A large group of people wearing uniforms and medals pose for the camera.
The 18U Belmont Shore Rugby team handily won a few games to reach the championship and beat rival San Diego Mustangs 19-12 last month. Roster: Maxwell Amasio, Nathan Vargas, Phoenix Tusa, Raymond Gomez, Manuel Rodriguez, Izaac Rodriguez, Kelsey Scott, Princeton Tusa, Brayden Evors, Leonard Ibarra, Jeremiah-Tyler Odvina, Josiah Apisala, Elijah Lolesio-Pua, Ryan Curtis Adolfo, Jasiah Lolesio-Pua, Zechariah Misa, Brendan Leomiti, Kaden Terrell, Jeremiah Taufi, Blake Vera, Jaggar Tavai, Noah Tuiolosega, Tueni Eneliko-Melalipi, Samuel Edmisten, Ike Mikaele, Josh Cason, Michael Martinez, Filimone Motumanu, Sonny Naiuli. Courtesy Belmont Shore Rugby Club

They call themselves the Backyard Bunch.

A very talented group of Long Beach athletes have gathered with Belmont Shore Rugby Club to make one of the best teams in the nation. The proof of that came last month, when the local U18 team won the National Championship tournament in Elkhart, Indiana.

“We take pride in taking our own kids from our own backyard,” coach Johnny Pua said. “When we go play at these big national tournaments, there’s academies where they recruit the best players from all over the place. Here we are developing kids from our own backyard, we compete with these teams and we win. That’s special and unique.”

The 18U Belmont Shore Rugby team handily won a few games to reach the championship and beat rival San Diego Mustangs 19-12. The Belmont Shore roster is made up of students from local high schools including Long Beach Poly, Wilson, St. Anthony and others.

“We take a lot of pride in coming from Long Beach,” said Elijah Lolesio-Pua, who is a top player on the team and the coach’s son. “We take our culture anywhere we go. We’re not afraid to have fun and show the good stuff we have from the LBC.”

“It’s just us, we’re grassroots rugby, and it’s our family versus your team,” added teammate Princeton Tusa.

Both Lolesio-Pua and Tusa agreed that their team chemistry has been key to their success.

“The connection we have is beyond others, we treat each other like family,” Lolesio-Pua said. “It’s a brotherhood. The majority of us have been playing together since we were 6 and we just grew up together.”

“In our championship game when (San Diego) scored on us we gathered together as a team and picked each other up,” Tusa said. “It was supportive stuff and lifting each other up… I knew we were capable because of all of our hard work.”

After San Diego scored, Belmont Shore rattled off 19 unanswered points on their way to victory.

The U18 squad included 29 players and some of their family who made the trip to handle the travel logistics and meal schedule. Pua and his coaches lauded the Long Beach parents for their help and are proud to carry on the tradition at Belmont Shore where they also played rugby.

“The club is coming up on its 50 year anniversary, and all of us coaches played for Belmont Shore men’s team,” said assistant coach Bill Evors. “These coaches are giving back to the club to help the young kids build from the basics. It’s a program with a lot of history and we all have a lot of heart in it. And I think the kids feel that.”

Pua and Evors are joined on the coaching staff by other assistants Chris Babecky and Anthony Monte.

“There’s no names on the back of our jerseys,” added Babecky. “They get to borrow that jersey. There’s a lot of guys who came before them who wore that logo on that jersey. They’re playing for themselves, their families and their club for everyone who came before them and everyone who will come after them.”

Belmont Shore Rugby was founded in 1974 and has a variety of teams for boys and girls of all ages. The men’s team has had continued success, and the women’s team are also making history recently. The club is sending its first team to the World High School 7’s Rugby competition in New Zealand this summer.

“How diverse our club is very special,” coach Pua said. “Just like Long Beach, our players come from all backgrounds and I love that about our club. We get to see all different types of cultures and they all share one thing, they come from Long Beach.”