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Wasatch High, Provo girls’ rugby join forces to win championship

Back Rom (L-R): Noemi Barrios (Wasatch), Sarah Trunnel (Wasatch), Zion Stone (Provo), Skye Schlopy (Wasatch), Vasiti Turagavou (Provo), Sela Uluave (Provo), Aulia Afele (Provo), Maliana Pulu (Provo) Front Row (L-R): Phoebe Biutanaseva (Wasatch), Lole Malupo (Provo), Tita Iongi (Provo), Laura Pulu (Provo)
Credit Wes Biutanaseva
Back Row (L-R): Noemi Barrios (Wasatch), Sarah Trunnel (Wasatch), Zion Stone (Provo), Skye Schlopy (Wasatch), Vasiti Turagavou (Provo), Sela Uluave (Provo), Aulia Afele (Provo), Maliana Pulu (Provo) Front Row (L-R): Phoebe Biutanaseva (Wasatch), Lole Malupo (Provo), Tita Iongi (Provo), Laura Pulu (Provo)

Despite competing against a bracket loaded with some of the country's top teams, Wasatch High School rugby brought home a state trophy this season.

Rugby players from Wasatch High School brought home a state championship earlier this month, in tandem with Provo athletes. They played under the team name "Steelers."

Coach Wes Biutanaseva says his girls’ rugby team is usually the only club in the state to compete in the top tier with players from the same school — Wasatch High School.

This season, the Heber team joined forces with Provo because both were low on experienced players.

The combination resulted in a state title, with the team beating two others that were ranked in the top 10 nationwide.

The team prepped for two months ahead of the regular season. Biutanaseva said throughout the season, coaches emphasized bonding.

“Coming in with a low rank, our strategy was for the girls to make sure that they have that love [for] each other,” he said. “You have to have love towards your teammate, you know, I told them to go around, tell the teammates that you love them, you know, hug them, that you're going to get their back.”

The high school girls’ club league consisted of 11 teams playing seven-on-seven. The Wasatch-Provo squad, top-ranked Majestics in Utah and second-ranked United team vied for the championship in Salt Lake City earlier this month. The rankings are based on a report from this summer by the Goff Rugby Report, an independent American high school and college rugby publication.

In round one of the playoffs, Biutanaseva said the Wasatch-Provo squad came out fast. They used a modern style of play that used the speed of Wasatch High players with strength that Provo brought to the team.

“They used to play kind of old rugby, just use the physicality of the strong girls, just run up and try and run over two or three girls and then they move the ball. But then we taught them a whole different way of playing rugby is to more of a look-up rugby and moving the ball side-to-side, and then as soon as you see a gap, or what you call in football a ‘window,’ that's when we shoot up. But you have to be playing very patient.”

The strategy caught United flat-footed in the semifinal. Biutanaseva’s squad scored five tries en route to a 29 to 10 victory. Like touchdowns in football, a try is the word for when a player reaches the end zone and touches the ball to the ground.

The next game was a tightly contested defensive battle, by the coach’s diagnosis. He praised his team for starting out with several tries off a high number of passes between all the players on the field.

Heading into halftime with a 17 to 14 lead, the coach told his team they were in control.

“But to all the girls,” he said, “I'm like ‘Hey, these girls are under pressure. The pressure is on them because they've never had a team that played them like this.’ They always thrash every team.”

Wasatch-Provo won 22 to 21.

The coach said there’s more rugby to come.

In February, the team will go to Los Angeles to play teams from around the country. Some individual players have even more on the calendar.

Team captain Katelyn Hendrix is joining a team from Canada called the Celtics. They’ll play in Dubai in December. Sophomore Phoebe Biutanaseva will join Hendrix on that team to play a tournament in Florida in March.

Some of the players will seek spots on college teams to continue their rugby careers.

Footage of the final can be found using this link.

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