In just their second year of existence the Napa Stormers Rugby Club qualified for the Northern California Rugby Championships played at the Cherry Island complex near Sacramento this past weekend. The Varsity team (8-1) went into the weekend ranked 7th and the Junior Varsity team (6-0) went into the weekend ranked 2nd.
With many of the Napa players just 5 months into their rugby career, the Stormers have definitely established themselves as a force to be reckoned with regionally by representing the Redwood Empire League (Marin, Sonoma and Napa) at the Nor Cal Championships.
The Stormers came away from the weekend with a Junior Varsity Silver Championship and a number four ranking for the Varsity squad. Competing against clubs that have been around for more than a decade with some having playing rosters in excess of 200 players makes this achievement all the more remarkable.
The Varsity team played three games over the course of the weekend and opened their account against the #2 seed Davis. Davis came in to the weekend with a record of 8-0 in their league, and were the eventual Varsity Silver Champions. The intensity and reaction speed of the Davis team was formidable, as within the first 10 minutes Davis had breached the Stormers line three times, converted those and lead 21-0. The Stormers settled down and refocused and held the score to that.
After the half time break the resilient Stormers squad made a game of it by picking up the pace and scored two converted tries for 14 points. Inspirational leader Bernard Venter got injured in a try saving tackle and handed off the captaincy duties to Abel Rueda-Arreguin.
“The forward pack, or “engine room” as we call them, performed well against the well drilled Davis pack. We more than held our own” noted coach Trevor Terrill. Fellow forwards coach Jack Emerson recognized the monster effort of No 2 Nolan Kelnhofer for his tackling in the loose and his solid scrummaging as well as flanker Pierce Young who solidly stood his ground though all of the menacing Davis attacks. The Stormers second try came as a result of the Napa trademark defense as they pressured Davis to kick into space. Luke Kampton counter attacked with venom and his sharp off load to winger Shane Latrielle whose momentum took him over the try line for a well-deserved 5 points.
Super efforts in defeat were produced by prop Trevor Pappas with a master class in scrummaging technique in addition to powerful lifting in the lineouts. The Stormers scored a moral victory of sorts with their 14 points given that Davis had only conceded 55 points throughout their total league season.
The afternoon Varsity game pitted the Stormers against the Bullard rugby club from Fresno. Bullard came into the weekend with a record of 11-0 in their league and seemed confident that they would have this game in the bag. Napa began the game with phase after phase of relentless tackling stifling any Bullard attempt to move the ball. The Stormers forwards slowly gained control and with a determined drive for the line were rewarded with lock Jared Reich’s first try – which he would convert.
“Jared showed some real maturity and leadership today. He competed well in the lineouts and made some solid open field tackles and we even saw him in a cameo flyhalf role.” said coach Phil Hansell. The second try came from a structured lineout move with the ever hungry scrum half Connor Whitecotten snaking his way through a mass of for the 5 points. Napa started to signs of tournament format fatigue and surrender two tries to Bullard but still went to half time 12-10 ahead.
At the half time team talk the coaches asked their charges to dig deep and maintain possession and continue the pressured defense. This approach was rewarded with rampant charges by Darrin Head, Logan Romaine and Saul Romero who helped to set the stage for another Whitecotten try. Not to be outshone by their forward pack, the Napa back division shone with some timely handling skills as outside center Anthony Pilotti punctured the Bullard defense supported by wing James Prager. The final offload was to Rueda-Arreguin who topped a great passage of play with a try.
With a long and hard day winding down Napa needed some impact with flanker Cole Miller and prop Cody Smith contributing with big workloads. Stormers stalwart Patrick Hough was rewarded with game time and although a late Bullard try would ultimately narrow the winning margin the supportive appearances from JV players (fresh from their own victory) Theo Branum, Evan Cook and Felipe Leon helped shore up a 22-15 to ensure victory.
The weekend’s last varsity game, on Sunday, pitted Napa against another perennial power – the Pleasanton Cavaliers. The Stormers dedicated the game to the outgoing seniors as this would be their final game in a Stormers jersey. The Stormers opened the scoring as winger Zach Gassner scooped up a loose ball and was bundled into touch by the Cavaliers defense. The Stormers stole the ball from the resulting line-out with lock Mason Banducci competing aggressively and a quick feed to Connor Whitecotten saw Napa open the scoring.
Shortly after, utilizing the lineout defensive pressure, it was fellow lock Jared Reich who pounced on a loose ball to score another try. “Jared’s hunger all around the field was rewarded with another try. It was great for him to convert his own try” said coach Barend Venter.
Pleasanton showed their experience and spread the ball wide. Massive tackles by the Stormers were typified by the commitment of by flyhalf Chad Frasier who literally put his body on the line for his team.
With a converted try conceded to Pleasanton the competition for possession became fierce. Latrielle made a valiant effort in defense and was compensated with a try as the pressure mounted. That would be the final score by the Stormers for the game and the season and with Pleasanton waging two more attacks of their own they were able to snatch victory 19 – 17 from the Stormers. Even in defeat the character of the Napa men was on display as senior Anthony Pilotti was heard to say, “That was a great game. We both gave it all we had!”
As the weight of the game, the season and the whole experience fell on the shoulders of the seniors, they were applauded and saluted by their coaches, parents, supporters and, most importantly, their peers in a post-game circle of recognition. In only the second season the Varsity have blazed a formidable trail to be ranked #4 in Northern California.
The Junior Varsity squad in their first year came into the Championship game ranked 2nd and with an agenda to finish the season undefeated. They played a Dixon side whose history is long and respected who have plenty of Championships to their name. Ultimately the Stormers prevailed with a winning score line of 39 – 12, and they brought home the medals and the plaque that would read “Champions”.
Napa started strong with the front row of Jesus Fragoza, Manny Vassos and Roman Ruffino laying a solid foundation in the scrum. This allowed scrum half and captain Matt Hansell to feed the powerful presence at flyhalf Theo Branum open the Stormers account with 5 points. Full back Caen Healy slotted the conversion and would go on to have one of his best performances of the season with a tackle count of 5, that included 2 try-saving tackles. The Stormers second try was a blind side snipe with Evan Cook making not only a huge territorial gain but a textbook offload to scampering winger Stephen “Scuba” Hill to cement the points.
The Stormers attacking game plan was working well but had to be supported by excellent defensive work as Dixon moved the ball quickly to their wings in phase after energy sapping phase. Strong tackling by centers Isaac Moody and Nathan Toma would keep the opposition on the back foot for most of the day. They were joined by 8th grade forward Anton Venter who made bone crunching defensive tackles all day. Strong defensive play from the Stormers lead to the third try as forward Rangel Fowler touched down having turned over Dixon ball. scored the third try from a forwards attack. Locks Erik Romero and Chance Wilkinson shone in the line-outs all day with their trusted hands and string lifters assured a steady supply of possession.
Moody would pierce the Dixon defense to pass to Josh Swanson on the wing for the another Stormers try “Nothing was gonna stop that” said coach Jack Emerson. “That was a face of determination by everyone involved” he added.
To their credit and class Dixon did not lie down and challenged the Stormers line and were rewarded with a converted try as the half expired. The Stormers went to half-time ahead 24 – 7.
The second half produced some amazing scavenging play from the Stormers front five for the ball and pack leader Felipe Leon lead the way, as he had all season. Flankers Forest Downey and Tyler Mecchi stood at Leon’s shoulders through all of this work and their pressure contributed to Dixon conceding a penalty from which Napa mounted a signature move from a line out, from which they scored. Credit for the try will be discussed for an age as hands from both Forest and Leon were seen on the ball.
After the restart it was Peter Stoppello whose work ethic saw him play prop, flanker and No 2 take the charge for the line for a well-earned try. Dixon, to their credit, never stopped attacking but the tackles of Ari Eisenberg out wide and the solid scrimmaging by Ben Alexander would help to keep them side at bay. After fullback Derrick Uhl helped to thwart a Dixon charge it was again Swanson who would seize the ball and opportunity to post another try.
With a game in hand a last minute try to Dixon closed the score and completed the game with Napa Stormers JV Silver squad crowned Northern California Rugby Champions for the 2014 season having won their final game 39 – 12.
“It sounds very cliché, but this is an exceptional group of young men and truly a privilege to coach them” said coach Phil Hansell. “Their resolve, dedication and heart is awesome” added coach Whitecotton.
The Stormers would like to thank their sponsors for the 2014 as without their support off the field the team couldn’t have been so successful on the field: Napa Sheriff’s Activities League, Ghilotti Bros. Inc., St. Helena Optometry, Blue Sky Utility, Pilates Napa Valley, Napa Barrel Care, and Silverado Farming Company.
· JV Team Photo - Napa Stormers JV Team 2014 Nor Cal Silver Division Champions - (L-R):
Anton Venter, Ben Alexander, Felipe Leon, Jesus Fragoza, Chance Wilkinson, Theo Branum, Manny Vassos, Evan Cook, Ronny Fowler, Ruben Cartwright, Roman Ruffino, Tyler Mecchi, Forest Downey, Peter Stoppello, Erik Romero, Ari Eisenberg, Derrick UHL, Stephen Hill, Matthew Hansell, Nathan Toma, Isaac Moody, Caen Healy, Joshua Swanson. Photo Credit - Kathi Cook
· Varsity Team Photo – Napa Stormers 4th Ranked in Nor Cal - Back Row (L-R): Jack Emerson, Cody Smith, Hunter Whitecotten, Mason Banducci, Abel Rueda, Conner Whitecotten, Trevor Pappas, Jared Reich, Saul Romero, Pierce Young, Darrin Head, Anthony Pilotti, Erik Romero, Dennis Whitecotten, Barend Venter. Middle Row (L-R) Phillip Hansell, Nolan Kelnhofer, Theo Branum, Anton Venter, Cody Dusky, Patrick Hough, Luke Kampton, Bernard Venter, Evan Cook, Shane Latreille, Zack Gassner, Trevor Terrill. Front Row (L-R) Logan Romain, Felipe Leon, Tarik Fahmy, Cole Miller, James Prager, Chadd Fraiser. Photo Credit - Kathi Cook
About the Napa Stormers Rugby Club
The Napa Stormers Rugby Club founded in 2012 is the first youth rugby club in the Napa Valley. With members from multiple High Schools in the Napa Valley the Napa Stormers is committed to coaching its youth membership in skills that will assist them both on and off the field of play.