Davis High rugby re-emerges as season just around corner

By From page B1 | December 13, 2013

A drop goal is good.

A try is even better.

Tackling too early or too late is frowned upon.

Trampling or tripping is considered unfair, dangerous and heavily penalized.

The game is 80 minutes of speed, strength and endurance.

Huge in many countries — and reinstated in the Olympics — the sport of rugby hasn’t gained a foothold in the United States.

Nonetheless, Northern California (think UC Berkeley’s 26 national titles) has been one region in which rugby has been a flickering ember, hoping to ignite a fire under the rest of the nation’s athletic community.

Davis, too, has been in the rugby spotlight over the years, dating back to former Aggie Babe Slater, an Olympic star of the 1920s, and more recently Davis High graduate Thretton Palamo — the youngest player ever to appear in the Rugby World Cup (2007).

After a four-year absence, boys rugby returned to the DHS campus last year and the girls continue full speed ahead.

Now, while still a club sport, Blue Devil administrators will provide letters for participants while ensuring players have met basic standards like concussion testing, physicals and minimum grade requirements.

With almost 70 DHS students working out, hoping for spots on local boys and girls teams, the sport could emerge someday as a regularly sanctioned prep sport.

“It’s been going well,” says first-year Blue Devil boys head coach Andy Malpass. “Our practices started last week and we have about 50 kids out.”

“We’re working on the fundamentals now,” the former Isle of Man resident told The Enterprise. “Once we have that dialed in, it’s time to put the offense and defense in.

“It’s a pretty short period of time to get all that established.”

The girls — directed by Kal Incendy — are 20-strong.

Preseason encounters for both teams will start in January, with kickoff tournaments for both squads around Feb. 1. Both the boys’ and girls’ schedules remain works in progress.

Malpass and Incendy say they’ll take players throughout the season. Malpass says even though practice has begun, it isn’t too late for someone to get involved.

“We don’t turn anybody away,”  explains Malpass, who is the former UCD coach. “I want kids to come out and play rugby and enjoy it.

“At least 50 percent of these kids never saw a rugby ball before.”

But a handful could be considered veterans.

Back on the girls’ side is Carolyn Irving, a backline standout. Jordan Vermette, Clarisa Sandoval and forward Jenna Plasterer return with Guadalupe Perez, Estephanie Franco and Perla Portillo.

For the guys, seniors Zac Slavich, Eli Castro and Winfred Roberson — familiar names from the DHS football team — return, as does junior Nash Nunes (also a Blue Devil gridder).

Bailey Yarrow, Sam Simon, Jerid Roberson, Joey Dossa and Yared Haile are newcomers to watch.

Davis High rugby is open to players in ninth through 12th grades. The cost is $275 for boys and $250 for girls.

Most costs — including uniforms, field costs and referees — are absorbed by the members of the teams that make up the Davis Rugby Football Club.

Malpass says he’d like to see the sport reach younger players and suggests his club establish workouts or teams for the little ruggers:

“Eventually what I might do … is go around to the elementary schools and (introduce) the sport. Do some flag work with the kids. It really is such a fantastic sport and has grown so.”

Malpass, who has played since childhood and coached since coming to the United States eight years ago, owns A.J. Construction and Remodeling for a day job.

“It’s truly a game for people of all sizes,” Malpass says. “When I started playing, you had the big fatties and the fast guys. Now guys are expected to be mobile for 80 minutes. He has to be able to get forward, he has to be able to run, he has to be able to pass.”

Incendy, like Malpass, is a Davis resident and longtime player.

Incendy is in his first season at the girls’ helm. He owns Free Heel’n sailing charters in San Francisco Bay and runs the Telemark and Backcountry Center at the Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort.

Incendy helped coach the girls last year and remembers how studly they were. Despite being reduced to 12 available players (going against teams of 15), the squad made the playoffs.

He’s happy with this year’s numbers, but would welcome more girls.

Girls team manager Michelle Vermette says there is money for scholarships and agrees with Malpass that “nobody will get turned away because of cost.”

Vermette, whose daughter Jordan plays, laughs when she adds:

“I have no idea (why girls play and get knocked around). But they love it. Last year, when we started tackling, we had a couple of girls quit at that point … just couldn’t handle it. But most of them have no problem with it.”

Vermette says the Davis Police Officers Association, Dutch Bros. Coffee and Davis Ace Hardware have been gracious sponsors, “but we could always use more.”

Notes: Colby “Babe” Slater was a three-sport star at UCD in 1914-17 and was the centerpiece of the 1920 and 1924 U.S. Olympic gold medal-winning rugby squad. … Malpass’ coaching staff includes Tasha Ghaffarsadeh, Kelly Evans, Andrew Humphrey, Sam Shackelford, Reid Robinson and Miguel Borrego. The girls’ assistant coach is Kimberly Walker, a Davis police officer and former player at Oak Ridge High and St. Mary’s College. ….. DHS grad Tanner Mohr plays for Cal. … For further information, visit (for girls) www.ladydevilrugby.com and (for boys) www.davisrugbyclub.com. … Davis practices are at Brown Stadium with tourneys and games normally on weekends.

— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.

Bruce Gallaudet

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