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The Gladiators, in their first year of rugby, are 14-0 and headed for the
DIII National Championship game. The college whose name they bear, Life
Chiropractic College West, shares a history and maintains a close
relationship with Life University in Marietta, Ga. But the Gladiators rugby
team isn't in any way affiliated with Life U's Running Eagles, who have
become club and college rugby powerhouses.
Life West is a small, chiropractic-only, graduate-only school located in Hayward, Calif., a community in the San Francisco-Bay Area. Dr. Tez Molloy was brought to Hayward in January, 2013 to work at the school and get a club rugby team off the ground. He started with just a few players, only one being a student at Life West, and reached out to the local rugby community to put it all together.
"Word got out that we're going to have a team back in Hayward, so some of the old Hayward Griffins and other players from around the Hayward area jumped on board, so we've done pretty well," Molloy said.
Hayward was a power on the club rugby scene for years; the Griffins winning the DI title in 2007 and being a mainstay at the final four for much of 2000s. Molloy got involved with the Hayward high school club once landing in town, and several former Griffins, and their sons, are playing for the Gladiators. Dr. Bruce Chester, a teacher at Life West and Hayward's team chiropractor during the Griffins' heyday, helped make the connection.
The club now counts nine Life West students as players. Though the team bears the school's name, it is not funded by the institution, but rather by a fundraising and sponsorship campaign supported largely by those in the chiropractic community.
The Gladiators typically found themselves to be on the larger side all season, and they didn't trail at halftime once in their first 12 contests. That changed last weekend at the national quarterfinals and semifinals in Irving, Texas.
Saturday in the quarters, Dallas Althetic Rugby Club (DARC) led Life West 14-5 at halftime, having converted two tries through a strong crosswind. Wing Leki Latu managed Life West's only try of the half.
The second stanza belonged to the Gladiators, though, as they blanked the home Knights 26-0 en route to a 31-14 win. Fancy Namulauuau, Travis Atualevao, and Suli Holani combined for five tries in the second half, three of which fullback Andrew Warhurst converted.
In Sunday's Final, the Gladiators would face the SoCal Kings, both clubs with significant Polynesian influence making it to the semifinals in their first year of existence. This time, Life West was the smaller bunch.
"It was the most intense, brutal game I've ever seen," Molloy said.
Life West used the strong Texas wind to jump out to a 17-5 halftime lead. Jay Finau, Austin 'Kermy' Colvill and Fancy Namulauuau all touched down for the Gladiators. The second half was controlled largely by the Kings, who then had the wind advantage.
"We had 28 minutes territory in the first half with the wind at our backs," said Molloy. "In the second half it was pretty well reversed, and we got very little territory, but enough we managed to get a try."
Up 22-17 with 10 minutes left on the clock, Life West was playing defense with its heels on the goal line as the large Kings were throwing their big bodies toward the goal line. The Gladiator defense held up, though, even through an extended injury time, and Life West advanced to the National final.
“The team really pulled together and used speed, conditioning, and a tried and true game plan to wear down a much physically larger team,” Life West's Don Ehasz said of the semifinal win.
Awaiting Life West in the DIII final will be New York's Old Blue, who for the second year in a row have reached the championship game with their developmental side. Old Blue was outraced by the Oceanside Chiefs, another West Coast team with a heavy Polynesian influence, in the final last year.