Southern California made an excellent showing in Racine, Wisc., this weekend. Before Fallbrook won their third DI high school championship, Fullerton paved the way with a DII championship.
“We wanted to prove ourselves,” Fullerton captain Lane McKenzie said. “We’re not a known team, but we got our name out last year when we won the [California] State Cup. That gave us a little bit [of credibility], but we’re the underdogs. We wanted to prove how far we’ve come and how we love to play.”
Just like their DI counterpart, Fullerton shut out their day-one competition with a 22-0 win over Parma and then a 30-0 victory over New York.
“They wanted it, too,” McKenzie reflected on the competition. “There are a lot teams that are thrown together willy nilly, that came together just because it was something to do. So I’m glad we came out here and finally faced people who wanted to play, who were into it and took the time to train like we do.”
That set up a final against Armstrong (Minn.), which had defeated Vernon 56-8 in the quarterfinals and edged Snow Canyon 10-5 for the championship bid.
“Because we won both games yesterday, we were like, ‘OK, let’s figure this out a little more,’” McKenzie said. “But we should have just come into the game hard. Armstrong, they handed it to us the most. We’ve faced tougher teams, but they had the most passion. Their backs were hitting us hard, kept us on our toes and forced us to pull it together.”
Freshman Izzy Manu was phenomenal at No. 8. She really helped turn around the second half and gave Fullerton the go-forward they needed in order to keep pushing to the final whistle.
“She’s only 14, and she’s insane,” McKenzie said. “I couldn’t ask for a better forward. Her knee was the size of a balloon, killing her, but she gave it her all. Our wings were awesome, too. They chased every single ball, were in every breakdown. All together, we worked as a team and everyone had each other’s back. We came back, together, in the second half and fought for that win.”
It was a nailbiter, but Fullerton banked the 27-17 win and DII title.
“It feels incredible; I can’t describe the feeling,” McKenzie beamed with a DII medal around her neck. “Twelve of us are leaving, and this is what we wanted; we’re fulfilling our dream. But the younger girls helped us get there, and we did it as a team.”
This DII title is a pinnacle for the senior's playing career. She’s been playing rugby for 11 years, having started when she was seven years old and thrown onto the U19 team. With the core players’ exodus, it’ll be interesting to see how Fullerton bounces back next year, but now they have the taste of a national championship, and that’s hard to not chase.