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The Liberty Lions Rugby Club recently announced four of its players were selected for the virtual Rugby NorCal all-star teams in the Girls under-18 High School Varsity category.

Those players are Malia Latu, Haley Madrigal, Shanaia Stanley and Iliana Zapien.

The judging criteria were rigorous and incredibly competitive, according to Suzzanne Slaughter, team administrator of the Liberty Lions Rugby Club. The judges looked for talent, skill, rugby IQ, field awareness and athleticism.

“More than 300 players were nominated by their coaches and clubs for demonstrating their potential for excellence,” said Jason Divine, executive director of Rugby NorCal. “Each player was graded on character, leadership, discipline and a variety of rugby skills. These players would have been invited to all-star camp if the season was still on, but they will still be recognized, and the official list will be available to colleges, academies and national scouts.”

All four players nominated by head coach and girls’ varsity coach Andrew Slaughter were selected. Latu and Zapien are attending San Francisco State University and UC Santa Barbara, respectively, and they will continue playing rugby for their universities. Stanley and Madrigal (as well as several other girls on the 21-player roster) have caught the attention of multiple colleges, including Dartmouth, Brown and Bowden.

“We are so excited to see what the future brings for these remarkable players,” Slaughter said.

Had the normal season continued, players selected for Rugby NorCal All-Star teams would have attended camp and then represented Northern California in USA Rugby’s Great Northwest Challenge, one of six national tournaments for elite youth rugby players across the country.

College recruiters as well as scouts from national teams, such as the U.S. Olympic team and USA Eagles, attend this tournament to find their next athlete. Nominations were held in early April, with judging and deliberations occurring for the last several weeks. All age groups (both boys and girls) submitted athletes for consideration.

The Liberty Lions Rugby Club is not a district team, but Liberty High School teams with players participating from Freedom, Heritage and Independence high schools because Liberty has the only rugby teams in the district.

“It is our goal to get teams in all three major high schools, so we can compete against one another,” Slaughter said. “In the meantime, Freedom and Heritage have clubs through which players bring the spirit, ethos and knowledge of the game to their school. After a game, all the players gather, and the team captains select the Player of the Match. This player is selected by the opposing team for being the one who played with the most heart, most dedication, and who left it all on the field Not the player who scored the most points. Afterward, all players and coaches share a meal where they rehash one another’s plays and continue bonding over the game. Rugby is like no other sport. We play for the love of the game, and a hard fought match earns you respect and friends.”

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