When Fallbrook first took the pitch at the girls’ High School Rugby Challenge on Friday, suspicions were confirmed: The Warriors are as good at 7s as they are at 15s. The San Diego team cruised through pool play, dominating opponents 102-0 before surrendering their lone try of the tournament against Catholic Memorial during the semifinals (24-5). Fallbrook shook off those playoff nerves and ended their trip in Philadelphia with their biggest performance, shutting down Doylestown 41-3 in the final.
Tournament MVP Richelle Stephens (stay tuned for profile) got the scoring started early and was quickly followed by Karina Guadalupe, Michel Navarro and Casey Karl. Alex Beckett’s conversion gave Fallbrook the 22-0 lead at the half. The second stanza was more of the same story and saw Johni Durbin, Katherine Wilches and Emma Workman dot down for five-pointers. Stephens tacked on two conversions for the 41-3 victory.
Fallbrook dominated the field because they embraced the tenets of 7s play the best – and it helped that their 15s style is wide-open and quick paced as well. Their scores evolved from every direction – whether it was Clark’s pickoff that spun to Durbin, who pumped her knees through an onslaught of defenders; or Wilches running onto a kickoff and scooping up a ball that Doylestown let bounce once in front of a receiver. Fallbrook spins the ball, takes the corner, and does not go down easily despite their size. They’re excellent 7s players.
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind Fallbrook. Three weeks ago, Fallbrook was hoisting the 15s championship trophy above their heads, and today they were bowing in front of PPL Park spectators.
“I was surprised how well we were able to transition from 15s to 7s,” Durbin said. “Our U-14s and U-16s play 7s, but we really don’t, so it was neat to see how we adapted.
“It was a lot of pressure,” Durbin said of the stadium atmosphere, “but I feel we did a good job with everyone watching us.”
Durbin was one of three Fallbrook players with whom USA Women National Team coach Pete Steinberg chatted. Durbin, Megan Pinson and Kasey Clark are heading the USA U20 camp in Colorado, and the Penn State coach let the girls know that he’d be attending.
“It’s a little intimidating,” Durbin said of being one of the youngest players at camp. “But we played in a college tournament and have played older teams, so I think I’m ready for it. I like the U19s better; they’re more mature.”
Pinson is already heading to Penn State upon graduation, but he used the facetime to promote PSU to the younger players.
“He’s scouted Megan already, but we first talked about Penn State at the beginning of last year,” the 15-year-old said. “I thought, ‘Well, I guess I’ve got to start thinking about that.’”
College might not be the first thing on the minds of youngsters like Navarro, who at 14 years old is the second-youngster player for Fallbrook. The HSRC marked the shifty fullback’s first trip to the East Coast, and she’s been enjoying the adventure with her teammates.
“We didn’t have a ton of fans travel to Philadelphia with us, but we made a ton of friends, so people came out to watch us,” Navarro said.
But even with their burgeoning fan base cheering from the stands of PPL Park, the young players were not phased by pressure of this event.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Navarro said, “but after that first tackle, it all goes away and you don’t think about anything else but rugby.”
Not just the words of a champion, but the first-ever high school girls’ 7s champion.