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Life West Rugby celebrate success in SoCal 7s Tournament

The Life West Men’s and Women’s 7s rugby teams took the long drive down to Los Angeles on Saturday, July 17th, for the Orange County 7s Tournament, aptly nicknamed Sunsplash 7s. There was plenty of sun and little respite from the heat on an intense SoCal day.

Men’s Team

The men’s team lined up in Pool 1 against traditional rivals Belmont Shore, who entered two teams, Belmont Shore Blue and Gold, and the new Hawaiian Gardens program. Led by team captain and 9th quarter student Tim Stanfill, Life West topped pool play by beating Belmont Shore Blue 19-7,  Belmont Short Gold, 26-21, and Hawaiian Gardens 31-19. Setting up semi-final game against SoCal powerhouse OMBAC out of San Diego.

The team got off to a flawless first half and led 21-0 at the break. With less than 4 minutes of play remaining, OMBAC scored two successive tries to bring the score to 21-10, then on the last play of the game, scored a consolation try to post a respectable 17 points on a confident Life West side.

In the Cup Championship Final, the team took on the tournament’s surprise package, Oceanside Chiefs. After a strong defensive performance, the men capitalized on a tiring Chiefs team and ran out comfortable winners 26-5 – and crowned Sunsplash 7s Champions for 2021.

Women’s Team

More dramatically, the women’s team had to work hard throughout the day to reach the final itself. With 11 players away with US national duty, the team had a fresh look to it. Captained by alumni Dr. Nicole Strasko D.C., several new players had their first elite tournament for Life West, including first-year students Rachel Pauu, Myia Wilkes, Charity Rushton, Adriana Tonga, and new first-quarter student Alia Ah Far.

The ‘Trix got off to a strong start with wins over Santa Monica 28-0 and CSU Long Beach 24-12 but then lost to Tempe 5-17 to round out pool play. In an ironic twist of fate, and based on games won and lost, points differential, and number of tries scored and conceded, the Championship Final was a straight 1 v 2 ranked teams after pool play. So despite losing to Tempe in the previous game, the Gladiatrix qualified for the final against them.

Life West got off to a determined start in the title game, with strong defense from Dr. Strasko and Emma Harbage (8th quarter). On the back of an aggressive defense, the ‘Trix scored first to lead the game 7-0. Tempe then scored back-to-back tries to lead 14-7 at halftime.

Immediately after the break, Captain Strasko forced an error from an attacking Tempe player, which led to a turnover of possession. Life West pounced on the opportunity to score in the corner to bring the score 14-12 with 4 minutes left to play.

In a heartbreaking moment after a flurry of intense team attack and what looked like the go-ahead try to Life West, a Tempe player intercepted the ball to go under the post to score. This score created a seemingly unattainable 21-12 lead for Tempe, with 2 minutes left to play.

Over the next two minutes, the Gladiatrix threw everything but the kitchen sink at Tempe. In what was expected to be the game’s last play, ultimately scoring in the corner, bringing the score to 21-17 in Tempe’s favor. Thinking that was the end of the game, the mood was melancholy as the ladies were resigned to not having enough time left on the clock to mount another comeback. They had fought valiantly against a more experienced opposition.

In 7s rugby, the scoring team kicks off to restart play. On this occasion, after Life West’s last-minute score, the referee determined there was time left in regulation play for one last kick-off. The Gladiatrix had to kick off, and all that Tempe needed to do was to close out the game by kicking the ball to touch directly. Even a fumbled kick receipt or a forward pass would have ended the game. All of these actions would have been out of Life West’s control and would have immediately ended the game. Tempe would secure the win and the Championship title. Tempe should not do the one thing in that scenario that was to take possession into a contestable tackle situation.

Alas, to everyone’s surprise, the Tempe player who caught the ball ran forward directly towards an eager Life West defensive line. Waiting in anticipation was the eventual Women’s Player of the Tournament, Rachel Pauu (4th quarter). Pauu effected a ferocious ball and all tackle. Pauu hit and ‘trucked’ the attacking player in one singular motion, then ripped the ball away.

What looked like certain defeat changed in a momentary instant of pure athleticism. The Gladiatrix now had possession in what can only be described as a “freak” play. However, victory was no certainty – with any number of things potentially going wrong at this point – a forward pass, an obstruction call, or even a simple loss of possession.

To Life West’s benefit, Orange County native Pauu simply went “beast mode,” carried with determination and aggression, broke two tackles, sidestepped a third defender, and outpaced the covering defence to score under the post for a 7 point score. The result was a 24-21 scoreline and the Tournament win.

A truly memorable day for the teams that was capped off by being hosted at the Pauu Family’s home for a Polynesian feast was simply outstanding. Some tired and well-fed athletes navigated the drive back to the Bay on Saturday night.

Special mention needs to go to 8th quarter student Abbe Gage, who was Athletic Trainer for both squads. Thank you for your tireless work.

A huge “malo ‘aupito” (thank you very much) to the Pauu family and Rachel for opening their home, extending their hospitality, and illustrating their own lasting purpose to Give, Do, Love & Serve. Your generosity humbled the teams.

Congratulations to both teams and the coaching staff.

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