[Red] Raiders Reap the Benefits of Tour
Kahuku High School is back in Hawaii, having completed a three-game 15s tour of the Salt Lake City region late last week. The trip was full of intention, from the cadence of the schedule to the selection of the destination, and it provided a wealth of information about the Raiders’ current squad. Kahuku is the reigning Single School National Invitational Tournament (NIT) champion but this year will compete in the HS Club NIT, which plays out in Salt Lake City May 17-18. [The Single School NIT is May 18-19 in Glendale, Colo.] Kahuku graduated 14 players last year, so the team is young, but not necessarily inexperienced. Captains Tania Scott (outside center) and Kawai Akina (hooker) are two of five seniors, and they anchor the team. They get good support from NIT vets like Niusina Auela and Joanna Tufaga, and senior flanker Aja Tapusoa has had a breakout season, impressing onlookers in Utah despite just three weeks to prepare. “However, the strength of our team really lies in the freshmen and sophomores,” Kahuku head coach Nusi Tukuafu explained. “The experience they had from NITs the past couple years and then going into NAI 7s really fast-tracked their knowledge of the game.” The set-up for this tour also introduced those younger players to what awaits in two months. NIT teams play three games in two days, and so Kahuku lined up Wasatch/Brighton, East and United on consecutive days. Additionally, Salt Lake City as a destination requires some acclimation.
“Another objective was our endurance playing at the Utah elevation, and seeing how we could cope with it, which the team did better than we had expected,” Tukuafu indicated. “Coming back to Hawaii, we’ll know how to tweak their fitness training so they can maintain that high level of play from the first match to the last.” Kahuku wasn’t necessarily expecting the snow the first two games, and while playing in those specific conditions won’t help in May, the process of adapting to the weather is always a worthwhile exercise. “Playing Brighton/Wasatch and East rugby clubs in the snow was definitely an experience the ladies will never forget in their lifetime,” Tukuafu noted. “It did take away some of our strengths with our forward pack set pieces and speed with our backs because of slick ball and sloppy passing. Definitely have to do more sand training to help out with our footing and endurance.”
The coaching staff was pleased with the progress that the team made during its 25-5 win over Wasatch/Brighton and then 19-10 win over East High School. That left reigning HS Club NIT champion United for day three, and the tour had done its job in replicating how a team might be feeling right before an NIT final. “The disadvantage we had – which we wanted – was having to deal with teams that had fresh legs every match, which gave us coaches an idea on who our strong players are and who still needs work physically,” the coach explained. “We do not do weight room training due to there are no gyms on our side of the island, so we rely on plyo-cardio workouts. By the time the United/KGR match started, I think the ladies were more settled in their play and the hype of the match had calmed down on our side. That’s how we want to be going into [NITs].”
A brutally tough game evolved in front of packed sidelines – also indicative of what awaits in May – and United won 12-5. The result leaves just enough of a sting to keep Kahuku working hard and looking forward to NITs. When the Raiders do return to the mainland, they should have their full complement of players for some extra punch as well. “I think the ladies really found their chemistry and team bond during the matches in the snow,” Tukuafu pointed to the positives. “Playing United was the best way to finish off this tour. To these ladies, it’s unfinished business. They’re going to want to close it out right.” Kahuku is also heading to the Tropical 7s on April 19-20 and playing in a really nice Elite division that includes select sides and Canadian teams. It will be many of the players' first time to Orlando. For more information on the HS Club NIT, click here. Get more info on the Single School NIT here. Deadline for registrations is March 26.
Photos courtesy of United Girls Rugby on Facebook unless otherwise noted