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The Orlando U19 rugby club got some double good news this week, as they edged Daytona HS to remain undefeated in the Rugby Florida North Pool, and then found out they'd been invited to the Boys National Invitational Championship.
For the little-known Orlando team, these are heady times, but heady times born out of adversity.
"We've had a good start to the season but it all really started in late April of 2013 when we went to Naples and lost something like 67-20," said Orlando Coach Matt Wise, referring to the three-time defending state champion Naples Bears. "Little did we know that we would be right back down to Naples two weeks after for the state semifinals. For 70 minutes we played our guts out and had two tries disallowed or stopped in the last minute to lose the match by two points. The Naples coach was gracious in winning and admitted that the better side that day lost."
That was the moment when Orlando realized that they could, and should, compete.
"We looked at each other from that moment and committed ourselves to getting better every day, little by little," said Wise. "We graduated only three seniors last year and being in only our third year as a club some of our younger players when we started have developed their craft and worked hard over the course of the last year."
Wise said this has been a team effort, with "everyone committed to one another to drive each other [and] to get better."
So the season started for Orlando Jan 18 with a 62-12 defeat of the Cape Pirates. Two weeks late they shut out Tampa 52-0, and two weeks after that shut out the Mavericks 65-0.
So that set up a clash with 3-0 Daytona, and that turned into a classic tussle.
"Daytona gave us a good smack in the mouth this past weekend and really played a magnificent game," said Wise. "We did not match Daytona's intensity at the breakdown. Daytona has a very good team and great coaching and leadership. Both teams really played with heart and I know for us though we didn't play the cerebral game and that's something we have to improve on."
Still, it ended in Orlando's favor. Daytona scored three tries in the game and converted two, while Orlando was limited to two tries. But thanks to a couple of penalties, Orlando was in with a shout at 19-18 with time winding down. Daytona was called offside, and Mitch Wilson kicked a penalty from 30 meters out to win the game 21-18.
Wilson has been outstanding, leading the attack and controlling the game in partnership with scrumhalf Erik Sasiadek. The young pack has several strong performers, including Adam Gunn, Ieuan Nation, Sam Voegele, Nick Barbarick, Hector Dejuan, and JC Rojas.
"They get us on the front foot," said Wise.
The result coincided nicely with the news that Orlando will be at the NIT. Orlando is listed in the single-school group but are actually a multi-school club. However, they were picked by the single-school team reps in part because the NIT Committee felt that Florida deserved to have a representative at the tournament.
The single-school and multi-school brackets will both have eight teams, but in Tier 2 it's likely that there will be more club teams than single-school.
Wise doesn't worry about that.
"Our goals at the NIT are to play to our best potential against the best this nation has to offer in terms of high school rugby," he said. "I think it's a massive honor to be selected and for our young men to be a part of this. Some of our kids have never been outside of the state so why not take them to Elkhart, Ind. for their first trip? The NIT is coming but we have 4 matches left in our season in Florida that require our attention first."
Rugby Florida Boys HS standings:
|Riviera Beach HS||1||2||0||1||1||6|
|Boca Raton HS||0||4||0||0||0||0|
|Tampa Krewe HS||1||2||0||0||0||4|
|Miami Rugby HS||2||1||0||0||2||10|