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Top-ranked Gonzaga repeated as Jesuit Classic champions Sunday, again downing 3Xavier in the final, 22-5 (They beat Xavier 22-10 in the inaugural final). Sunday marks the second time the Eagles have beat the defending high school national champs this spring, and Gonzaga never trailed in the match.
“Anytime you play Xavier it’s going to be a tough, tough physical match, and we probably had the upper hand in the first half; we scored three tries but only converted one of them,” said Gonzaga coach Peter Baggetta. “But typical Xavier, they came out really hard in the second half, and what we were able to do was sustain the pressure and score a try, and we held them until about a minute left in the game, when they ran an intercept a long way back leading to a try.”
Xavier coach Mike Tolkin was not in emergency mode after the loss, as there are several aspects of Xavier’s game he was happy with after the weekend, during which Xavier also defeated McQuaid (NY) and Dallas Jesuit.
“This time around, (against Gonzaga) our scrums and lineouts were much better. We were very effective in both areas. Both of our starting centers were missing, and they have a strong, athletic backline, so that hurt in the matchup,” he said.
“We saw what players were effective and which players weren’t, so we continue to kind of pare that team down. So in terms of personnel, who can stand up to a team like Gonzaga, we got information on that.”
One person who stood up against Xavier to Tolkin’s standards was hooker Luna Mishoe. “He was tremendous in the clear out area, clearing out tackles,” said Tolkin of Mishoe, “and it seemed like he probably had 17, 18 clear outs for us.”
Playing well for Gonzaga was a pair of reserves forced into action due to injury and unavailability.
Freshman flyhalf Ben Sima was one half of that pair. “He went on tour with us down in Argentina and he started two of the three matches down there,” said Baggetta of Sima. “He’s Argentine, so he’s been playing the game about eight years, and that kind of makes up for the fact that he’s a freshman.”
The other standout reserve was wing Mike Camizio, who touched one score down against Xavier and scored three tries in the 27-0 semifinal win over Fairfield Prep (CT).
Gonzaga is undefeated this spring and having probably the best year of any high school program in the country so far. While the season is still relatively early, the plan to peak in 2011 has been in the works for a long time. Gonzaga fielded a freshman team for the first time four years ago, and the current senior class is the first to have played freshman rugby at Gonzaga.
“The core group of guys have been playing together for four years. Two years ago, when we finished fourth and lost in the semifinal against Christian Brothers, I had five sophomores on that team, and they remember what it felt like on the bus ride home after coming so close to Christian Brothers,” recalled Baggetta.
“And those guys were on the field last year either as junior starters or reserves when we lost to Xavier in the final. I think often you have to learn to lose first before you learn to win, and I think the group of players we have this year, that’s not really a problem for us.”
With a senior-led squad, Gonzaga is not trying to learn any losing lessons this year. So far, so good.