For the second consecutive year, the third-place Ahwatukee Rugby Club is heading to the state championship finals after defeating the second-place Tucson Blackbirds over the weekend.
The 6-3 Ahwatukee Rugby Club, made up of athletes from both Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe high schools, beat Tucson 33-17 on Saturday, April 8.
“It was a very close game for 55 of the 70 minutes,” said coach Roger Tushingham. “We were never behind, but Tucson kept coming back at us. Our boys’ togetherness really shone through.”
Tucson had defeated his club in regular season play.
Tushingham credited the team’s togetherness to a Las Vegas trip early in the season for a game against the Nevada champion team, the Las Vegas Blackhawks.
“We had an impressive win in the match, but more importantly the trip really helped the squad gel together,” he said.
The club also started a team for boys 14 and under, and although Tushingham said membership this year was “a little low,” he hopes “to continue to grow.”
The club won its last two games of the season “with excellent performances against a very big and experienced Tempe side, and then a dominant performance against Arrowhead,” Tushingham said. Those results earn it a berth in the four-team seifinals.
The Ahwatukee Rugby Club will play Red Mountain on April 22. Noting Red Mountain defeated his team last year in the finals, Tushingham said:
“Red Mountain is a very strong team and well coached and has won state for the last five years. They are coached by Ahwatukee resident OJ Hawea. In last year’s final, they beat us heavily – 64 to 5, I think it was. Earlier this season, they beat us 50-38, and we are hoping to build on that improvement and push them harder this year.”
Tushingham said the regular seasn “has been good for us so far in terms of a number of boys being selected to play for representative sides.”
For example, Kyle Ostendorp represented the Arizona U16 team and was elected team captain. Kyle Bohlen, Adriaan VanNiekerk and Cameron Diamond represented Arizona U18 and Adriaan was captain. Malachi Knox was selected to play for Atavus All Star Elite, a team made up of high school boys from all over the United States.
The club includes Herman VanNiekerk, Erik Larson, Francisco Canales, Cameron Diamond, Micah Meehan, John McGill, Miles Barrios, Alec VanLue, Dasi Rogers, Malachi Knox, Sean Watters, Kyle Bohlen, Kyle Ostendorp, Caleb Watters, Miquaos Barrios, David Husband, Cameron Watters, Vince Sparti, Chance Glover, Christian Spackman, Adriaan VanNiekerk, Wesley Aaron, Elias Poole, Ian Spackman, Demarius Sharpe, Justin Williams, Amir Bethea, Matthew Wilkes and Jace Jenkins.
It also has added Omar Habbal to the coaching team and is sponsored by local restaurant Pita Jungle, which provides food for the club and its opponent after all home games.
“We hope that a good number of these boys will be selected to represent Arizona in Denver in June,” Tushingham said. “But for now we are focused on preparing for what will be a tough assignment against Red Mountain.”