Houston Youth Tournament - March 4th, 2017

The inaugural Houston Youth Tournament was played at The Village School in the Westchase neighborhood of Houston.  Rain was expected with the chance increasing as the day wore on.  Competition included hosts Katy, the Woodlands, the North Texas Barbarians (Celina), and the Regis School.  Notable no-shows were newly formed teams Austin and San Marcos.   In order to insure that all teams played three games minimum, each team played two “pool” games with teams being seeded in a single elimination playoff bracket based on record, head-to-head, and points scored.  Once seeded, the winner of the single elimination bracket would be crowned tournament champion.  Having won the first of the four state-sponsored tournaments, the Plano Predators knew that the other teams would be gunning for them and that they would have to raise their game in order to repeat that result.

Pool Play Game 1 vs. Katy

In a rematch from the Austin Tournament, the Predators faced arch rival and reigning State Champion Katy in their first match.  The Predators put up the first score getting the ball wide to winger Ty Neves who dotted down a try about 5 minutes into the match.  The conversion attempt missed the mark leaving the Plano team up 5 – 0.  For the remainder of the half, the Predators staunch defense pressured the Katy team keeping them on their heels.  Center Jamerion Sanford set the tone with a leveling hit on a Katy attacker midfield.  Taylor “Bacon” Bailey, Aiden Walls, James Knight, Joe Hoodenpyle and Ty Neves also made key tackles while hooker Arris Robinson and #8 James Laprocido continued to repeatedly steal Katy scrum and lineout ball respectively to keep the Katy Barbarians at bay.  Unfortunately for the Predators, a Katy player managed to break through the Predator line near the end of the half with a try between the posts.  Katy converted and went into the half up 5 – 7.

 Predator defense on the attack!

Predator defense on the attack!

The second half played much like the first with the Predators pressuring but the Katy team holding tight.  The Predators’ rucking, led by James Knight and David Hader, improved as the game progressed creating an opportunity midway through the second half.  Specifically, a quick weak side movement off a ruck to Jamerion Sanford led to his first try of the tournament with “Jay” essentially steamrolling the Katy winger to put the ball down left of the posts.  Unfortunately, the Predators could not convert leaving them leading Katy by the thin margin of 10 – 7 with a lot of time on the clock.  Katy continued to pressure but clearing kicks by James Knight and great execution in the lineouts by Saul Gerstenfeld, Christian Pressler and James Laprocido enabled the Predators to retain the ball and run out the clock to hold on for the first victory of the day and their second over the reigning champs in as many attempts so far this year.

 Relieving pressure with a clearing kick

Relieving pressure with a clearing kick

FINAL SCORE: Predators 10 – Katy 7 [Plano Tries: Neves, Sanford; No conversions]

STARTING XV: Taylor Bailey (1); Arris Robinson (2); Rita Habib (3); David Hader (4); Christian Pressler (5); Saul Gerstenfeld (6); Merrick Moncure (7); James Laprocido (8); Bryce Tucker (9); James Knight (10); Joe Hoodenpyle (11); Jamerion Sanford (12); Josh Seligsohn (13); Ty Neves (14); Aiden Walls (15)

MAN OF THE MATCH: TBA at practice on Tuesday 3/13

Pool Play Game 2 vs. the Woodlands

In the second game, the Predators faced a big and experienced Woodlands team.  Once again, it was Ty Neves, now at inside center, overpowering the Woodlands back line off a pass from flyhalf James Knight to score a try in the corner a few minutes into the game – Ty’s second of the tournament.  The conversion kick was missed due to the wide angle leaving Plano up 5 – 0.  Led by scrumhalf Bryce Tucker, the Plano defense continued to keep the Woodlands offense off balance leaving the Predators up at the half by a try.

 Predators in pursuit

Predators in pursuit

Early in the second half, the Woodlands team leveraged their size and experience to turn the tides on the Plano 15 leading to a converted try to take the lead 5 – 7.  However, it was again the Plano defense that kept the lid on the Woodlands’ hopes by creating an opportunity for replacement Jamerion Sanford to barrel through the Woodlands defense to score his second try of the day deep in their half off of a turnover putting Plano up 10 - 7.  The backline “wall” of James Knight, Ty Neves, Josh Seligsohn, Jamerion Sanford and Charley Maretzky combined with try saving tackles by brothers Gavin (flanker) and Merrick (winger) Moncure enabled the Plano team to hold tight against Woodlands pressure.  However, it was the inspired play of scrumhalf Bryce Tucker, in particular, that limited Woodland’s opportunities.  Bryce was all over both ends of the field: continually spoiling their scrum ball; tying up runners in mauls to create turnovers; and creating Plano opportunities through quick recycled ball.  As the whistle blew, the Predators had prevailed – again by the score of 10 – 7.

FINAL SCORE: Predators 10 – Woodlands 7 [Plano Tries: Neves, Sanford; No conversions]

STARTING XV: Jacob Turner (1); Saul Gerstenfeld (2); Ty Girouard (3); Josh Goff (4); Aenghus Denvir (5); Gavin Moncure (6); Liam Carroll (7); James Laprocido (8); Bryce Tucker (9); James Knight (10); Merrick Moncure (11); Ty Neves (12); Josh Seligsohn (13); Charley Maretzsky (14); Aiden Walls (15)

MAN OF THE MATCH: TBA at practice on Tuesday 3/13

 Keeping dry between games

Keeping dry between games

Semi-Final Game vs. NTXB

Having beaten both Katy and Woodlands, arguably two of the top three teams in the tournament, the Plano Predators earned the #1 seed in the single elimination playoff bracket.  Despite this, the seed was not determined until after the last game played in pool play.  With the 36 points they had previously put up on an overmatch Regis side, NTXB could have taken the top seed with a win over Katy as they would also finish 2 – 0 in pool play.  However, it was not to be as Katy’s win in that game cemented Plano’s place at the #1 seed in the playoff bracket earning the Predators a much deserved bye.  As the #4 seed, NTXB was forced to once again face Regis with the winner going on to the semis against Plano.  NTXB prevailed once again setting the stage for another contest between these North Texas rivals.

Whatever their hopes for this tournament, it was not to be in this one for the North Texas Barbarians as the Predators scored early and often.  Merrick Moncure took a pass from Aiden Walls wide to outrun the NTXB backs to start off trailed shortly thereafter with a “hustle try” by Josh “Frenchy” Goff following a break by Ty NevesNeves later added his third try of the tournament while Jamerion Sanford added two more with Aenghus Denvir converting two to put the Predators up 29 – 0 at half.

 One of many Predator scores vs NTXB

One of many Predator scores vs NTXB

The lone bright spot for NTXB was in the second half in the form of an unconverted try resulting from the interception of an errant pass by one of their centers.  That score turned out to be all they could muster as the speedy Merrick Moncure later added his second try of the match to put the icing on the cake – Plano winning the game 34 – 5 and advancing to the Finals.

It is worth noting that, throughout the game, Plano scrummed and rucked well against the much bigger NTXB pack.  Tight 5 players Arris Robinson, Christian Pressler, Aenghus Denvir, Ty Girouard and Jacob Turner were able to negate a significant size difference to consistently win our scrum ball while Liam Carrol and Josh Goff were all over the field harassing the NTXB back line. 

Final Score: Predators 34 – NTXB 5 [Plano Tries: M Moncure (2), Sanford (2) Neves, Goff; Conversions: Denvir (2)]

STARTING XV: Taylor Bailey (1); Arris Robinson (2); Jacob Turner (3); Aenghus Denvir (4); Christian Pressler (5); Liam Carroll (6); Josh Goff (7); Merrick Moncure (7); James Laprocido (8); Josh Seligsohn (9); James Knight (10); Merrick Moncure (11); Jamerion Sanford (12); Ty Neves (13); Joe Hoodenpyle (14); Aiden Walls (15)

MAN OF THE MATCH: TBA at practice on Tuesday 3/13

Final Game vs. Woodlands

A light but steady rain had fallen since mid-morning but the rain held off as the final was about to begin.  Woodlands showed that they came to play by overcoming reigning State Champ Katy in a close semi-final match and putting them in the final against the Predators.  Having eked out a tight game in Pool play and losing several key players to injury earlier in the day, it was clear that the Predators would have to dig deep to prevail in the final.

Like Yogi Berra’s famous quote, the Finals game seemed like “déjà vu all over again”!  It started eerily like the first contest against Woodlands in pool play with both sides pressuring and defenses bending but not breaking.  To add to the sense of déjà vu, it was once again Jamerion Sanford opening up the scoring with a try off a ruck deep in Woodlands territory for his fifth of the day ending the half with Plano up 5 – 0 just as it ended in the first game.

 Getting the ball wide vs Woodlands

Getting the ball wide vs Woodlands

In the second half, Woodlands pressure was stymied by the staunch Predator defense let by Captain James Knight.  Always leading by example, Knight was all over the field defensively as he was seemingly involved in almost every tackle.  Regardless, Woodlands continued to pressure with what appeared to be a try midway into the half.  However, it was negated by a penalty with James Knight clearing the kick to relieve the pressure.  The back and forth continued until it was again Merrick Moncure icing the game with a beautiful try off a pick and run around mid-field to put the Predators up for good.  James Knight converted and the final whistle blew shortly thereafter with the Predators emerging as the Champions of the Middle School bracket of the inaugural Houston Youth Rugby Tournament! 

 Quick recycling of the ball creates opportunities

Quick recycling of the ball creates opportunities

Final Score: Predators 12 – Woodlands 0 [Plano Tries: M Moncure, Sanford; Conversions: Knight]

STARTING XV: Taylor Bailey (1); Arris Robinson (2); Rita Habib (3); David Hader (4); Christian Pressler (5); Saul Gerstenfeld (6); Merrick Moncure (7); James Laprocido (8); Bryce Tucker (9); James Knight (10); Joe Hoodenpyle (11); Jamerion Sanford (12); Josh Seligsohn (13); Charley Maretzsky (14); Aiden Walls (15)

MAN OF THE MATCH: TBA at practice on Tuesday 3/13

Notes and Observations

As previously noted, there were some perceptions of complacency at practice over the last several sessions.  With the weekend starting spring break for PISD and the travel requirement (the furthest competition scheduled this year) limiting the team members who could travel, those concerns were only magnified for this tournament.  And, while there were a few signs early that those concerns might come to pass, I have to say that they washed away with the rain as the day progressed with the team stepping up to meet every challenge thrown at them.  So the championship was well deserved in my opinion!

 Accepting the trophy!

Accepting the trophy!

I also wanted to make note of the forward play.  Although our strengths are typically more weighted to the play of our back line, I was particularly impressed with how our forwards played against much bigger and very athletic competition.  Of the three teams we played (we never faced Regis due to the pool play draw), all had us in terms of size.  However, it was the Plano pack that not only won most (if not all) of our scrum and lineout ball, we won a great share of the competitions’ as well.  In addition, our “quick ruck” strategy played well with us mostly beating the competition to the ball and retaining possession at most breakdowns.  As they say, they can’t score if they don’t have the ball!   So hats off to guys like Arris Robinson – who won all of his and much of the competitors put ins in the scrums; Christian Pressler and James Laprocido – who likewise kept our lineout possession and took much of their throws; and David Hader, Rita Habib, Liam Carroll and Saul Gerstenfeld – who hit the rucks fast and hard!

 The celebration begins!

The celebration begins!

I do want to applaud the backline defensive efforts led by Bryce Tucker, James Knight, Josh Selighsohn, Jamerion Sanford, Ty Neves, Aiden Walls and Joe Hoodenpyle who not only held when the pressure was on, they limited big plays by the competition.  In fact, the total sum scored on us was just 19 points over four games – less than a try a game!

 Picture time!

Picture time!

Finally, I want to call out the players new to the sport who continue to show progress.  Charley Maretzky, Ty Girouard, Jacob Turner, Mia Balderas and Victoria Balderas continue to improve every day!  Mia and Victoria (along with first XV player Rita Habib for one game) participated in the girls’ bracket and showed brilliantly scoring multiple tries and making numerous tackles.  I am no prognosticator but I have to say that the overall play of the team so far this season certainly bodes very well for both the near term and future success of the Plano Youth Rugby program!