Newberg rugby thrives in fall 7s season
MONMOUTH — Coming off successful campaigns during the high school varsity season this past spring, the Newberg Rugby Club kept itself on track for continued growth with a stellar fall 7s campaign.
The girls, who revived the varsity program by playing in a 10-player division in the spring, not only saw 21 players come out this fall, but its two teams placed first and fourth in the Rugby Oregon Silver Division.
"My goal is somewhere between 30 and 40 girls," Newberg coach Jerad Reinhardt said. "When you start giving them an experience where they enjoy success and then have fun, it makes the recruitment easy. When you enjoy what you're doing, you tend to draw people out."
The Newberg Blue team led the way on the girls side, going 11-2-2 to finish atop the regular season standings, with the Yellow squad third at 9-2-2.
The Blue team advanced to the state final with a 37-0 semifinal win over Bravehearts Green, then edged the Bend Timberwolves 12-10 in the final.
"It was a pretty stout defensive match," Reinhardt said. "12-10 is pretty low for a 7s game. There was a lot of tackling going on in that game. It was an entertaining one to watch for sure."
In the final, Laeonjolie Mendoza scored a first-half try to tie the game 5-5 at the break. The Timberwolves pulled ahead 10-5 and were minutes from closing out the victory and avenging a pair of regular season losses to the Tigers. However, Tigers captain Brooke Nichols found a crease in the defense and dashed for a long try to tie the game at 10-10. She then nailed the ensuing conversion kick to give Newberg the title.
"Brooke really put in a lot of time and I've been really impressed as far as someone playing the game for just six months and how she's picked it up," Reinhardt said.
The Newberg Yellow Squad lost 47-5 to the Timberwolves in the other semifinal, but the progress both teams made in such a short span is a promising sign for the coming varsity season in the spring, which may see the Tigers field a full 15-player squad.
"I think it was almost a coming of age toward the end of the season, girls finally starting to figure it out and figure it out with each other to take that next step, cerebral step, of knowing what you're doing and why you're doing it," Reinhardt said. "That's when you start to get pretty dangerous."
Coming off an appearance in the Rugby Oregon Varsity Premiership state title game in the spring, the Newberg boys had 16 players come out in the fall, which is big for 7s team but not quite enough to field two.
"It's been a good feeder for the spring program, for boys coming in and getting a chance to experience rugby or those that don't play a school sport in the fall," Tucker said. "It was quite good. We had four new freshmen come out."
With player development the highest priority, Lynn Tucker continued her approach of playing every player in every game during the regular season, which concluded with an 8-8 record and the No. 7 seed.
The Tigers leaned more heavily on their experienced players in the playoffs, though, besting No. 6 Lincoln 26-17 in the Cup semifinals and edging No. 5 Battle Ground 15-7 in the final to claim fifth.
At one point, three of Newberg's starters were out of the game and replaced by freshmen, but the team didn't skip a beat.
"The boys stepped it up and played well as a team," Tucker said. "We had some real standout tackling and rucking. It was impressive. They pulled it all together. So much of any sport is your head, where your head space is, and they were very focused. I was super proud of them."
Perhaps the biggest difference in the contest was that the Tigers kept their cool in the heat of competition.
"They stepped up and held their own and beat a team that was very physical," Tucker said. "They were quite surprised by that loss and their team was falling apart a bit in that they were arguing with each other and losing their cool. It was impressive to see the maturity of the boys on the field."