After winning the Southern California Championship, the Dolphins of Santa Monica Rugby Club (SMRC) U18s headed for Elkhart, Ind., to compete in the three-day High School Boys National Invitational Tournament. The Dolphins won the first two of their three matches in three days against the best teams in the country, but ultimately falling short in the championship match on May 17 against No. 1 seed Cathedral Royal Irish.
The first match pitted Dolphins against the Carolina champion Charlotte Tigers. SMRC struck first within ninety seconds of the kickoff as Dolphins flyhalf Alex Walsh took a quick pass off a set piece and ran untouched for a score. Four more tries from the Santa Monica backs Parker Lynch, Cormac Heaney, Olan Moon-White, and Nate Peterson, and a penalty and two conversions from Walsh, gave the Dolphins a 32-12 victory in the quarterfinal.
In the semifinal on May 16, the Dolphins faced Southern California rival San Diego Mustangs, whom they had defeated just a few days earlier in the Southern California Youth Rugby championship match. The Dolphins defense held the seventh-seed Mustangs to a three-point penalty. The Dolphins scored on three tries, with two coming from forwards Tom Heaney and Conor Lydon. Wing Boris Mitrofanov added a third and, with a penalty and two conversions from Walsh, the Dolphins cruised to a 22-3 win.
The championship match on May 17 saw a huge turnout for the local Indiana team, Cathedral Royal Irish and pitted two undefeated teams against each other.
The first half was a defensive battle, with neither side willing to give any quarter; Santa Monica’s rolling maul, which had dominated the mighty Mustangs the day before, could not find the same success against Cathedral. Though the Royal Irish had the majority of possession, they missed two penalties and found themselves scoreless with time running out in the first half as the SM defense was up to the task.
Both teams were scoreless until the final play of the first half, when Cathedral was awarded a free kick at the Santa Monica five-meter line. The Royal Irish took advantage and scored a crucial try right beside the goalposts which was converted, making it 7-0 going into the break.
Like the first half, the second half was a physical battle that commenced at a fast pace. The Dolphins found themselves under pressure both offensively, due to a strong-rushing defense by Cathedral’s backs, and defensively, as the Royal Irish constantly made good ground on attack utilizing decoy runners and clever backline switches by their High School All-American flyhalf Brian Hannon.
The Dolphins were unlucky not to score when their driving maul was penalized in a controversial decision inches from the Cathedral goal line. Minutes later, twenty yards out from a score, Dolphin hooker Willie Hock burst through an opening but Cathedral knocked down Hock’s pass to prop Benny Gonda in what would probably have been a try to Santa Monica.
Cathedral eventually managed a try from a disrupted Santa Monica lineout, poaching the ball and in the ensuing counterattack putting the ball through five or six different hands as they crisscrossed the field at pace for eighty yards. The weary Dolphin defense was out-flanked and the converted score gave Cathedral a 14-0 lead, which would hold until full-time.
The Dolphins were unranked earlier in the season before closing out as the nation’s second-ranked team; SMRC was coached by Charlie Lydon, Andrew Clark, and Danny Conn.
This report was submitted to the Mirror by Richard Gonda (who wrote report) and Kilian Kerwin.