This year’s girls high school NIT was all about youth and how fantastically they performed under the rigors of national championship rugby. The excitement will build for the next year, as we expect teams like the Sacramento Amazons to return even better.
They’ve already made great progress, improving on their 8th place finish at last year’s nationals to finish 5th this year. They hinted at their prowess during the DSHA game in the opening round, falling short 20-12. The team looked a little beaten by the end of that game and gave up a try to DSHA outside center Emily Van Bibber, but through the majority of the game, they overwhelmed the eventual third-place team with a diehard forward game, that was more mobile than it’s been in years.
Flyhalf Melelea Tausinga was amazing. She’s only in 9th grade and was the most physically punishing of any of the halfbacks out there. She’s big, like many of her teammates, but she uses her body well and deftly offloads once a third tackler gets on her back. She was left off of the tournament team, but she definitely deserved the nod.
But even now, seeing freshmen like Tausinga excel is more the norm than the exception. Sacramento pushes the development of their youth, forcing them to meld the power of their physiques with the field vision that allows them to properly capitalize on the space they've created. Eti Haungatao is only 12 years old. The wing scored three tries during the Amazons’ fifth place, 32-10 win over Summit.
“My dad wanted me to try rugby, but I didn’t think I’d like it,” the former basketball, volleyball and tennis player said. “So I played with the U10s, so it could be easy and I could get the game down. My first game, I scored a try and it just felt so good. So I stayed with it.”
Haungatoa was unphased by the competition from DSHA, West Carroll (33-17 win) and Summit, and really flourished under the pressure.
“I played with boys, so this is actually really good competition for me,” Haungatoa said. “This is good practice for the future, if I want to succeed. Some of the college coaches talked to my parents, and I’m definitely thinking about scholarships.”
But for most young players, nationals can become more of a learning experience. Having only had Danville to really help them prepare for the NIT, this competition put the NorCal champion into unfamiliar game situations.
“The teams back home are nothing like the teams here,” Sacramento captain Suiliana Tausinga said. “Against DSHA, we could have come out harder, but we just weren’t ready. I wish we could have that game back; I want a rematch. We came back against West Carroll, upped our communication and did a lot with our forwards to open it up for the backs. And Summit, they were fast and strong, too. We played with our hearts. One of our uncles just died, so we were playing for him out there.”
Sacramento just needs a little more time together and competition that has them mentally prepared for high-stakes games like these. When everything clicks, the Amazons are going to be a scary team. They’re on the brink of finding that perfect balance of size and finesse, and when they do, they’ll finish higher than fifth in the nation.