It’s natural to be upset. I would be upset too.
If I coached a really good high school team and it hadn’t been invited to the new National Invitational, I’d be more than upset.
But, it’s important to have a little context.
The panels who are part of the HS Nationals Committee (HSNC) that invited teams had no choice in how to work. Almost everyone on the panels would like a HS NIT (in all divisions) with two tiers. That way, 16 teams could be invited, and then a week or two before the event, these teams could be seeded in the top tier or Tier 2.
(Full disclosure, I was on this committee, and served on the panel to invite the boys HS club teams, but, like everyone else, offered my opinions to other groups, as well.)
That didn’t happen this year because the respective NIT tournaments had already been planned, and were being in conjunction with the college finals for women (May 12-13) and men (May 18-19).
Just about everyone on the panel said in the future they think the NIT could stand alone.
So, whose fault is that? In my opinion, no one’s. USA Rugby wanted to create a special event by combining the High School and College Championships. That this combination is not compatible with the new invitational format couldn’t really be foreseen.
And the HS Nations Committee? Well they were just asked to invite the teams. They didn’t get a say in the size of the tournament.
Where the Committee went wrong, then, was that they didn’t invite all the right teams.
Namely, they didn’t invite Mother Lode in the girls division, Herriman and Greenwich in the boys single-school division, and Lamorinda and possibly Kona in the boys HS club division.
There are some mitigating factors in these decisions. First of all, the invitations had to be sent out in January, therefore not taking into account this season’s results.
Second, the change in rules in HS rugby, which now prevent players not in high school from playing on a U19 team (now renamed HS club), meant the balance of power among clubs changed significantly.
Third, the breakup of the Highland rugby program in Utah had a far-reaching effect on the balance of power in that state.
Let’s discuss the jilted teams individually:
Mother Lode. A very strong team in 2011, Mother Lode’s girl’s program was outstanding this year. Based on the results on the field, they were clearly the best team in Northern California. They were missed because the Sacramento Amazons have had a longer history of success, having won in 2010 and 2003, and finishing 4th in 2004, and 2nd in 2011.
It turned out, the Amazons are on a bit of a downturn, and Mother Lode is on the upswing. Talk within the Committee often turned to the idea that if a program is truly strong, they will show staying power. But, if the NIT had been made into a two-tier event, Mother Lode would certainly have been invited, and would have been able to compete for the national title.
Herriman. No one really knew about Herriman, a single-school program in Utah, until this spring. They were good in 2011, but not mind-blowingly so, and are relatively new. Understandably, the HSNC panel looked to more established programs.
Greenwich. Possibly one of the best single-school team in the country right now, Greenwich didn’t hear about the new format and didn’t know they had to apply. This is an oversight of the HSNC, which expected repeated releases on RUGBYMag.com to do the job. But a few well-placed calls would have helped, too. (Other teams did receive direct calls.)
Jesuit. The Sacramento team, and defending champions, were not allowed to apply by their school.
Lamorinda. The best HS club team not invited, they should have been invited. HSNC members (including this writer) made several calls to find out which team from California would be the best to invite – Belmont Shore, Marin, or Lamorinda. Following the advice of many, the HSNC went with Marin. The Highlanders are a fine team, and deserve to be at the NIT. But Lamo deserves to be there, too.
Kona Bulls. I personally really pulled for these guys, but in the end we didn’t know if they were really good enough. HSNC specifically discussed the topic of a 2nd Tier with regard to Kona. A Tier 2 would have been perfect for them.
Naples. They were considered, but opted out.
So I write here in defense of the HSNC. I think they (or should I say, we) did the best they could. They made mistakes. Mother Lode, Herriman and Lamorinda should be in there, and Greenwich should at least have been notified about the new format.
But the teams invited are all very good, even exceptional. The HS Club competition is as wide open as it has ever been thanks to the rule changes. And if you’re dissatisfied with the process, and the resulting invitations, I advise a little patience. Next year, I hope we see two-tier competitions for all, and that will help settle a lot of arguments.