When High School All-American Head Coach Salty Thompson embarked on the team’s tour to South America last month, he knew it would be a challenge.
“There were going to be some players out of their comfort zone,” he said. “Visiting three South American countries and playing five games in a three week tour.”
However, the young squad rose to the challenge, returning to the U.S. with a 3-2 record on the tour. The team swept Chile (24-17, 43-15) and defeated Uruguay in the second of their two meetings (lost 15-17, won 23-22). Argentina beat Team USA convincingly (52-3) during the last match of the tour.
On addition to the five matches, the team participated in a tough training regimen. “In between matches, it was unglamorous stuff,” Thompson said. “Get up, train, rest, lunch, train, recover, dinner. It’s not exactly a tourist trip, and that has its demands on players. It’s full-on rugby.”
With five games over a two week span, it was crucial that the entire 32-man roster was utilized. Among the thirty-two, a few players stood out to Thompson as particularly.
“Vili (Toluta’u) had a tremendous tour,” Thompson said. “I think he’s going to be a player to watch. He had never played 15s for us before, (7s in Las Vegas and London) and he added a lot defensively. He plays close to the edge and was a menace in the tackle. More wild at the start, he began to play a more disciplined game.”
Thompson noted that the young incoming juniors Ben Cima, Fitou Fisiiahi, Michael Reid and Calvin Whiting all played significant roles and have bright futures with the program. Fisiiahi, who broke his foot during the tour, was replaced in the lineup by Zach Webber, who played well in his absence.
Titi Lamositele, who has been highly regarded by English professional teams, continued to excel. Joe Whalen, who will play at St.
Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and Anthony Salabar, who will go on to play at Cal Berkeley, played well according to Thompson. Whalen in particular brought senior leadership.
“The whole squad contributed. There was no way we were going to get by on fifteen or twenty guys. There’s no reason to take thirty-two players on tour unless they all get the opportunity to play.”
Thompson has experience leading young groups on tours of this nature. Since the fall of 2002, he has worked with USA Rugby national teams, molding young players into future USA Eagles. Thompson first coached the U19s, later worked with U20s, and is now commanding the HSAAs.
“The current pathway is working,” Thompson said. “We have worked with many current Eagles and that number is increasing. It is our job to provide an environment where we can nurture full international players in both 7s and 15s.”
A retired teacher, Thompson sees the reward in helping young people succeed in life, not just on the field. “Sports provide the environment where character is tested. I think as coaches, we have a special role in players’ lives and are very influential in their development.”
South America Tour Results
1. HSAA – 24, Chile U19s – 17
2. HSAA – 43, Chile U19s – 15
3. HSAA – 15, Uruguay U19s – 17
4. HSAA – 23, Uruguay U19s – 22
5. HSAA – 3, Argentina – 52