Football

De La Salle rugby dynasty setting standard for the sport in California

MORAGA – Nothing and no one could stop Chris Biller.

The De La Salle senior ran through the mud, brushed aside desperate Los Alamitos arm tackles, and then burst into open grass for a brief sprint before the burly 220-pound bowling ball dove for the Spartans’ fourth score. 

It turned the California high school rugby championship at Saint Mary’s College into a rout, one that De La Salle won 27-5 on Saturday afternoon to claim the Concord program’s third state title since 2019. 

Biller was an all-Bay Area News Group lineman for De La Salle’s storied football team last fall. His father, Chris Biller Sr., starred on the USA national rugby team in the early-2010s. 

“This is my first love in sports, so I credit everything I’ve done (in football) to rugby,” said Biller, who will play rugby at Cal next season. 

MORAGA -- De La Salle's Chris Biller (12) scores a try in the second half. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group)MORAGA — De La Salle’s Chris Biller (12) scores a try in the second half. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group) 

Rugby is a fast-growing sport at the high school level, especially on the West Coast. 

Alex Goff, who covers the sport nationally on his “Goff Rugby Report” website, told the Bay Area News Group that California has roughly 40 high school teams participating at the club level and more rugby players than any other state.

And in that growing field, no team is better than De La Salle, which has won three titles and placed third twice since the state championships began in 2019. There was no state final in 2020 because of the pandemic.

DLS coach Derek Holmberg credits the team’s success to athletic director Leo Lopoz and the administration supporting the club program as if it were a California Interscholastic Federation-sanctioned varsity sport.

Many rugby players participate for clubs not affiliated with a specific school, but the Spartans have managed to get their rugby athletes to play under the De La Salle name and colors.

Goff says that Spartans, who have had a rugby program since 2003, benefit from boasting former standout players such as Biller Sr. on the coaching staff.

“Once the current staff got involved they were able to bring those kids back into the fold and start to make the program a bit more serious, numbers grew, success grew from numbers and it snowballed,” Goff said.

MORAGA -- De La Salle athletic director Leo Lopoz lifts the trophy as the De La Salle team and parents cheer around him. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group)MORAGA — De La Salle athletic director Leo Lopoz lifts the trophy as the De La Salle team and parents cheer around him. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group) 

De La Salle’s dominance on Saint Mary’s soggy pitch seemed to snowball with each successful score on Saturday. 

Biller’s try, the rugby equivalent of an American football touchdown, was one of five tallied by the Spartans. 

Speedster Parker Beilke raced through Los Alamitos for a 20-yard score to start the game, and then the standout nailed a 3-point penalty kick through the uprights to give DLS the 10-0 halftime advantage. 

Jasper Buttles worked through contact for the program’s third try while the defense, led by Kai Moananu-Apela and Joey Deitchman, kept Los Alamitos scoreless until late in the second half. Freshman Sione Manoa added one more try a few minutes before the clock hit zero.

“This feels great, and I love it,” Manoa said about winning the title with his twin brother, Semisi, before flashing a smile and saying, “Go Spartans.”

MORAGA -- De La Salle's Sione Manoa (10) scores late in the game. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group)MORAGA — De La Salle’s Sione Manoa (10) scores late in the game. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group) 

The Manoas weren’t the only underclassmen who started Saturday.

Sophomore Jimmy Rainsford, whose position as the team’s 8-man is similar to a defensive midfielder in soccer, crunched ballcarriers and also pushed forward whenever he got the ball on a lateral. 

“As an underclassman coming into this game, I was a little bit nervous,” Rainsford said after celebrating with his family. “But when big moments arise for our team, we’re a family and we rise to the occasion.”

MORAGA -- De La Salle's Jimmy Rainsford poses for a photo with his father. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group)MORAGA — De La Salle’s Jimmy Rainsford poses for a photo with his father. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group) 

Rain, wind and an 11 a.m. start time couldn’t keep the Rainsfords and hundreds of other De La Salle supporters from cheering in the stands. 

“This means a lot, especially since rugby is an up-and-coming sport in America,” Biller said. “For a high school game to be this packed and for there to be this much crowd noise, it’s really uplifting.”

Biller was one of several football players who helped the undefeated Spartans outscore their six opponents 267-36 on the way to a state title and the No. 2 spot in Goff’s national rankings. 

Many of the seniors won’t have to go far from home to continue their rugby careers. 

MORAGA -- De La Salle fullback Parker Beilke kicks the ball. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group)MORAGA — De La Salle fullback Parker Beilke kicks the ball. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group) 

DLS broadcaster Pat O’Rourke says Lucas Meranda could play at Saint Mary’s or Cal, two perennially-elite East Bay programs which regularly compete for national titles. Beilke and Deitchman could also play at Saint Mary’s next season, while Biller is already committed to Cal. 

Though Biller and his senior teammates graduate in a few months, the cupboard is far from barren for the state powerhouse, which will play club teams over the next few months in non-high school competition. 

Between Rainsford, the Manoas and the dozens of young players who spent the game on the sidelines watching their older teammates dominate, De La Salle is in position to compete for state titles for years to come. 

“These kids are the future,” Holmberg said after hoisting the trophy.

MORAGA -- De La Salle flanker Jasper Buttles (green in the air) competes for the ball. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group)MORAGA — De La Salle flanker Jasper Buttles (green in the air) competes for the ball. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group) 
MORAGA -- De La Salle outside center Peter McKenna attempts to tackle a Los Alamitos ball carrier. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group)MORAGA — De La Salle outside center Peter McKenna attempts to tackle a Los Alamitos ball carrier. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group) 
MORAGA -- De La Salle wing Lucas Meranda (14) runs with the ball. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group)MORAGA — De La Salle wing Lucas Meranda (14) runs with the ball. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group) 
MORAGA -- De La Salle teammates Tyler Holmberg (right) and Wyatt Boswell celebrate the win. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group)MORAGA — De La Salle teammates Tyler Holmberg (left) and Wyatt Boswell (right) celebrate the win. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group) 
MORAGA -- De La Salle flanker Lukas Platzbecker crouches. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group)MORAGA — De La Salle flanker Lukas Platzbecker crouches. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group) 
MORAGA -- De La Salle players celebrate with the trophy. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group)MORAGA — De La Salle players celebrate with the trophy. De La Salle defeated Los Alamitos in the 2024 California single-school championship at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. on March 2, 2024 (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group) 

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