Coming off a 51-0 shutout of United, and coming off a USA National High School championship invitational in which they didn’t allow a try and weren’t really challenged, and coming off a tournament where they a point every 75 seconds, Cathedral out of Indianapolis has been nothing short of dominant.
They are also the first Midwest team to win either national high school boys title.
“I’ve played for a long time and it’s always been ‘West Coast,’” said longtime player and Cathedral Head Coach Scott Peterson. “There’s NYAC up there in New York, and the rest seems to be West Coast, and Utah. Even playing in Chicago we were good, but we didn’t quite get there. So to win as a Midwest team, and one from Indiana, we have a lot of pride in that. And to have another Indiana team playing for the single-school title is a source of pride, too.”
Cathedral deserved it. In a year when the invitational format caused some complaints among various teams, no one can argue that Cathedral wasn’t exceptional. United coach Colin Puriri, who coached against Highland, and beat them, said he was exceedingly impressed with Cathedral’s play, athleticism, skill and discipline. So should everybody be.
Good thing for Cathedral that they weren’t impressed with themselves.
“We treated it as we were underdogs the entire tournament,” said flanker Sam Snemis. “We knew if we lost the first game, we couldn’t go on to the next game. They were short games so we had to come out fast and hard.”
“Out state tournament’s the same format so we’re used to it,” added Peterson. “We know you have to come out quick and score because there’s not a lot of time to catch up. The guys are really coachable. They take it in, they do what we ask, every time, no questions. We can tell them all we want but if they don’t do it, it can’t happen.”
Cathedral were characterized by their size, but also their skill. Their handling was exemplary, and they stuck to their pattern the entire game, which is why they didn’t allow teams to come back. They communicated, and they executed the basics well.
The key scorers for Cathedral were the backs, but it was the forwards, led by the likes of Snemis, Joe and Max Schroeder, and prop Levi Kinney who made it all happen.
“It comes down to our fitness,” said Snemis, who acknowledged United was a little quicker to the breakdown early. “We can play longer than anyone out there. Teams will start off fast against us but we’ll keep playing at the same pace and break them down. When we see they’re tired, we take advantage of it.”
One of the key elements of their victory was the scrum. In U19 rugby, where you’re not allowed to push more than a meter and a half (about five feet), it’s tough to shove a team off the ball in the scrum. Cathedral did that, combining the shove with a well-timed strike from hooker Alex Van Dyke to steal several United put-ins. What was even better – they waited to steal the strike until it was time to do so, taking a scrum five meters from the United line to set up a try.
“We didn’t know going into the game but it was pretty clear in the first couple of scrums that we could do that,” said Peterson. “After a while it was almost like it was our put-in. You take advantage of that and use it when you need it.”
Looking at the program as a whole, Peterson is shaking his head. He exudes confidence in his players, and it’s well-placed.
“The players have been great,” he said. “Last year we finished third, and looking forward to this season I figure it’d be hard to replicate that. But working in the gym in the winter, I could see we were going to be good. We got some guys in their first season who are starters, and they picked the game up quickly. These guys work harder than anybody I’ve ever coached before, and they’ve been really fun to coach.”
Added Snemis, “those inexperienced guys – it was our job to get them up to speed. We did that and then we have the best coaching staff in the entire nation, and we all came together and started rolling.”
Cathedral is a senior-heavy team, but Peterson said they will be back.
“We lost seven or eight last year and here we are,” he said. “We have some freshmen starting, and we have guys on the 2nds. We’re confident we will be back.”
How could you ever doubt them?