By Tim Pickwell
Can 16 plus 25 equal 1? The Carmel Valley-based San Diego Youth Rugby Mustangs U18 boys team sure hopes so.
The defending Southern California Club Champions have been invited to participate in the Boys High School National Invitational Championship in Elkhart, Indiana from May 16-18. The Mustangs Club team is currently ranked No. 25 by Rugby Magazine, the bible for the sport in the U.S. But, the club team is really a combination of two great high school teams: the Torrey Pines Varsity, ranked No. 16 by Rugby Magazine, and Cathedral Catholic, No. 25. With the recent high school season complete, the best of both squads, along with a smattering of veteran players from La Jolla High, Westview and La Costa Canyon, are combining for the Club Rugby season.
“We’re flattered to be ranked nationally,” said Head Coach, Matty Sandoval. “At the same time, we think that No. 25 might be a bit low. It’s a big honor for our club to be invited to Elkhart and the National Invitational, and we hope to put together a good showing and see how far we can climb.”
The Mustangs began the season with a 70-0 thumping of Temecula on March 2 and will face a slate of six local clubs over the next few weeks, including home games Saturday, March 16, and Saturday, March 30, at Carmel Valley Middle School. On April 4 or 5, the club will host Concorde De La Salle, a perennial California high school football power, for an afternoon of rugby. Napier Boy’s High School from New Zealand’s North Island will visit for a “friendly” on April 26. Napier is the premier rugby high school in the premier rugby nation. Napier has 1,200 students. More than 600 play rugby.
“We’ll have our work cut out for us,” says Sandoval. “But, we have to play top competition in order to prepare for the National Invitational.”
Given the depth of the Mustangs squad, one of Sandoval’s biggest concerns is finding room for the talent. “We have three current or recent High School All-American’s on the team (Billy Maggs, Aaron Mitchell and Drew Gaffney) — none of whom even suited up for our first game. Our backs coach, Allen Andrews, took 18 boys from Torrey Pines and Cathedral and won two trophies in an international Rugby 7’s tournament last month in Las Vegas. Blending all these players together into a cohesive unit is our biggest challenge.”
The HSNIC was created after USA Rugby decided not to host a high school championship. One of the nation’s premier clubs, the Moose of Elkhart, Indiana, worked with a committee of coaches and those close to the high school game to vet and select teams. The Mustangs had to apply and go through a rigorous screening process in order to be invited. The HSNIC committee looked at the strength of rugby clubs in a team’s area, the particular club’s historical performance, and other factors. The Mustangs are the only Southern California club in the tourney. They will compete in the “multi-school division” against Cathedral (Ind.), Grand Rapids (Mich), Danville (Calif.), Colorado Springs (Colo.), Westerville (Ohio), Broken Arrow (Okla.), United (Utah), Kansas City JR Blues (Mo.), Marin (Calif.), Charlotte Tigers (NC) and Brother Rice (Chicago).
The team plans to combine their flight into Chicago with a side trip to South Bend, Indiana where the Notre Dame rugby coach will host a lunch. The club is looking for sponsors. A fundraising committee headed by Dan Talman — (760) 518-8002, email@example.com — will be working to offset the cost of shipping 28 players and six coaches to Indiana.