2019 Western Club Championships Preview

Teams in the West will take to the field over the weekend in the hopes of making it to the National Championships.

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Full Weekend Schedule:

Men’s Division I:

Life West Gladiators vs. Austin Blacks: Saturday 5/18- 5pm CT

In men’s Division I play it’s pretty simple, win one game and you’re into the National Championship; of course things are easier said than done. Regardless that’s the equation that faces both the Life West Gladiators and the Austin Blacks. Two historically strong programs that will be looking to take it one step further than they ever have and win a Division I national championship. Austin had been the favorite to represent the Red River Region entering the season, based off their history of success in the area; however, they were made to fight for it with an ever improving Dallas Reds squad nipping at their heels. Despite the Reds’ best attempts the Blacks are through for the second straight year and are firmly believing that 2019 will be their year. Shouldering a lot of that belief will be the likes of Chris Baumann, a capped Eagle, and Hayden Johnson. This duo has been terrorizing the opposition consistently. Baumann using his world class skill set to disrupt opposing the set pieces. Johnson has been doing much the same, using his skill set from the eight position to disturb breakdowns and break off large meters galloping down the pitch. Life West, contrarily, was a team not many would have picked at the beginning of the year, but they have been resilient throughout and most importantly have learned from their mistakes. They enter the western championship with a record of 9-2. Their two losses came to last year’s national runner-up, Belmont Shore. However, the Gladiators regrouped following their two losses and through excellent coaching and player development were able to land a come from behind win against Belmont in the Pacific Rugby Premiership championship game. As has been the case most of the season, it has been a group effort rather than an individual that has moved them this far into the season. However, expect scrumhalf Devereaux Ferris, a capped Eagle, to play a big role in the outcome of Saturday’s game. He’s an expert at getting under his oppositions’ skin and directs traffic around the field with ease. This will be an incredibly even match with both teams enjoying big bruising forwards and backs with pace to burn.


Women’s Division I:

Glendale Merlins D1 vs. Belmont Shore: Saturday 5/18- 3:15pm CT

Glendale seem to be a team on a mission. They have by no means been the dominant team in many of their fixtures, with an average winning margin in the Spring of less than a converted try. Nonetheless, they’ve found a way to grind out victories and show a fierce tenacity and strong will to win. This grittiness will be put to the test when they take on Belmont Shore, a team of equal determination. Belmont Shore, similarly, have carved their way to the playoffs through learning from game to game and never looking too far ahead. Belmont is a team which comes out of the gates firing and usually they can score enough in the opening stages to take the wind out the other team’s sails. However, they were unable to close out their regular season games against the Santa Monica Dolphins. Both occasions they lost their games late. In the Championship match, however, they adapted and adjusted and were able to play out the full eighty. This echoes shades of Glendale’s matches against the Utah Vipers. Both teams learn quickly and are flexible, both can score points in a hurry. It will likely come down to the wire between these two. More specifically the play of Hannah Tennant from Glendale or Belmont Shore’s Priscilla Gardner, will likely be what turns the game on its head.

Houston Athletic vs. Austin Valkyries: Saturday 5/18- 3:15pm CT

For the historically excellent Austin Valkyries, 2019 has been a surprising year for them. Usually strolling through their competition in the Red River, they have found some tough competition this year and come into the playoffs as the Red River's second seed. The first seed went to their biggest rivals, Houston Athletic. This will be their fourth encounter of the year, with Houston taking the first two, but Austin dominating in their most recent outing. It’s hard to make a read on what those past results will mean heading into Saturday, but rest assured neither team will be looking at them in particular detail. Both teams know each other well enough that they won’t be putting too much stock in previous outings. It will be a game played with a lot of pride and passion, Austin may have the experience advantage over Houston, but HARC have demonstrated they’re a new team and a force to be reckoned with. Look for Sierra Jenkins to be Austin’s impact player and for HARC to look to Bonnie Richardson in their times of need. Both players have been excellent on the year and will be determined to ensure their season does not end on Saturday.

Men’s Division II:

Olympic Club vs. San Diego Old Aztecs: Saturday 5/18- 1:30pm CT

One of the most exciting games of the weekend will be the Olympic Club taking on the San Diego Old Aztecs. Olympic had been a presence on the Division I landscape for decades, but having recently dropped down to Division II, they are already showing why they are one of the premier clubs in the country. Their opponent this weekend, the San Diego Old Aztecs are one of the most exhilarating teams to watch in the country. They had a season of ebbs and flows but when it mattered most they scored  big victories. They have accumulated an impressive for and against over the season. In their eight regular season games they scored 359 points and only let in 130. They have continued to prove they are dominant on both sides of the breakdown in the post season. Olympic Club, had almost identical stats in the same amount of time; they scored 331 and let in 136. It’s hard to find two teams that are as evenly matched as these two. The fixture will likely come down to the waning moments, while Olympic Club may have more experience in the big time matches, San Diego has proven they are able to rise to the occasion in the biggest games of the season.

Austin Blacks D2 vs. Wichita Barbarians: Saturday 5/18- 1:30pm CT

The winner of San Diego Olympic, will face the winner of Austin Blacks D2 and the Wichita Barbarians. Both teams are new to the playoffs this year. Austin has been enjoying a renaissance year, after going 6-4 last year they went 7-2. However, it was in the postseason that things really clicked for them. They showed they knew how to win tight matches as well as knock the doors down when they need to. Wichita, on the other hand, showed they were a class above their opposition throughout the season. They went a perfect 6-0 during regular season play and won their games by an average of 30 points. Things only got better in the post season, winning the Mid-America competition by 24 points a game in the playoffs. The Barbarians were tested in the Frontier championship, but pulled out the valuable win. Getting ahead in this game will be a struggle for both teams, however, if Wichita can escape to an early lead they may be able to ride the game out, while if Austin can keep the score low they will like their chances.

Women’s Division II:

Sacramento Amazons vs. Las Vegas Slots: Saturday 5/18- 11:45am CT

Few teams have been as dominant over their local competition in the past years as the Sacramento Amazons. This weekend they will take on a team that is new to the being a top their division and new to the playoffs, the Las Vegas Slots. The Amazons cruised through their season going 9-0. In those nine games, their lowest score was 44 points and they let in a total of 93 points. They are a form team and one anxious to make up for an early exit in last year’s national playoffs. The Slots have been quietly been putting together great seasons in the Pacific South’s Division II competition, however, their play was constantly drowned out by the thunderous performances of the Old Pueblo Lightning. This year they got over the hump and were able to win the pacific south competition. The question that remains is that now they’ve made it to the playoffs, how far will they make it? The answer to that question will come down to the play of their forwards. If the Slots can dominate up front against Sacramento, not an easy thing to do, then it will be their game for the taking. If not it could be a long day at the office. Both teams are enjoying exceptional years and will be putting their bodies on the line to ensure it doesn’t end prematurely. Watch for some big collisions coming out of this game.  

Austin Valkyries D2 vs. St. Louis Sabres: Saturday 5/18- 11:45am CT

Last year’s National runner-up the St. Louis Sabres are hungry for a shot at redemption and will be looking to run through anyone in their way. The first hurdle they’ll have to overcome on the road to glory will be the Austin Valkyries D2 squad; and it is a pretty big hurdle. Austin has been on a tear this year. They dropped one game early on but did not let that affect them. They have dominated every team they’ve come up against this year. They’ve won their games by an average of 38 points and don’t show any signs of slowing, as they won the Red River Division II Championship game by a whopping 53-17 scoreline. The Sabres, early on  didn’t look to be quite the same team as they were 12 months ago. They have gone from looking like a team that could not be touched to playing some games that end up being a lot closer than they should be. However, in the last month they seem to have turned a corner and they are playing like the halcyon days. Two teams that are currently peaking at the right time is always an exciting matchup and this should be no different. Austin will be expecting a big performance from their star fullback, Chelsey Arambula and Dominesha Newton will be the spark for St. Louis offensively. It will be a game which tests the character of each team.


Men’s Division III:

Napa Valley Rugby vs. Kern County Rugby: Saturday 5/18- 10:00am CT

One of the surprises of the season has been the play of Napa Valley. A team that has broken onto the scene in 2019 and broken nearly every scoreboard in their path. They will come up against a stiff test in Kern County on Saturday, a team which is yet to taste defeat this year. Napa Valley has scored at least 28 points in each game this year and won the Pacific North title in a 92-0 drubbing over the Budd Bay Buffaloes, a team that until then had only failed to score less than 20 once on the year. Kern County, while undefeated, were not always as dominant as the men from wine country. However, they were also able to secure an emphatic victory in the Pacific South Championship, beating Phoenix Rugby, 43-15. Where Kern County may get the advantage is they have played in close games all year and even when they are not blowing a team out they are still confident in their ability to come away with the win. The key to this game will be whether either team can establish a lead early. If a team can race out to a quick two-score lead, that may be enough to shock the opposition  and force them into making some uncharacteristic mistakes.

Austin Blacks D3 vs. Queen City Rams: Saturday 5/18- 10:00am CT

The only national Champion from last year returning to this year’s playoffs are the Austin Blacks D3 squad. They will be keen to build upon the success they enjoyed last year and go back to back. Standing in their way are the Queen City Rams, a team which has gone from hovering around the .500 mark to going 7-1 on the season. A big reason for their drastic improvement has been the form of Lewis McKissick who leads the team in points (63), is second in tries (6) and conversions (15). However, the Rams will need more than just McKissick to pull through in this game. This is due to Austin’s outstanding flyhalf Tane Jericevich. An experienced player with poise and a strong knowledge of the game, he adds a tactical approach to the game that not many flyhalves in any division can provide. He will be able to think on his feet and if the Rams do not get creative in what they show him defensively he could prove to be the difference maker in the game. It’s never an easy task to go up against the defending national champions, but given the form Queen City is in, they will like their chances and will play with nothing to lose. It should be an exciting game of rugby with its fair share of scoring.