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The Southern California high school league is well into its third season, and more competitive than ever.
Since the territory split its high school and U19 teams into two competitions prior to the 2009 season, Fallbrook had never lost a SoCal high school league game, until a couple of weeks ago, when the Warriors fell to the Dead Rabbits 36-28.
“It’s a lot more competitive. You know what it is, all these other teams now that have been in the mix for five, six years, some of them maybe not quite as long, the coaching is better, the excitement is stronger,” said Fallbrook coach Mike Majewski.
“It starts to become more talked about on campuses and in the communities, so we get more people playing and more people going to coaching clinics, and it’s starting to level out, which we’re thrilled.”
The abolishment of territorial playoffs and a true national championship for high schools and U19 clubs has left some teams without quality competition.
For example, St. Thomas Aquinas is a serious up-and-coming program in suburban Kansas City, Kan. Across the state line in Missouri is the Jr. Blues, one of the best U19 clubs in the country. Other than each other, they have no team that can seriously threaten beating them within a five-hour drive.
In Southern California, 21 high school teams don’t have that problem.
“We’re really happy because of it. Some of our coaches who have now moved on to college ranks are now visiting high schools and sharing the knowledge there. Another big part of it, too, is the Olympic Training Center,” said Majewski.
“With the USA Sevens team right here, we have some great camps in Southern California, and the sevens players and some of the Eagle 15s players, they love to get out in the community and go to the different high schools and clubs and help out, so it’s all starting to come back around. We’ve got more kids playing down in SoCal now.”
Cathedral, who sits 3-0 in the South 1 division (SoCal is split into four divisions: S1, S2, N1 and N2) is an ascending program. But, says Cathedral coach Matt Baier, so is every one else.
“Coming in, we have enough kids. Us personally, there’s some good experience and some good new athletes that I felt like the team was coming along,” said Baier.
“Unfortunately, for everybody else the same thing has happened. Some of the teams that have been around for year or two have gotten a lot better, and some of the new teams, like the Belmont Shore team, you know are going to be competitive.”
Belmont Shore’s new high school venture, Wilson, is 3-0 in North 2. The next two weeks, which are the last two weeks for the high school regular season, will be huge in that division. Saturday Fallbrook plays a must-win game against Wilson, and the following weekend Wilson plays the 2-1 Dead Rabbits.
The winner of each division advances to the SoCal high school semifinals. So it’s entirely possible Fallbrook, undefeated in two SoCal high school seasons and SoCal’s only representative for the USA Rugby High School National Championships, might not make the postseason.
With just two weeks to play, every division has a tight race. South 2 has a three-way tie between Torrey Pines, HTH/Point Loma and San Pasqual, there are still three teams in the mix in North 1 and rivals Cathedral and St. Augustine look destined to play for the South 1 championship.