Torrey Pines rugby squad wins state championship
The Torrey Pines High School rugby team won the All-California state championship, the first time ever that a Southern California squad has taken the title.
In the championship game the undefeated SoCal champion Falcons defeated St Francis of Mountain View in a 31-14 battle at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo on March 18.
Torrey Pines has only had a club rugby team for 12 years and they have won the SoCal championship four times. Torrey Pines is considered the top rugby school in Southern California— last year they narrowly missed out on the state title, losing in the championship game to De La Salle.
“We’ve played high level rugby at Torrey Pines High School for many years but could never close the gap between the power house high school rugby teams of Northern California,” said Head Coach Matty Sandoval said. “I am very proud of this team for finally getting it done.”
The Falcons graduated 12 seniors last year, including four All Americans, and coming into this season Sandoval didn’t know how good they were going to be. On this year’s team the average player is about 165 pounds which by rough and tumble rugby standards, they could be considered “dinky”.
“We are tiny. But these kids are so courageous, so tough, so smart and so skilled,” Sandoval said. “This year from the very first meeting on we emphasized core team values: gratitude, empathy and presence. The boys completely bought in and that’s what made this team collectively better than any other team I’ve ever had.”
Sandoval played rugby for 40 years and has led the Torrey Pines program since its inception, also coaching the local San Diego Mustangs. “I’m a lawyer in real life…I do it for free, I just love it,” he said.
Torrey Pines rugby is a no cut sport, all are welcome and they’ve never had MVPs—everyone is a Falcon rugby player.
This year’s roster includes standouts like senior Jonty Lee, “a gift from New Zealand” who showed up a year ago that Sandoval considers the best player in the country (“He’s just a magician”), and Jacob Jaffe, who won the Southern California Forward of the Year. “He’s absolutely fantastic,” he said of Jaffe, who has fielded offers from top rugby programs like St. Mary’s, University of San Diego and Lindenwood University.
The coach said about 70% of Torrey Pines rugby student athletes go on to play in college—they have sent athletes to the United States Naval Academy, West Point, Cal and internationally to play in Australia and Trinity College Dublin.
“All of the best programs in the country call me to get me to send Torrey Pines kids there,” Sandoval said. “ They’re not just great players, they’re good character kids too…Our kids can be program changers.”
This year’s team also included three Falcon football players who had never played before with Matthew Staycer, Andy Livingston and Max Griffiths. They came out to play for fun but made an impact and fell in love with the sport.
After beating San Clemente 19-14 at home to become SoCal Champions, the Falcons headed up north to take on the much bigger St. Francis team—Sandoval said their guys were more than twice their size. After 25 scoreless minutes, St. Francis struck first on a long run. The game was a contrast in styles but the Falcons played big and the score was tied 7-7 at the half.
“Rugby is a really fun sport to coach because you can’t micro-coach, there’s no timeouts and the only time to make adjustments is halftime,” Sandoval said. “It’s an advantage for us because our kids have a high rugby IQ, they can strategize themselves where they can hurt the other team.”
The team discovered that the best way to beat St. Francis was to kick rather than run, putting the pressure on though the air. “They started making mistakes and we capitalized,” Sandoval said. They Falcons scored three tries in a row and beat the bigger team with their fitness.
Northern California has long been the stronghold for rugby, centered around college powerhouses like Cal Berkeley and St. Mary’s. After Torrey Pines’ historic win, Sandoval said all of the coaches in Southern California were texting him congratulations, for representing the region well and finally taking the crown.
“We happened to be the team to do it this year,” Sandoval said.
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