To win a championship in a sport as rough as rugby, you need players as tough as granite.
Story by Jim Zelinski; Photos by Dan Bandoni. Courtesy of Sports Today
Prevailing over a field of the country’s top 24 teams, the Granite Bay Rugby Club has won the national high school boys rugby championship (under age 19) for the first time in its short seven-year history.
Granite Bay competes in what is considered the country’s most challenging league of its type with elite high school teams from throughout Northern California, including Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Granite Bay Grizzlies earned the crown on Saturday, May 21, after winning three consecutive games in the Boys High School Club National Championship invitational tournament held in Charlotte, North Carolina over three days. With a roster filled with athletes from 13 area high schools, Granite Bay defeated the Chapel Hill Highlanders of North Carolina, 43-8, the Kansas City Junior Blues 25-10 in the semi-final, and Royal Irish Rugby (Indiana State Champions) in the final 14-8.
“I am very proud and happy for our players and coaches who accomplished what was the ultimate goal for every sports team and program,” said Granite Bay Rugby head coach Jason Divine, who is a former junior national rugby player. “We prepared to win the championship by competing in the most difficult league in the country, with more top-ranked high school teams than anywhere else in the nation.”
In a relatively short time, Granite Bay is earning a reputation, like the legendary De La Salle High School football program in Concord, for sending players to top college programs.
In the last four years alone since Divine was hired, more than 60 Granite Bay players have been recruited by major colleges, such as the national champion University of California at Berkeley, Central Washington, Saint Mary’s in Moraga, and the University of Arizona.
“One of my goals is to continue to place our players in the top rugby programs in the country,” said Divine who lives in Sacramento.
Rugby’s popularity continues to grow worldwide. In the U.S. alone, said Divine, there are over 450,000 youth and adult players and 3,000 rugby clubs
“When I played, there were only 50 college rugby programs. Now there are 500 programs, which underscores the rise in popularity of our sport,” noted Divine.
Alex Evans hydroplanes through the end zone after scoring a try against the KC Junior Blues. Evans was one of eight sophomores called up to varsity for the national championships. Photo by Dan Bandoni.
Part of rugby’s appeal, he said, is that every player is involved on every play: “You get to run with ball and tackle regardless of the position.”
Divine predicts rugby’s future in the U.S. is bright, with more professional teams coming in cities across the U.S. Sacramento has a professional rugby team which is playing its inaugural season this year. Rugby is also in the Olympics this year for the first time in almost 100 years.
“Rugby is exploding like the ‘wild west,’ ” said Divine. “There is a huge opportunity for our sport in America and across the globe.”
The current Granite Bay Rugby program was founded in 2008 and consists of high school boys from 13 high schools (Granite Bay, Rocklin, Roseville, Whitney, Oakmont, Del Oro, Woodcreek, Antelope, Casa, Folsom, Vista, Placer, Bella Vista). It competes in the country’s most difficult league — the Nor Cal Premier Conference, which includes top high school teams from Sacramento and the Bay Area. For more information, please visit www.granitebayrugby.com.