a very competitive 2nd.
This year … this year United were a somewhat unexpected second. Seeded lower in the tournament after some significant player turnover, United managed to outlast the Marin Highlanders 10-5, and came back to beat the Kansas City Junior Blues 19-13 to make the title game.
But that was all, as Cathedral shut them out 51-0 to win the Boys HS Club title.
For the United team, the loss was a crushing blow. In front of home fans, they were unable to connect on several promising movements to score, and were basically taken apart.
The elation of Friday was lost on Saturday pretty quickly.
“We knew all these teams would be good and the games would be tough,” said United Head Coach Colin Puriri. “The conditions made it a little bit tougher for everyone. We would have liked a little bit easier two games, but we were just happy to win; we did well enough.”
Zachary Webber scored three tries for United on the weekend – their only try against Marin and the two they needed to overhaul KC.
“We tried to stay composed [against the Junior Blues],” Webber said. “We wanted to stick to our game plan. We did well to keep our heads up; we’ve come from behind before.”
United lost No. 8 Danielson Auelua to a knee injury early in their match against Cathedral, and that didn’t help, but really they found themselves humbled in that game.
“We had opportunities early that we didn’t capitalize on,” said Puriri. “And then when we made some errors they did score. We had some difficulties in set piece – this Cathedral team, I am quite impressed. They are well disciplined, their organization on the field is terrific. They beat us structurally.”
United hung with Highland last year in the final thanks to some game-changer moments (two from future USA 7s player Maka Unufe). This time, it was Cathedral that burned them.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” said a subdued Webber. “We’ve been behind before, but we just lost our composure.”
“Even at halftime we thought we were still in it, down 20,” said Puriri. “Early in the second half they got an early try and that kind of broke the camel’s back. We weren’t very accurate in our kicking game, and they kind of beat us in that part of it.”
Near the end of the game, then, with the national title secure in Cathedral’s hands, United just wanted a try.
“I would’ve liked to have scored,” said Webber. “We just made some simple mistakes that stopped us. It was disappointing.”
It was a humbling experience for United, but one that will stand them well in the future as they return almost their entire team, including a talented and well-spoken leader in Webber. A big loss like this is tough to take, but see how United – who play in the Utah playoffs next weekend – respond.