Invitations keep Fallbrook ruggers busy during summer

The Fallbrook High School Rugby Club girls team won the first-ever USA Sevens Girls High School Rugby Challenge on June 3 in Pennsylvania, three weeks after winning USA Rugby’s national high school championship tournament held at Stanford University. Although the Warriors as a team are inactive until training begins in early December, several Fallbrook players spent the summer at various tournaments and camps.

“Fallbrook’s name has been put out there,” said Craig Pinnell, who co-coaches the Fallbrook team with his wife, Marin. “It’s been a really good season to promote our players.”

Richelle Stephens, who was named the most valuable player of the USA Sevens tournament, and Casey Karl didn’t even have a weekend off from rugby after the sevens championship although they didn’t have to leave San Diego County. Stephens and Karl were invited to participate at the national sevens identification camp June 9-10 at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. Stephens, Karl, and five others trained with the national team. The other five were college players; Stephens and Karl were the only high school girls invited.

“That was kind of cool,” Marin Pinnell said.

Stephens and Karl ate and trained with the national team athletes. “It was pretty nice,” Marin Pinnell said.

Following the end of that camp Stephens and Karl were told that they were invited back to train with the national team when their schedules allowed them to do so.

Karl, Johni Durbin, and Megan Pinson took their finals early and missed the last week of school to participate in a week-long training camp in Glendale, Colo. The national under-20 camp took place June 11 to 16, and the under-20 development team including the three Fallbrook players also played in an under-23 tournament at Infinity Park in Glendale.

The Southern California Rugby Football Union has an all-star team called the Griffins. The Griffins actually consist of several all-star teams based on age and gender, but 10 Fallbrook players participated on the girls under-17 or under-19 Griffins teams at the West Coast All-Star Invitational Tournament which took place June 29 to 30 in Portland, Ore. In addition to the 10 Fallbrook players who competed in the tournament, Marin Pinnell was the backs coach and Craig Pinnell was the forwards coach for the under-17 and under-19 Griffins teams.

The under-19 tournament had five teams; the Griffins were joined by Northern California, Oregon, and Washington teams and a team called the Ospreys comprised of Oregon and Washington players not on their section all-star teams. Although regulation youth rugby games consist of 35-minute halves, a youth rugby rule limits players to 90 minutes in a day so the June 29 round-robin games consisted of 22 minutes so that each team could play the other four teams. The under-19 Griffins won all four of those games to earn the top seed in the June 30 playoffs. The Griffins then defeated Northern California in the semifinals and Washington in the championship match. Pinson was the captain of the under-19 Griffins while Stephens, Karmin Macedo, Michel Navarro, and Emma Workman also played for the under-19 all-stars.

Fallbrook’s Taylor Duncan was the vice-captain for the under-17 Griffins, and the under-17 players also included Kayla Canett, Alexi Eich, Brittney Eldridge, and Sarah Workman. Because only Northern California and Oregon joined the Griffins in the under-17 tournament, two Friday games of 40 minutes apiece were played. The Griffins won both of those games before defeating both opponents in the Saturday playoffs.

“It was very successful,” Craig Pinnell said.

Stephens, who turned 16 on July 22, spent her birthday at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y., as did Durbin, Karl, and Pinson. The players flew to Albany on July 21 and returned home July 31. The players were invited to the under-20 training camp based on their Colorado and Portland performances. “It was another look at newer players,” Craig Pinnell said. “They wanted to see what else they could do.”

The camp took place the same weekend as the Can-Am tournament, and the Fallbrook players witnessed that tournament as well as training with the national team players.

“I feel honored when I’m out there playing with all these amazing athletes,” Stephens said. “I’m excited when they include me, super-excited ‘cause there are a lot of girls to choose from.”

Four Fallbrook girls joined other Southern California players in a pair of sevens tournaments in August. Karl, Macedo, Pinson, and Workman played in a Los Angeles tournament while Karl, Macedo, and Pinson were on the Fullerton-based team for a San Francisco tournament.

Pinson and Stephens were separated during an August sevens tournament at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista; Pinson was on the national developmental team while Stephens played for the Griffins.

Carl, Pinson, and Stephens also earned an invitation to the September sevens training camp at the Olympic Training Center, where they trained with the women’s sevens team.

“More people are seeing our players,” Craig Pinnell said.

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