Belmont Shore is in a familiar spot as the Southern California club returns to the National DI semis.
Shore made the final in 2010, and were knocked out by eventual champions Glendale in last year’s quarterfinals. Before that, they were Super League final regulars, last winning it all in 2007.
So this is old hat for the club, but maybe not so much for this specific team.
“I think we have only a few who have been here before,” said Belmont Shore Head Coach Ray Egan. “And even fewer who have had significant Super League experience. So, yes we do have some experience there, but also a lot of youth as well.”
Much of that experience is in the backline, where Pete Sio, Iopu Sanonu, Peter Fratangelo, Pati Uiagalelei, and Ed Pitts have been with the club for years. Centering the forward pack is Peter Dahl at No. 8, with Ed McKenna, who was a big part of Santa Monica for years, at #7.
Still that lineup was almost not enough. The Kansas City Blues pushed Shore to a 22-20 quarterfinal decision, in a game where Belmont Shore led 12-3 after 12 minutes, and then seemed to ease off.
Kansas City scored in the closing minutes to make it 22-20, but couldn’t quite get past.
“We had the lion’s share of possession, but we made a lot of bad decisions,” said Egan about that game. “We were a little haphazard and directionless. We needed to play more of a field position game – kick to the corners more. And we didn’t. As a result Kansas City were able to come back on us. They caused us problems and we added to those problems.”
The game was a tough lesson for Belmont Shore, but at least for the Californians they won, and therefore can put the lessons to the test hits coming weekend.
“Our big focus is maximizing our opportunities,” Egan said. “We need to earn our position in the final, and to do that we need to get back to basics, and be accurate in those basics. We have done a lot of work in the last three weeks, and we are healthy and as good as we can be. What I was really pleased about in that game with Kansas City, was that we controlled the last three or four minutes really well. That was the sort of rugby we needed to play. For the young players we have, that was good.”
One of the interesting aspects of the young Belmont Shore players is their background. Shore has long been known for bringing in talent from overseas, especially at key skill positions (look at the players with #9 or #10 on their backs on most club and college championship teams, and you will usually find a guy born outside the USA).
But this is a different Belmont Shore. Scrumhalf Andrew Mase is a product of Edina HS in Minnesota and played at Cal. Flyhalf Kameron Moeller is a product of the Fullerton rugby system and the Santa Barbara Rugby Academy. At hooker they have 2011 All American Zach Fenoglio and Long Beach youngster Mike Teo, while another All American, Jacob Grubbs from Arkansas State, and Montana product Brice Schilling complete the front row.
This team has suddenly become a hotbed for young American-born players to excel, and look at that, they’re in the national semis.