A recap of events at the 2020 Rugby Rave
There were plenty of “high fives” to go around yesterday, as the San Francisco Bay area based High Fives won the Division II title Feb. 7-9, 2020 at the Rugby Rave with a 40-34 victory Sunday, over 360 Heat 2, one of the tournament’s hosts, at Ability360 Sports and Fitness Center.
Matt Lewis, the Division II MVP and team’s leading scorer, is a new addition to the High Fives, and is originally is from Melbourne, Australia. Lewis and other key players joined the team just before this year’s Rugby Rave, so the idea going into the tournament was to “test the waters” and see what worked as a club.
“The key to victory in this tournament is that in the first game we didn’t come in with a strategy,” Lewis says. “Then every game after that, we ended up catching up beforehand and then we looked at how to approach each match.”
With the win, the High Fives now move up in United States Quad Rugby Association (USQRA) to Division I and qualify for the national tournament. Before any more play happens, Lewis admits he might need a nap, as he played every minute of the finals match.
“I was tired, man. As we went on, it got harder and harder,” Lewis says. “I was tired last night and even today. This was our sixth game.”
In the Division I final, it was a Canadian battle between the Maple Leafs (the national team of Canada) and their compatriots, the London Annihilators. In the end, The Annihilators upset the No. 6 team in the world, 46-41. The match was a physical battle between the two teams with Canadian pride on the line, however, the Rugby Rave does not adjust international rankings.
One player who was notably absent for the Maple Leafs was Zak Madell, who is one of the best players in the world. Madell is still trying to get back into competition shape after taking a few years off from playing internationally.
“Zak will obviously be a key piece of the puzzle for the qualifier,” Maple Leafs coach Patrick Cote says. “He will be a key piece of the rotation when he comes back.”
Rio Kanda Kavoc, who plays for the Maple Leafs on other occasions, was playing on the Annihilators during the tournament and the finals. Kanda Kavoc took and gave out massive hits on the floor and was planted on the ground multiple times. He can attest to the bumps and bruises he took while playing.
“Well, my head hurts a little bit, but that’s the game of rugby for you, “ says Kanda Kavoc.
David Willsie, player/acting head coach of London Annihilators, really likes playing the Rugby Rave tournament every year, as he’s attended for the past 12 years as both coach and player.
“It’s the perfect composition of good weather and competition,” says Willsie. “I’m not going to lie, it’s first class. It’s just top-shelf.”
Although they took home the trophy, Willsie admits there is more than winning to take away from the event.
“We’re always working and tweaking,” Willsie says. “We’re always just working on stuff we need to do to get to nationals.”
If teams were there to test their skills, this tournament was surely the place. The team that came the farthest to Phoenix, the national team of Germany, placed sixth in the Division I field after a 60-58 loss to the University of Arizona. According to head coach Christoph Werner, this was not the way he wanted to find out that the team has a lot of work to do to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Paralympic Games.
“Our second line just wasn’t working. I put them in, and they just could not handle it,” Werner says. “I think they actually were jet lagged.”
For other wheelchair rugby players, this event was a way of shaping up their skills for a potential Team USA selection. The rosters of the combined teams saw several hopefuls to make the Tokyo 2020 squad in action this week – one of whom, Raymond Hennagir III, moonlights for the Texas Renegades.
“I like the Rugby Rave. We came here last year with a thrown together team, and it is a great tournament and a great facility. It’s a great competition and a good time,” Hennagir says. “Anytime I am in the chair, it’s important to learn and keep getting up to that next level.”
The University of Arizona’s Josh Wheeler, who also played for Team USA during the Lima 2019 Parapan American Games, knows how playing against a potential Team USA teammate can be.
“There’s not really a rivalry playing with them, but we have fun,” Wheeler says.,
Other news of note from the 2020 Rugby Rave:
- This was the first year for an 11-team format with two distinct divisions.
- The 2019 Rugby Rave champions 360 Heat 1 placed third in Division I after defeating the Texas Renegades, 50-49.
- 2019 Division I USQRA champion University of Arizona wheelchair rugby team placed fifth overall in Division I thanks to its win over the national team of Germany.
- NorCal was the Division II third-place team after beating Portland, 55-41.
- There was no fifth-place match in Division II.
For more on the 2020 Rugby Rave, visit ability360.org/rugbyrave.